jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

local churches should be allowed to own property

I’m not talking about owning as oppose to renting (or borrowing). I’m talking about the fact that any local church property belongs to the organization, and not the local fellowship. A pastor recently suggested to me that this was one of the things that needed to change. My response was basically: (1) I don’t think that will happen, (2) I’m not convinced it should happen.

Now, this debate rarely makes a huge difference unless there is a split from the organization. If a pastor and/or church wants to cut its affiliation with the organization they are free to go, but their property remains fully CoG. I have known of several circumstances where this happened, both in the USA and abroad. In every situation I thought it was very fortunate that the property stayed with the organization. Of course, I guess it was easy for me see it that way. After all, I have stayed with the organization and in some sense that means the property had stayed with me. But even having a little self awareness there, on some of those situations it was clear that we had a “conman” that was trying to steal multi-million dollar property.

I thought those stories would make my pastor friend think twice. However, I don’t think it did. His response was that he knew that such situations existed, that he thought they were the exception, and that he thought the organization should ‘cut it’s losses’ in those circumstances. He feels like we will probably get burned every now and then. But he also believes that allowing congregations to make their own choice about staying or leaving, even if it could come at a significant cost to us, would ultimately create a healthier spiritual environment, changing what pastors and others currently perceive to be a controlling ethos in our structure. That really got me thinking. I think I agree with him. I wonder what others think?

20 comments on “local churches should be allowed to own property

  1. Johnny Taylor
    March 25, 2008

    By commenting on this post I do not mean to imply I know very much if anything about this issue. With that being said I have two questions:

    1. Would allowing “congregations to make their own choice about staying or leaving” make for a “healthier spiritual environment”?

    2. Would this in turn change what “pastors and others currently perceive to be a controlling ethos in our structure?

    On the first question, I’m not sure that allowing “choice” is the answer. This also sets this issue in a very narrow focus implying that the current rules are in place to keep the choice of the congregation in check. What was the original intent? Is this something that falls in line simply with choosing a centralized organization of government or is it separate from that. Is a centralized government synonomous with controlling government? Of course things change as the institution grows and many abuse and exploit the rules for their own motives, but does that mean that there isn’t value in them? I think the issue should be considered separate from the fleating pressures and motives of countless positive and negative stories. Does this rule connect with our mission? Is there a better way to accomplish that?

    Secondly, I think that there are terrible injustices happening as a result of breakdowns in the system. I think that most of those are due to a breakdown in relationship between people not because of a rule. If something in the system is no longer serving the intent and mission of the church then by all means change it. But, to think that changing a rule without changing the way we work with each other will do nothing I think.

  2. m.d. mcmullin
    March 25, 2008

    When I was in high school I had a car. Technically it belonged to my Dad but I drove it everywhere I wanted. I had to pay for my own insurance and gas but he took care of things like tires and oil changes. I guess I could have gotten really upset that the title wasn’t in my name. But I drove it whenever I wanted and rarely had any restrictions placed on how I used it. I had no plans of taking off with the car either so I didn’t really care that I didn’t own it. All that my parents had belonged to me and I was really glad to “have my own car”.

    I guess I don’t have a big problem with the COG owning the property. I know of many times when the State Office (Father) bailed a church out and helped w/ bills. Many would not have been able to build a church building w/o the backing of the denom.

    Pastors and churches know the rules going into it. If they have plans of taking off then don’t begin or pastor a COG church. Consider the cost of the covenant your making before you do it. If a group is too distrusting of the COG and their authority then by all means find your spiritual covering elsewhere.

    I think it comes down to sons not trusting their fathers (maybe rightfully so). They want independence and the freedom to leave if they feel wronged. And there are times when churches and pastors are wronged by those over them spiritually.

    But what do we teach our children when we speak so disrespectfully of our parents. Do we teach them to be distrustful of us? Are we raising up our own sons and daughters to be prodigals?

    What if the COG had different levels of church membership? Full membership might include help w/ acquiring property, free pastoral training (Lee/COGTS/SOM), free admission to various conferences, free SS curriculum, etc. Associate membership might include less benefits but the church retains the title and pays less in TOT..

    who knows…..?

  3. m.d. mcmullin
    March 25, 2008

    Just saw the previous comment. I think you’re right. Its about broken relationship. Changing a rule won’t repair a relationship.

  4. Dennis J. Adams
    March 25, 2008

    An issue that has no real conclusion. Both sides of this one would never budge.

    Dennis

  5. Katie
    March 25, 2008

    Welcome back to the blogging world! Its good to hear from you. Its good to see that you still have out of the box thinking.How’s things going?

  6. Jonathan Stone
    March 25, 2008

    Johnny, you make some great points. And I certainly agree with you that this would not “fix” the bigger relational problems, or as you put it, that a rule can’t fix a relationship. And I would not equate “centralized government” with “controlling government.” However, I think that once the relationship is restored it will be time to see some very tangible structural changes that grow out of those relationship changes. Is this one of them? I’m not sure. But I’m more open to it than I was when it was first mentioned to me.

    Also, I should add that this was only one thing, and it was NOT the primary thing, in a list of things that this pastor offered as suggestions for change. I did not make that clear in my post.

