What You Mean for Good, May Result in Serious Liability


It is normal for most, which are familiar with a Church setting and its operation, to assume that the Church has at its heart and as its motive, the best interest of its membership and those whom regularly attend. In all the years connected with Church and its day-to-day operations, I attest that this is, for the most part, true.


However, what about those times when someone within the Church, intends to do what they feel is the right thing to do, but in the long run may destroy an individual or bring serious liability issues to the Church and staff? Or, do those scenarios even exist within the confines of Churches and their membership? The answer to this previous question is a resounding yes.


In decades of Church attendance I have often witnessed scenarios when the actions of one member embarrassed or brought about significant emotional damage to another member or visitor. This happens often when someone requests prayer for, or wishes to add someone to a prayer list. The motive is right, but the method may be wrong. In their attempts to engage others in prayer for that special need, they often reveal information that should not become public knowledge.


Right Motive, Wrong Method


He Pastored a small country Church. To his members he was a God-send, whom they loved and cherished deeply. Within the first year of his Pastorate, the Pastor became emotionally withdrawn and somewhat moody. One Sunday while the Pastor was on vacation, one of the members who had become close to the Pastor, decided it would be a great time to call the congregation to prayer in behalf of their beloved man of God. Unfortunately, the member divulged very private, confidential information that the Pastor had shared with him.


The member made aware to the congregation that their Pastor had been molested as a child at a Church Youth Camp by a camp counselor. Because of that molestation, he had since suffered several bouts of severe depression. While the member’s motive was right, his method was wrong. After returning from vacation the Pastor had several members approach him, making him aware of how sorry they were that he had been molested as a child by a youth camp counselor. They also informed him that they were praying for total deliverance, so that “demon” of depression would never trouble him again. It wasn’t long before the information was known by the little country community, creating an embarrassing scenario for this hurting Pastor.


Right Motive, Wrong Method, Tragic Result


The Pastor, rightfully so, felt betrayed by the member with whom he had shared his most hurtful and confidential experiences. He resigned as Pastor and left the ministry. Although that is bad enough, within a couple of years of resigning, a professional counselor suggested that he file a lawsuit against the Church and the member for their actions.


The Pastor won his suit and was awarded a sizeable judgment. The court judge ruled that the actions of the Church and its membership were an actionable invasion of the Pastor’s right to privacy.


Another instance is the court case of MITNAUL, V. FAIRMOUNT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. The Church posted Mr. Mitnaul’s emotional and physical condition, and recovery on the Church website. Mr. Mitnaul sued the Church and received a sizeable judgment. Once again, the Church had the right motive, but their wrong method cost them dearly.


While most of those whom are hurt by these types of actions simply leave the Church, it is not unusual for some to seek civil action.


We can Be Right, but Still Be Wrong


While a requesting prayer for someone or adding someone to a prayer list is usually a good way for the Church to be aware of those needing prayer, the Church must also take into consideration the legalities and liabilities that may occur. This is especially true when information concerning a member is posted on the Church website. Anything posted on a website has the world as its potential audience. Therefore, the liability damage may become astronomical.


Nothing personal should ever be made publicly available in an open Church setting, nor should anything be allowed to be published on the Church website without proper, in-depth scrutiny by responsible parties within the Church. This is why Churches need Chitwood & Chitwood!


How We Can Help


Chitwood & Chitwood is the ultimate Church Management and Accounting Firm in the world. For more than 78 years we have provided Churches with the needed resources to ensure that each of our Churches are protected from IRS infringement and issues of personal and congregational liability.


At our weekly Church Management and Tax Conferences we provide the latest updates to regulations that may impact a local congregation. It is in the best interest of every Pastor and Church Leader to attend the next Church Management and Tax Conference nearest their city. Pastors should not attend without the Leaders and the Leaders should not attend without the Pastor. The few hours you spend in one of these conferences may save you and your Church a lot of heartache, and even possible prison time. Every moment you procrastinate may be placing you and your Church in danger.


To register for our next conference visit us at www.cmtc.org or call us at 800-344-0076. You will be glad you did.


While others do this for an occupation, we do it because it is our ministry.