Skip to main content

Analysis of Proposed Changes in Bylaws at Chapel Hill Bible Church

By June 3, 2024No Comments

Members of the Chapel Hill Bible Church will be asked to vote on proposed changes to the bylaws on June 5, 2024. The bylaw changes are significant and substantial and deserve thorough consideration by each member before the vote. Most crucially, members will have to discern how well the proposed changes align with Scripture.

If you prefer to start with a simple summary of changes  before reading through analysis, jump to summary.

Scripture is always a good place to start an analysis

Now at this time, as the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint developed on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.  So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.  Instead, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The ]announcement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a  proselyte from Antioch.  And they brought these men before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. Acts 6: 1-6 NASB

This passage in Acts 6 in which the first deacons were chosen and commissioned formed the basis for the governance structure of the Chapel Hill Bible Church. In this passage, you can see 3 separate spheres of authority: the apostles, the congregation, and the deacons.

These three spheres of authority are reflected in the Chapel Hill Bible Church Constitution and current bylaws, with the elders filling the apostles’ role:

The Church shall be Christ ruled, elder led, and congregationally accountable, with its governance vested in the members and administered by the Board of Elders, the Board of Deacons and the pastoral staff.”

Scripture: the apostles trusted the congregation:

 We are likely familiar with the call to “trust the elders,” but have you ever thought about trust going two ways and elders “trusting the congregation?”

Yet in this passage, the Apostles–Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Mdescriptiatthias—trusted the congregation with the weighty responsibility of choosing the first deacons.

Additionally, Scripture notes that the proposal made by the apostles “found approval” with the congregation. Many versions including the ESV translate this as: “And what they said “pleased”  the whole gathering.”

This is no reflexive acceptance of a decision made by the apostles and “rubber stamping” it, but rather an interactive group process, led by the Spirit, in which the members of the congregation played a very real role. They didn’t just accept the proposal. They really liked it!

If the Apostles, with three years of first-person experience alongside Jesus , were willing to trust the congregation by delegating authority to them, how much more would we expect elders to do the same?  

Chapel Hill Bible Church members have a crucial role in the decision about changing bylaws

Chapel Hill Bible Church is “vested in the members” of the congregation and this authority is “administered by” church officers.  This seems to fit well with the passage in Acts 6.

Members of the congregation of the Chapel Hill Bible Church have the duty to measure the proposed bylaws by the line of Scripture and apply wisdom to discern the potential effects of such massive change.  It requires diligence in carrying out your role: reading the proposed changes carefully, comparing them to Scripture, and seeking wisdom through prayer about the likely effects.

Scripture: The Apostles delegated authority to preserve their primary mission

… brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6: 3-4 NASB

Doesn’t this sound like the apostles proposed that deacons would function in a separate sphere of authority in managing the group’s finances and administering practical care, so that they could better focus on their sphere of authority of prayer and the ministry of the word? This pleased the congregation.

The original bylaws followed a similar allocation of authority and responsibility. In contrast, the new bylaws transfer the majority of deacon authority to the Board of Elders.

As you read and ponder, do the proposed bylaw changes meet with your enthusiastic approval? Can you say that you are pleased by the proposal? 


Original Bylaws Give Substantial Authority to the Deacon Board

“The responsibility of the Board of Deacons is that of physical oversight of the Church and governance of the corporation.”

“It shall be the duty of the Board of Deacons to assist the Board of Elders in the administration of the Church and to have the care of all matters pertaining to the physical properties and finances of the Church. They shall hold themselves in readiness to assist in guiding the spiritual life of the Church and in performing any other necessary duties.” emphasis added

“The Board of Deacons shall present for adoption at the annual congregational meeting a budget of prospective operating expenses for the coming year. In creating the budget, it is the duty of the Board of Deacons to consider the directions and priorities as given to them by the Board of Elders, as well as the physical needs of the Church, and to seek to honor the direction and priorities to the extent resources are available.”

“The Board of Deacons shall elect from their number a chair, vice-chair, and a secretary annually. They shall also appoint a Church Treasurer who must be a member of the Church, and any committees considered to be essential to the adequate management of the material matters of the Church.”

