With some fear and trepidation, I present our church’s policies as a template for others to use. Please understand, these are over 2 years old now, and recent Supreme Court decisions already have us in a process of rewriting them (especially Obergefell). Also, each state’s laws are a little different, so what works in Iowa might not be precisely right in your state.
We culled these from various documents – some denominational, some available on the internet, some from our insurance company.
On some policies (not included here) precise wording is crucial, often for reasons that escape me. For instance, in another section of our manual, we have a statement of our at-will employment policy. Our team leader, a lawyer who works in this field, gave me a specific statement which I copied and pasted into the document. It seemed like legal gobbledygook to me, but it’s an established statement the courts would immediately recognize in a dispute.
As I publish this, I cannot state strongly enough the importance of consulting a) a lawyer and b) a lawyer who works in THIS field and c) one who practices in your local area. Local laws may differ.
Our entire Document of Guiding Principles is available at our website, if you are having trouble with insomnia.
Employee Conduct Policies
Every employee at Southern Hills Baptist church is expected to act in accordance with biblical standards of morality and propriety, with established church policy and with the laws of our city, state and nation. Employee conduct not in accord with these standards will not be accepted and can result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.
A. Defining Employee Misconduct
Employees may be disciplined, up to and including termination, for misconduct. Some examples of misconduct are as follows:
- Abuse, misuse, theft or the unauthorized possession or removal of church property or the personal property of others;
- Falsifying or making a material omission on church records, reports or other documents, including payroll, personnel and employment records;
- Falsifying reported hours worked for self or for another employee or knowingly allowing another employee to do so for his or her benefit;
- Divulging confidential church information to unauthorized persons;
- Disorderly conduct on church property, including fights or attempted bodily injury, or the use of profane, abusive or threatening language toward others, or possession of a weapon;
- Violation of any law adversely affecting the church, or conviction in court unsuitable for continued employment;
- Misuse of alcohol, drugs, and controlled substances; (While Christians have differing convictions concerning moderate alcohol consumption, employees of Southern Hills Baptist Church must abstain from all alcoholic beverages.)
- Proven sexual misconduct.
- Falsifying information on the employee’s application for employment or resume.
B. Sexual Harassment Policy
Southern Hills Baptist Church exists to glorify God, reach people with the gospel and encourage one another in our faith. It is church’s desire, therefore, to provide a place for spiritual growth and ministry free of all forms of sexual intimidation and exploitation. Church staff and employees should understand that the church will not tolerate such activity and those individuals who engage in such behavior will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. When appropriate, such behavior will also be reported to law enforcement authorities.
Sexual harassment may be defined as, but not limited to, unwelcome or offensive sexual advances, requests for sexual impropriety, unwanted or uninvited verbal suggestions or comments of a sexual nature, or objectionable physical contact. Suggestions that employment admonishments or rewards will follow the refusal or acceptance of sexual advances, or actions that unreasonably impede with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, constitute a violation of the church’s ethical standards and will not be tolerated. Whenever such harassment is demonstrated and reported, the church will take the necessary corrective actions, as well as measures to protect the reporting employee, and prevent further harassment.
Sexual harassment or impropriety should be reported directly to the pastor who will investigate and work for resolution. If the allegation is against the pastor, it should be reported to the chair of the Deacons.
In order for a complaint to be processed, the complaint must be filed within 120 days of the alleged unlawful discriminatory action or sexual harassment, or within 120 days of the complainant learning of the discriminatory action or sexual harassment.
There will be no retaliation against a person making an accusation of misconduct against an employee or volunteer, unless it can be proven that the accusation was false and made with malicious intent. Accusations that are proven to be false and made with malicious intent will be treated as severe misconduct and the one who makes the false accusation will be subject to discipline up to and including termination.
C. Clergy Malpractice and Misconduct
- Clergy Malpractice:
Clergy malpractice is the failure of ordained or licensed ministers to perform their duties, especially related to “counseling” people with spiritual and emotional problems, with an acceptable degree of skill and competence. Volunteers may also be considered guilty of malpractice if they serve in a ministerial capacity on the behalf of the church.
The pastors and volunteers of Southern Hills Baptist Church are not licensed counselors and are not dispensing therapy or professional counsel. They are using the scriptures to give “wise counsel and advice” to those who seek their help. (See the policy for “Ministry of Exhortation” for clarification.) Their duty is to explain what the Bible says about life situations and lead those who come for help to bring their lives under obedience to the will of God as revealed in scripture and to attempt to provide comfort and encouragement to those who are hurting.
The pastors and volunteers of Southern Hills Baptist Church should be quick to refer people to licensed counselors when that is appropriate.