  7. Jonathan Stone
    March 25, 2008

    Mike, that’s a great analogy. And it sort of highlights the deeper problem that Johnny alluded to, that there is a breakdown in trust that has strained the relationship.

    Dennis, I suspect that you’re probably right. And that was ultimately the bottom line on my first response to the pastor. However, I’ve become a little more open, not only to his position (well I guess I was open to that from the beginning), but more to the possibility of having the discussion.

    Katie, thanks. Great to hear from you. Things are going good here! Also, Emily (or “my therapist” as I so lovingly call her on here) has started posting on our old blog.

  8. Jonathan Stone
    March 25, 2008

    I have a question or a thought or both or more. I know of a potential church plant that is developing in a way that leads me to what I’m about to say/ask. What if a ministry developed before a church, and it was a ministry that had some significant revenue streams, enough to purchase a multi-purpose building. And the same people that started the ministry also started the church. The ministry is an independent 501c3, but the church is affiliated and organized with the CoG. What if the 501c3 leases or donates to the church time and space in the facility. So, the property belongs to the 501c3, not the church, and thus, not to the denomination. I wonder how administrators would tend to view this?

  9. m.d. mcmullin
    March 25, 2008

    Churches rent from other organizations all the time (other churches, schools, movie theaters, store fronts).

    I would tell the church planters not to feel any pressure to purchase property or a building when they can rent it so affordably.

  10. Steve Wright
    March 25, 2008

    Jon,
    Your the man! LOL

    “What if a ministry developed before a church…”

    I wonder where you came up with that situation?
    LOL

  11. Jonathan Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Mike, thanks. How do you think state administrators would tend to view it?

    Steve, shhh! I thought our secrets were safe!

  12. m.d. mcmullin
    March 26, 2008

    This all sounds kind of cloak and dagger…can I play?

    It’s hard to say how an AB would react. Might depend on if he knew you or not.

    There are churches that own their property. Many were existing churches that came into the denomination. Some of them do not own their building but it is in the name of a church member who “leases” it to the church.

    If they wanted the new church bad enough they may not care who owns the building. I mean you would still be COG and more than likely sending the 15% in once you are chartered. So the state office would still get to turn the statistics in. If you do it before assembly you really might slide in. They need those numbers before assembly. ; )

  13. Jonathan Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Mike, ha! Thanks for teaching me how to ‘work the system.’ I’ll tuck that pre-assembly strategy away for future reference!

    You know, this is kind of messed up. I mean, the system will harp on some things and overlook other things. I seriously doubt we will be able to get to a place anytime soon where we could openly allow for local churches to fully own their own property. Yet, the reality, as you pointed out, is that if it benefits the system (in statistics and dollars) the system is pretty predictable. I digress a bit.

    Anyway, this brings me back to a couple of things. (1) I still don’t get the minutes. It seems they are only used ‘when necessary.’ And God knows when that will be. It seems like it depends on the ‘pet-peeves,’ ahem, I mean ‘convictions’ of the administrator who directly oversees any given circumstance. This reminds me of the common pattern I see with the kids that I work with. The parents are completely unpredictable. They talk a big game, “Boy, you better not do that again, or else!” Yet, their boundaries are anything but clear and their consistency is non-existant! (2) This whole issue of trust is HUGE! It’s hard to trust in such an environment.

    As far as the cloak and dagger game…you are definitely welcome to play. However, you will need to show up at the corner of Parker and 18th at midnight on the first night you arrive back in Jerusalem. A guy named ‘Johnson’ will give you the password. Be sure to remember to tell him that ‘I know the bird is is in its nest.’ Remember what he tells you next EXACTLY! The fifth word of that sentence will give you Defcom Level III clearance, and we will go from there.

    Ummm….sorry, I got a little carried away there! ; )

  14. m.d. mcmullin
    March 26, 2008

    Sweet – I love passwords. If we get to pick our own code names I would like to be “T-Bone” or “the Viking”.

    The system always asks, who benefits from any given scenario? It’s a lot like the mafia. Honor those above you and they will look after you maybe even take you under their wing. If they know your family they may owe you a favor or figure you are good for one later. If you make them look bad or embarrass them, you are screwed.

  15. Jonathan Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Mike, actually, I was thinking that your code name could be ‘mike.’ It’s not as sexy as ‘T-Bone’ or ‘the Viking.’ However, it’s so obvious that no one would EVER figure it out!

    As far as the mafia analogy goes…well, I was afraid you might say something like that!

  16. Johnny Taylor
    March 26, 2008

    Jonathan,

    You mentioned this church plant that began as a ministry first and the church then rents from the 501c3. I have thought about this kind of approach before and always feel a little uncomfortable with how to really separate the entities especially if the Director of the 501c3 and the Pastor of the church are the same person. I also think if we knowingly are apart of an organization with certain set of minutes (regardless of whether or not people follow them) that doing something to circumvent them from the start is not pure in my way of thinking. I am not referring to your specific scenario as I do not know anything about the specifics. But I have kicked these ideas around in my mind before.

