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Ministers' Housing Allowance Upheld


Ministers' Housing Allowance Upheld

On November 13, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago vacated the decision by the Federal District Court of Wisconsin declaring the housing allowance unconstitutional and instructed the District Court to dismiss it.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the organization bringing the suit, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) lacked the legal right — known as “standing” — to challenge the housing allowance.

The Court listed several reasons the FFRF lacked standing, most succinctly stating that “The plaintiffs here argue that they have standing because they were denied a benefit (a tax exemption for their employer-provided housing allowance) that is conditioned on religious affiliation. This argument fails, however, for a simple reason. The plaintiffs were never denied the parsonage exemption because they never asked for it. Without a request, there can be no denial.”

The Seventh Circuit panel did not address the housing allowance’s constitutionality. “We think it important to allow the IRS and Tax Court to interpret the boundaries of a tax provision before we assess its constitutionality,” their opinion stated MMBB Financial Services signed onto an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief with a diverse array of religious organizations in support of the housing allowance. Filed in April 2014, the brief asked the appellate court to uphold the housing allowance based on several arguments.

  • Ministers are typically expected to live near the church they serve; in smaller
    congregations ministers often function as the building’s primary caretaker.

  • Ministers are on call day and night and are frequently expected to open their homes to church events, meetings with parishioners and out-of-town guests like visiting missionaries.

  • Ministers often face frequent moves and limited choice, especially if they are poorly paid.

  • The housing allowance reduces discrimination among religions that rely extensively upon church-owned parsonages by reimbursing the minister for housing expenses when the church does not own a parsonage.

Reprinted from MMBB.ORG


The Code of Ethics for ABC Ministers

The Code of Ethics for ABC Ministers

A series of reflections on the Code of Ethics presented in letter form addressed to congregational members of American Baptist Churches in the USA by Rev. Joe Kutter. Additional commentary provided by Rev. Patti Duckworth. This the first letter of six.

Behavior You Can Expect From Your Pastoral Leader

By Dr. Joe Kutter

Dear American Baptists:

I am writing primarily to those among us who are not ordained, to the “Lay Folk” who sustain our churches and our ministries. But I want to talk about “The Ordained,” those frequently called “Ministers.” I want to talk about your pastor and the others who serve Christ and you through the agencies of the church.

Ministers, you are more than welcome to read these short letters because I will be talking about you, and you may want to improve or correct the things that I say. Please feel free. ( Actually, as you may know, I’ll be talking about us since I am a member of the cohort of the ordained.

About what will we be talking? I want to introduce you, the Lay Folks, to a short document called, “The Covenant and Code of Ethics for Ministerial Leaders of American Baptist Churches.” (With that title, it should be a best seller!)

Now some lay person is asking, “Why? Isn’t that a boring paper for ministers? What does it have to do with me? The short answer is, “Yes, it is for ministers, and it has everything to do with you!” It describes the behavior that you can expect from your pastoral leader as she or he relates to you, to your church, and to your community. It describes the standards to which we aspire. It describes your minister at his or her very best.

(Spoiler Alert: You may be surprised to learn that our ethical standards are a bit at variance from what you may expect.)

This is a “Code of Ethics,” not a statement of faith. We will talk more about behavior and less about belief, though the two are intimately connected. We will talk about ethics rather than theology.

Why write this series? I have served Christ and Church as an ordained minister since 1971, 39 years as a pastor and four years as the Executive Director of the American Baptist Ministers Council. I am proud of my colleagues in ministry. I am proud of the standards to which we aspire. When one of us slips up, the rumor mills run wild. In some cases, the headlines scream in deafening decibels, and they probably should. In recent decades, a number of tragic scandals have caused immeasurable harm to thousands of people, and the reputation of all clergy persons has been stained. Too many of you wonder if the ordained among us can be trusted.

My first response is this. The overwhelming majority of our ordained colleagues are women and men of irreproachable integrity. They seek to do the right things in the right ways at the right times.

It is true, we have been disappointed from time to time to learn of a leader who violated our trust and the standards of behavior to which we hold ourselves accountable. That tragic reality acknowledged, most of our ordained leaders engage ministry with honor and integrity, and I want you to know the basic standards that form the foundation of our ethical lives.

So, with the next letter, I’ll begin to walk you through our code of ethics. I want you to share my pride and trust in our ordained leaders.


You Can't Be a Transformational Leader and...

You Can't Be a Transformational Leader and...

One of my favorite definitions for leadership is offered by Tod Bolsinger in his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He says, “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” This requires a leader to lead “transformationally”. That is, leading well requires both the leader and people to change as the organization grows in its quest to attain its Christ-given mission. Jesus is at the center of this transformational journey. He provides ordinary Christ-followers with the courage and power to first be transformed themselves as they learn to lead transformation in the organization.

Leadership doesn’t come naturally for the majority of people. It’s a skill that must be developed and constantly nurtured. As leaders hone their craft they will stumble. They will disappoint themselves and others. However, this is normal and no reason to stop leading. Regardless of the difficulties and challenges, the church today needs courageous, humble, Christ-centered people who will respond to the call to lead.

