Church Settles Dispute Through Courts

The Evangel Church in Detroit had a dispute about its governance. Some leaders determined that the pastor should be selected by the board of elders, and then the pastor would select the members board of elders. But the church members contended that they had always had voting rights.

This is not an uncommon debate in Protestant churches. Instead of resolving their dispute “within the church,” they brought their dispute to the civil courts – the Wayne County Circuit Court. The trial court found in favor of the members, based on the church’s organizing documents, so the church leaders appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and lost again.

Evangel Church estimated its legal costs at $50,000. The church chose the most public, expensive process to resolve its dispute. And it’s likely that, while the legal issue may be resolved, the damage to relationships will last a long time. Perhaps they tried some kind of private mediation process that didn’t succeed, or sought wise counsel from leaders of other churches that went unheeded. But, failing that, they could have proceeded to a church arbitration, where all parties agree in advance to be bound by the decision. That would’ve kept it private, and likely would not have cost so much. There are several national peacemaking organizations that offer this service –Googling “Christian arbitration” yields many options.

May God bring healing to all involved.