The first priority in choosing deacons must be the character qualities enumerated in the Bible. But because of the particular responsibilities for finances and administration as well as care of the building, the deacons were often nominated and chosen for recognition of spiritual gifts of administration, service, or leadership.  Additionally, many were also chosen for their skill and experience in the workplace in administration, finances, human resources, building design and construction, safety, etc. This made a lot of practical sense. Character + gifts+skills is a good combination!

The realms of authority between elected officers gave both the elders and the deacons significant and complementary leadership authority. It deliberately avoided concentration of power in one group.  Having people with different giftings involved in mutually coming together in some decision-making provided an opportunity to escape from “bubble thinking” and  for “iron sharpening iron.” This created the space for a broader base of wisdom and experience in decision making but also crucially provided for mutual “checks” against the temptation to sin in use of authority.

The Board of Deacons shall act as directors for the corporation, holding title to the properties of the Church, and representing the Church in all matters pertaining to civil law as directed by the Church. The chair, vice-chair, and secretary of the Board of Deacons, and the Church Treasurer appointed by the deacons, shall be the officers of corporation for corporate matters.

The Board of Deacons had a very serious responsibility to comply with the laws of the state with respect to the Chapel Hill Bible Church as a state-recognized nonprofit organization. Being the directors for the nonprofit corporation gave the Board of Deacons additional and weighty authority. How might this have been a check in the past?

In a hypothetical situation in which the elder board had voted to use NDAs, for instance, the Board of Deacons could have indicated that they would not support the use of NDAs because their belief was that the enforcing an NDA would have required them to “take a brother to court,” and they may have believed that would be in violation of Scripture, or if someone violated an NDA, the Board of Deacons could have refused to “take a brother to court.”

Original Bylaws prioritize spiritual oversight, ministry of the word, and prayer as the focus for the Board of Elders

Though character qualifications for elders and deacons are similar, Scripture specifically indicates that elders should be “skillful in teaching” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “able to exhort [or encourage] in sound doctrine and also able to refute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) NASB.  This seems very consistent with the Acts 6 passage where the Apostles indicated that their sphere of authority was the “ministry of the word and prayer.” This was a focus of the elders’ role in the original bylaws, which remains unchanged.

The responsibility of the Board of Elders is that of the spiritual oversight and health of this local body of Christ. The elders shall perform all of their duties with humble dependence on the Lord, through regular individual and corporate prayer. As such, the Board of Elders shall have the power and authority to act on behalf of the Church except as limited within these Bylaws.

Spiritual Oversight. It shall be the duty of the Board of Elders to care for the Church in its spiritual condition, to guard the purity of doctrine and life of the Church, and to discipline the Church in accordance with the Word of God. The Board of Elders shall be responsible for examining all who seek membership in the Church. They shall act for the Church in the acceptance and dismissal of members, and shall maintain an active membership roll in conjunction with the Church Clerk. They shall counsel the erring and needy, comfort the sick and afflicted, and share in the responsibility of supplying the pulpit. They shall be responsible for the regular services of the Church and the administration of the ordinances. The Board of Elders has the responsibility to ordain, commission, and/or license a minister, according to the needs of the Church and requirements of law.

New Bylaws transfer nearly all authority and massive responsibility to the elder board

Under the new bylaws, elders are now essentially elder-deacons, shouldering both sets of responsibilities.

  • They are now the board of directors of the nonprofit.
  • Their chair, vice-chair, and secretary will be officers of the board of the nonprofit.
  • They appoint the Treasurer.
  • They “have the care of all matters regarding the… finances of the church.” (The deacons retain responsibility for taking care of the physical building and grounds.)

Lots of questions!

Q. What is the purpose of these proposed changes in authority?  What problems are the proposals trying to solve? Are there other ways to solve the problem(s) without massive change in the bylaws?

Q: How can twelve elders maintain a priority of teaching of the word and prayer if they are also charged with being the board of directors and in charge of church finances?