  17. Dennis J. ADams
    March 26, 2008

    I like what Mike stated about rent. It seems to hit home, especially here in Santa Cruz, CA! The cost of purchasing a building is astronomical. Yes, rent is also very steep!

    Even though I know that a COG has deeded the church over to a pastor because the purchaser of the property would not donate the money if it was deeded according to the GA minutes. No joke, there are other “real” stories along this dialogue. But, again, Jon, there is no actual sense to all this! yes, there is always sense to dialogue and a good debate. However, sides will not change their position! This tug-of-war only works on holidays. The post you did on homosexuality can bring change!

    Dennis

  18. Jonathan Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Johnny, I think that a church that launches a separate 501c3 for the sake of creating a loophole has to definitely consider its motives. As far as the separation, I don’t see that as a problem, even if one person is both ‘director’ and ‘pastor’ of the two entities. The reason I do not see a conflict in this is that I have had these separated in my own mind when I have ever considered organizing a 501c3. I have never formed one, but thought about it many times, and even created core values, mission statement, considered who could sit on the board of directors, etc. So, I’ve gone down the road a good bit in my mind. Anyway, it has always been clear to me that the organizations that I have considered forming would exist with a purpose that was broad in scope and interdenominational in relationships. So, I would not ‘affiliate’ the non-profit with the CoG, but I could envision myself pastoring a CoG church at the same time. I think this is not that uncommon. One example that comes to mind is Mitch Maloney, pastor of N. Cleveland CoG, who formed his own missions agency a few years ago. Not only has no one complained about that, but COGWM even signed off on the missions agency.

  19. Jonathan Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Dennis, I understand that it might seem senseless to discuss it, especially if you understand the conversation to only have ‘real value’ if in the end ‘one of the two sides’ is finally willing to ‘change its position.’ However, I do not understand that to be the ultimate purpose. For example, if administration would ever sit down and demonstrate the willingness to seriously have this particular conversation, even if they never so much as budged on their position on it, the fact that they were willing to at least talk about it would be a HUGE positive sign in my mind. It would give me reason to think that things could change. Maybe not this issue. But if they’re willing to talk about this issue they might be willing to change other issues. And I think that would be one small, but significant, step in rebuilding some of the trust that has been lost between pastors and administrators in the last several years.

    If change begins to happen through dialogue, all of us will find ourselves sitting in discussions about certain issues that (1) we do not think will change and (2) that we may personally not give a crap about. That’s not very much fun. However, I think we will have to endure such conversations in order to allow those who do see it as important to have a chance to hear and be heard, which might go a long way in getting them to a place where they are finally willing to move into the 21st century and let go of senseless debates. Does that make sense?

  20. travis johnson
    March 27, 2008

    Man, I’m late to the party here. I guess I might be “the guy” that Jon was originally talking about. Here are my thoughts why it would be good for a local church to own their property:

    -it forces us to lead relationally. If we don’t, we are in jeopardy of losing churches. Unfortunately, we diminish the relational aspects of leadership and instead lead by control. Our house can be more like a prison instead of a home. That’s unfortunate.

    -it opens the door to more churches that would like to only affiliate with us for the purposes of mission and networking. Obviously, accountability may suffer since, if someone didn’t like a disciplinary decision, they potentially could walk from the denomination and still lead their church.

    WOULD THERE BE ABUSES?

    Yes. On the day, that churches are given back their properties, unless there is some sort of controlling element, some churches would run/not walk out the door.

    WOULD THERE BE BENEFITS?

    Absolutely. It would be a clarifying moment for us. It would help us to refocus on mission instead of the ledger and total denominational assets.

    It would end the business of state offices liquidating property. This is a massive massive issue…bigger than you may realize.

    I’ve seen two churches negatively impacted by denominational real estate decisions:

    1. a viable church (West Miami COG) being sold out from under the church without their knowledge because a low ball offer came into the state office and they needed the money. In the end, promises were made by state denominational leaders and those promises were subsequently broken. I was personally in those meetings and was lied to.

    What happened? The church was devastated, closed (with no building and no heart to go on), and irreparable damage was done to trust.

    2. a church in Homestead mismanaged a property and was going to lose it altogether. I offered to purchase the indebtedness to keep the property in Homestead but was told the state “wanted to make something off of it.” (1.3 million in profits to be exact). Our offer fell flat and did not receive a counter offer or any comments further.

    A property purchased by people in my town whom I know wil lnow disappear and the money will likely go into the denominational abyss like dozens and dozens of previous properties.

    DENOMINATIONAL PROPERTY OWNERSHIP IS A CONTROL ISSUE NOT AN ACCOUNTABILITY ISSUE

    I personally trust a local church to handle their business more than I do a state entity that has little to no local investment or history, a leadership structure that will be here this year and gone next.

    I think we need to get rid of as many of our controls as possible. They’re are helpful. But, they are also destructive. I think I’d like to get in the business of trusting our people to do the right thing. And, if they can’t handle it, its their own fault and we move on denominationally poorer but with more relational leadership capital in our pockets, more credible for the future, and less dependent on controlling intimidation tactics.

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This entry was posted on March 25, 2008 by in issues, sustainability.
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