The pastoral staff, employees, and representatives of the church should avoid using the terms “counseling” or “therapy” unless the person doing the counseling is licensed. Courts have interpreted this term in such a way as to assume that licensed counseling is being performed.
- Clergy Misconduct:
Clergy misconduct refers to inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of ordained or licensed ministers. The church may also be held liable if volunteers with responsible positions in the church engage in inappropriate sexual behavior.
The staff, employees and volunteers of Southern Hills Baptist Church are expected to exhibit the highest standards of moral behavior. Sexual behavior of any sort outside the boundaries of the marriage of a man and a woman is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and is inappropriate for leaders in this church. This includes sexual harassment, sexually inappropriate speech, and sexual behavior of any sort outside of marriage.
There are three primary “points of danger” that employees must avoid.
a. Quid Pro Quo
Refers to unwelcome verbal or physical advances and/or requests for sexual favors when submission to such conduct is made a term or condition of an individual’s employment either explicitly or implicitly.
b. Hostile Environment
Refers to conduct having the purpose or effect of unreasonable interference with an individual’s work performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
c. Abuse of Authority –
In a pastoral relationship, the person receiving help often forms an emotional attachment to the person giving the help. If this attachment is exploited for personal gain or sexual favors, that constitutes abuse of authority.
D. Avoiding Misconduct:
The following guidelines should be followed when pastoral staff members are giving biblical advice and counsel. It is understood that there may be times when these guidelines cannot be followed completely, but every employee should do his or her best to follow them.
- When Pastors meet with members of the opposite sex to give spiritual advice, it should be during regular office hours in the church office. Meetings off the premises should be avoided whenever possible.
- A third party should be present or available during these sessions. Sessions should not take place behind closed doors unless there is a glass partition in the door or there is a window that makes the room clearly visible. It is sufficient to have a third party in the next room if there is a glass partition or if the door remains open.
- Pastors should avoid meeting with a member of the opposite sex on a regular basis. If extended sessions are needed, it is best to refer the person either to a licensed counselor or to a ministry volunteer of the same sex.
- It is often best to use the telephone for these sessions.
- The furnishings in offices should be set in such a manner as to maintain proper distance and separation of the parties involved. It is best to avoid having couches in church offices.
- The person receiving help should have direct access to the exit door without any obstruction.
- During these sessions, Pastors should not hold the person’s hands, hug the person or provide physical comfort in any way. Pastors should avoid terms of endearment as well.
E. Procedures for Handling Accusations of Sexual Misconduct or Impropriety
The church has a duty to do all it can to prevent sexual misconduct in the church. But, in spite of its best efforts, there may be times when an accusation arises.
When confronted by accusations of a misdeed by church staff, a volunteer, or any member of the church, the church has a duty both to the accused and to the alleged victim and his or her family. The church has a responsibility to act quickly and decisively in these matters. Delay invites ill will and often leads to litigation. It is important that the church provide a fair hearing to the accused and loving support and attention to the one making the accusation.
The church should not “take sides” until after a full, impartial and timely evaluation of all evidence.
The following procedure should be followed.
1) The pastor should be immediately notified in the event of any instance of sexual misconduct, abuse or molestation, or any other such activity. If the accusation is against or involves the pastor or his family, the chair of the Deacons should be notified immediately.
2) If the accusation is deemed serious and in any way credible, the pastor or other representative of the church should immediately seek the counsel of the church’s attorney. The church should also notify its insurance agent that such an accusation has been made. At this point, the truth of the accusation is not at issue, only the seriousness of the charge.
3) After consultation with the attorney and insurance representative, one person should be designated as the church spokesperson in the event that the media becomes involved. No one in the church should speak to the media except that designated representative.
4) If the accusation is against an employee, that employee should be immediately put on a paid leave of absence and should not participate in church activities until the incident has been completely investigated.
5) The Deacons should appoint a committee to hear, understand and respond to the accusation in a fair manner. The committee should be comprised of three respected laypersons from the church and two from outside the church, either from the association or from other local churches in the area. The pastor should not serve on this committee, but may consult with it on procedure (unless the accusation is against him). The committee should also consult with the church lawyer and its insurance representative for advice and direction. However, the committee should be free to pursue its findings without pressure from anyone.
6) The committee should quickly establish guidelines to ensure a timely, orderly and fair hearing of all parties involved.
7) The church should offer spiritual encouragement and comfort to all concerned parties and the committee should offer to arrange professional counseling resources for all parties involved. If needed, the church will bear any costs for this counseling that insurance does not pay.
8) The committee should make recommendations for the resolution of the situation with the parties involved and with the church.