There are only so many hours in a day. Most lay elders have day jobs and families. Jay has said that he needs 30 hours a week for sermon preparation, and yet the bylaws say, “The counsel and advice of the Lead Pastor shall be considered by the officers of the Church and in all the ministries of the Church.” This was always true, but now issues of finances are not first sifted through the Board of Deacons and presented to the elders, but presented directly to the Board of Elders, of whom the Lead Pastor is a member.

Will this proposal unwisely overload the elders and detract from a priority of ministry of the word and prayer?

Note: the bylaws state that the number of deacons “should be increased as the needs of the Church demand.” So if the congregation would like for the deacons to take on congregational care, this could be added to their original duties by adding to the number of deacons.

Q. One could argue that it will be more “efficient,” but is “efficiency” a primary Gospel imperative? Does it trump elders’ ability to focus on the ministry of the word and prayer?

Q: Elders were previously chosen based on character qualifications in Scripture and for their ability to teach and encourage people in sound doctrine. Will they now also need to have administrative abilities and skill and experience in finances, human resources, etc.? How might these bylaw changes influence who gets nominated for elder?

Q. Even among the Twelve, there was a thirst for power. James and John wanted to have extra. The response of Jesus was, ” The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” 

It’s interesting that those in authority in Rome referred to themselves as “benefactors” to make their use of authority sound better. Jesus notes the spin but calls it as it is: “exercising lordship over.” This same sort of spin can be used to deceive oneself about one’s own thirst for power: it’s for the good.

Given the human temptation to thirst after power, do you think it is a better guard against that temptation to have all the power and authority concentrated in the Board of Elders or shared between the Board of Elders and the Board of Deacons?

Q. Who will staff critical committees?

Under the original bylaws, the deacons had the ability to appoint a church treasurer and “any committees considered to be essential to the adequate management of the material matters of the Church.” The make-up of the budget committee is unchanged in the proposed bylaws from the previous ones.

However, the deacons also appointed other committees, such as a personnel committee. The members of the committees were primarily deacons in addition to a staff member such as business manager, bookkeeper, or facilities manager. Deacons could also ask people with special expertise to join, but the majority of the committees were comprised of deacons.

It does not appear that “personnel” is any longer under the authority of the Board of Deacons. The personnel committee included responsibility for developing policies, maintaining and updating the employee handbook and was the closest thing to “human resources” in the church. If a church staff person was concerned about the impact of a new policy, they used to be able to speak confidentially to someone on the personnel committee. Who will serve that role now?

Q: If the elders are in charge of appointing a personnel committee, wouldn’t there be an inherent conflicts of interest in the staff elders appointing committee members to a personnel committee?

Conflicts of interest are addressed in the new bylaws with regard to staff members on the elder board (with the exception of lead pastor) participating in votes on budget, hiring and firing of staff, salaries of staff, or staff performance reviews.

However, unless we missed it, there is not acknowledgement of the conflict of interest in appointing the members of committees which will be recommending the budget or developing personnel policies. Yet the personnel staffing that committee could be expected to have a significant impact on the recommendations coming out of that committee.  Perhaps the appointment of anyone to a personnel committee should be reserved for the lay elders.

Q: Who will be responsible for developing the safeguarding policies recommended by GRACE?

The proposed bylaws add an area of responsibility to the Board of Deacons

The current summation of deacon responsibility in the bylaws

“The responsibility of the Board of Deacons is that of physical oversight of the Church and governance of the corporation.”

The proposed summation of deacon responsibility in the bylaws

The responsibility of the Board of Deacons is that of physical oversight of the Church and member and congregational care.

Note: previously, the responsibility of the deacons was the physical oversight of the Church (all the practical essentials needed to keep the Church functioning) but is now limited to the physical oversight of the church buildings and grounds. It would probably be more accurate to specify that change in the summation statement in the bylaws.

