Step #2: Develop Legal Confidence
Before I dive into specifics, I simply want to point out that there is a legal chill in the air. The specific legal challenges that impact the church’s mission have somehow mutated into a big hairy frost monster (a mix between a yeti and the snow monster on Disney’s Frozen is how I imagine it; did I mention that I have a young daughter and an active imagination?) that seems poised to pounce on the energetic church or Christian. Fortunately, this big hairy frost monster is largely imaginary.
The church in the United States still enjoys significant freedoms and is largely unregulated in its ministry activities. So, we need to shift our mindset from quietly “chilled” to vigilantly confident. That said, we should be informed and vigilant about legal standards affecting the following (these areas affect efforts to live out the Gospel in local communities and the public square):
The Big Five
1. Land Use. First, land use is consistently ranked as one of the top five reasons churches end up in court. As our society secularizes or at least pluralizes, cash-strapped municipalities are taking a hard look at tax-exempt churches and questioning whether they are necessary for vibrant economic growth.
2. Tax Exemption. We should be concerned about tax exemption—but not in the way that is commonly discussed. I often hear questions about tax exemption in connection to “political” speech, but churches are generally free to speak about the cultural and “political” issues of our day. Instead, I am concerned about the housing allowance and property tax exemptions.
3. Education. Legal restrictions in education act as a bar to a comprehensive witness inside the walls of the public high school and university. There is no way to sugar coat this eviction-in-principle from the all-important area of education. And, in an increasingly plural society, there is little chance that these rulings will be overturned. So, we must learn how to navigate these legal standards.
4. The Church’s Role as Conscience. Legal restrictions affect the church’s role as conscience. There are two sub-issues here: (1) the influence of the church on government and (2) religious speech. Legal standards sometimes prohibit or at least “chill” the church from carrying out its historic role as the nation’s conscience.
5. The Marketplace. Legal restrictions in the marketplace also affect the church’s public witness. The marketplace is critical because it is the place where most Americans spend most of their time. If we are not free to live out our faith at our work, then we are not truly free.
For a more detailed analysis of these five topics, I explain them in detail in Chapter 6 of The Bold Church Strategy , which is available here.
Overcoming the Legal Chill Monster
I encourage church leaders and other committed Christians to overcome the legal chill monster using the following steps:
- Equip Yourself. Church leaders and other committed Christians should have a working understanding of legal standards so they can effectively and courageously impact their communities. In other words, they should be like Paul. Paul was apparently well-informed about legal standards. He used his rights as a Roman citizen to further his ministry in Acts 16 and Acts 22, and he used his knowledge of Roman criminal appellate procedure to procure an audience in Rome in Acts 25.
2. Encourage other Christians. The church as a whole must be equipped to beat the “chill” monster. Legal information has a single utility for the church—it gives confidence. Many Christians share with me that they feel called to start a ministry or project, but then they interject that they cannot do it because of the law. I am so tired of this! Why? Because such statements about the law are often incorrect. There is almost always a way to move forward without violating legal standards. Do you know what would make me jump up and down and shout “Hallelujah”? If Christians started using the law as a tool instead of an excuse! Once you have mastered the “practice” of legal confidence, encourage others to do the same.
3. Use your Legal Resources! I often tell Christians to call a lawyer if they have a question. Now, this may sound like just another way for an attorney to advertise. But, that is not my intention. Christian audiences everywhere need to know the following: if you are acting in good faith to carry out the Great Commission and are sued by a public agency or an atheist group, Christian attorneys and Christian legal groups will most likely line up around the corner to represent you. Why? Because it’s good public relations for them and will allow them to procure donations. This is not cynical or a slight on any Christian attorney or organization. It’s just the way the ministry of law works. So, take advantage of your resources!
By the way, one resource that is available to your church or ministry is a BCI Legal Partnership. If you are interested in such a partnership, you can find out more here.
The Practice of Legal Confidence
Attorneys often call their work the “practice of law” because it is skill that is honed and developed over time. The same is true with legal confidence for church leaders and other Christians. I am not advocating that you attend a one-time seminar (though that is helpful). Rather, I encourage church leaders and other committed Christians to develop a habit of staying informed about the latest relevant legal developments so they can confidently impact their communities and the public square.
On to Step #3:
Step #2 is to develop legal confidence. Step #3 is to master the skill of active apologetics. On to Step #3!
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Church leaders and other committed Christians now face a series of complex and culturally sensitive questions that would have been inconceivable to Christians a hundred years ago. So, how should we navigate these questions without losing our confidence or jeopardizing...read more