Q: What does “member and congregational care” entail? ( And why is there a distinction between member care and congregational care? )

There does not appear to be a description of what “member and congregational care” entails. Congregational care could well be seen as consistent with Acts 6, but the deacons in Acts 6 were in charge of the distribution of the finances in an equitable way. Since neither the administration of the benevolence fund, or budget, or finances are under the control of the deacons, it appears that they will be hamstrung in trying to carry it out.

Instead, the elders retain oversight of the Benevolence Fund, so unless they delegate that to the Board of Deacons (why not do it in these proposed bylaws if that is the intention?) the extent of the what the deacons can do in terms of “care” is unclear.

Presumably, deacons could do things such as set up a Care Calendar for a congregant in need and search for volunteers to fill the needs or do it themselves.

The impact on the authority of the congregation of the proposed bylaw changes

Under the original bylaws, members nominated and voted on those exercising significant authority in the church–both elders and deacons.

Congregation members still vote on calling pastors and ministers.

Congregants can still vote on deacons, but under the new bylaws, it’s hard to see the deacons as retaining much actual authority, unless it is over the building and property. They do retain responsibilities such as the supervision and care of the building and property, providing the material needs for services, and ushering. It’s hard to discern whether member and congregational care is an area of authority or designation of a service to be provided, since it is not defined.  So while congregants can still vote for deacons, their sphere of authority is significantly reduced.

Congregants can still vote on elders, who will be exercising authority in the church, but since the maximum number of elders is twelve,  and since up to 1/3 of the elders can be pastoral staff, it appears that voting on 7 or 8 elders will be the likely limit of the congregation’s authority to affirm those in authority.

If, as it appears, the elders will be appointing people to various committees that used to be under the authority of the deacons, it will dilute the authority of the congregation. While the deacons could previously invite individuals to participate on a committee, the committees were formed by elected deacons, and primarily comprised of elected deacons. Substituting elected officers of the church with appointments by the 7 or 8 elected elders dilutes the congregation’s previous authority.

Do the proposed bylaws reflect a change in the theological position of the church with regard to women’s roles?

As noted, the previous bylaws give the deacon board, composed of both men and women, significant authority as directors of the nonprofit corporation, over the budget and finances of the church, and over such areas as personnel policy.

Of their previous areas of authority, the only area of authority (high-level decision making and leadership) appears to be over the building and grounds, which could be construed more as a responsibility of service to be carried out than an area of decision making.

Q: Is it possible that the new bylaws vest the most substantial authority of the church to the elders so that women are not “exercising authority,” since that appears to be one practical result of the proposed changes (whether intended or not)?

Q: If the elders have changed the theological position of the church, is a change in bylaws the most appropriate way to make that change?

Concluding questions:

How closely does each of the the proposed changes to the bylaws align with Scripture?

Are you pleased with, confused by, or troubled by the proposed changes?

You will be called on to use your authority as a member to approve those changes that please you and vote against those which don’t. How will you vote on each? If the changes are presented as a whole package, will you offer an amendment? How will you vote if the choice is all or nothing?

Our hope is that you will use this analysis to prompt your own careful consideration of each of the bylaws changes. We tried to offer analysis of the major ones, but may have missed something, or misunderstood something. Be Berean!


Summary comparison of authority & responsibility of elders, deacons, and congregation from original bylaws to proposed bylaws.

Authority or responsibility remains the same (=). Additional area of authority or responsibility (+) . Removal of an area of authority or responsibility (-)

This is the Behind the Whitewash summary. You are encouraged to do your own!


= retain all previous authority

+ legal board of directors of the nonprofit

+ control of budget and finance

+ (apparently) appointment of committees previously under the Board of Deacons’ authority


= retain responsibility for building, ushering, material needs for services

– legal board of directors of the nonprofit

– control of budget and finances

-(apparently) appointment of committees such as personnel

+ congregational care


=Retain ability to nominate & vote on elders

= Retain ability to nominate & vote on deacons, though they apparently have less authority but rather task assignments

– Since the number of officers the congregation votes on who have substantial authority has decreased, the authority of the congregation is diluted

– If key committees will be comprised of appointees rather than primarily of elected officers, this, too, dilutes congregational authority

Return to analysis