As I’ve reflected on the development of transformational leaders I found myself exploring what holds people back from becoming leaders. To organize my thoughts I wrestled with this phrase, “You can’t be a Transformational Leader and…” I also posted it as a question on FaceBook and received some great answers. So, here’s a list of my responses, with help from friends, to “You can’t be a transformational leader and…” It’s my hope that by considering these negative descriptions we will all grow in the positive qualities and skills required of transformational leaders.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Not be transformed yourself. Leaders are always in personal transformation, growing in their faith and competence.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Refuse to be a life-long learner. By nature transformational leaders are curious. They ask questions. They read. They explore new ideas. They test new skills. They access a variety of resources to always be growing.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack basic leadership skills. Personal integrity, follow through, good people skills, persuasion, attending to details, etc. are necessary foundational skills for instilling confidence that you are a trustworthy leader.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Have no idea where you are leading. Leaders must be clear about their personal mission and the organization’s mission. Leaders know where they are going and inspire others to go with them.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be a one-man band. Leaders lean into teams, have an accountability group, they collaborate, and enter into partnerships.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe you have all the answers, or, at least most of them. Leaders collaborate with others to find the best path forward. They are honest when stumped by challenges they face.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be arrogant. Yes, you want to be confident in yourself by being well grounded. Arrogance, on the other hand, is off-putting. Transformational leaders have the right blend of self-confidence, appropriate assertiveness and humility.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to execute. Ready, fire and aim is better than ready, aim, aim, aim and never pull the trigger. If you wait until you have every assurance for success you will not lead. Leaders execute, and adjust direction along the way. 

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Wait until everyone is onboard before moving ahead. There will always be nay-sayers and late adopters, people who struggle to affirm new directions. Attaining a critical mass of 70% to 80% supporters is a good benchmark for moving ahead.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect to never fail. Risk-free ministry is an impossible expectation. Leaders experiment, and by nature experiments will often fail. In this way leaders fail forward. 

 You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack the ability to influence others to embrace the overall organizational mission and join the team.

 You can’t be a transformational leader and…Force people to go with you. Leadership is about inspiring, clarifying and exemplifying why the status quo is unacceptable. Barking out commands like a dictator to get with it and move in a new direction is not leadership.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Dislike people. Leaders love people, are motivated to know their stories and invest in the growth of others.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Talk more than listen; a common weakness among leaders who find themselves in front of people speaking on a regular basis.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to recognize that people need to process the grief they feel as a result of changes in the organization.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Throw in the towel at the first sign of opposition. Leaders are resilient. They stay the course in the face of setbacks, uncertainties and pressure to settle for the status quo. Leaders have grit.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect everyone to like you. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leaders know that to lead means to disappoint some of their constituency.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Run from conflict. No one likes conflict except a kick-boxer. However, avoiding conflict is non-leadership behavior. By nature leadership is polarizing. If you lead, conflict will erupt. Visionary leaders learn how to navigate conflict, and although conflict is never welcomed leaders act pro-actively when conflict arises.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Become angry and defensive when people disagree. Transformational leaders expect push back, criticism and even betrayal. Leaders make course corrections and improvements in response to constructive criticism. Leaders maintain a non-defensive, non-reactionary stance towards critics.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Avoid facing current reality and/or failing to describe current reality for the organization.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Blame others for your failures. Visionary leaders embrace radical responsibility for the success or failure of their initiatives, and ultimately for the organizations they lead.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe lack of resources is a reason to abandon the mission. Leaders are not held back by what appears to be lack of resources. Resources—finances, volunteers, buildings—follow vision not the reverse.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Never apologize, ask forgiveness, confess weakness and/or confusion. Leaders readily admit when their words and actions have caused hurt and confusion.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Always take personal credit for the success of your organization.Leaders honor others and give credit where credit is due.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…  Engage in constant “Programming ADHD” as in moving on to the next big thing quickly after having introduced the previous next big thing just a month prior. People tire quickly of zig-zag leadership, aka “post conference leader syndrome.”

So, in reviewing this fairly long list, where do you find yourself needing to grow? I suggest you share this with a close friend or coach, and stretch yourself as you continue to grow in your leadership abilities. God bless.


Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders


Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders

Increasingly churches are discovering that the strength of their congregation is directly related to the skill and maturity of their leaders. Simply filling open slots from the membership list based on regular attendance is insufficient for producing good leadership.

Several churches are discovering the value of training future leaders by developing their own Leadership Learning Community (LLC). The idea is based on the region’s LLC ministry among pastors. Core church leadership concepts are taught through a monthly gathering of potential leaders. The invitation to participate may be opened to all who are interested in developing their leadership skills. The leader chooses a book, or curriculum, on an important church issue.

Everyone agrees to study the resource in advance. During the gathering the participants review the content, wrestle with questions that arise, and make concrete plans for applying the concepts learned. The local LLC serves as a pool from which ministry leaders and board members are recruited.

Recommended books for lay leader LLCs include these selections from 2016’s Reading List for pastors:

  • Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion Into Your Congregation by Kevin Harney
  • U-Turn Church: New Direction for Health and Growth by Kevin Harney and Bob Bouwer
  • Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton
  • Emotionally Healthy Leaders: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

More books and resources from previous years may be found at Click on the “Reading List” links.



Is 'True Grit' All Cowboy? Part 1

A few weeks ago, a program on our local PBS station caught my attention. The presentation was a recording of a TED Talks* about education, which has always been important to me. One person presenting that evening especially caught my attention when she was introduced: Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth. (No kidding, and she's not related!)

Letter from Region Board President - Nov. 2011

November 10, 2011

Greetings to the Churches, Pastors and Leadership Learning Communities of the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest,
As you are aware, we, the ABC of the Northwest, are in a time of exciting transition following the Region-wide Assessment conducted in the second half of 2009 by Dr. Bill Hoyt. The findings of the assessment were presented at the Boise Biennial Celebration business meeting which convened on May 14, 2010. The report calls for continuing changes in the Region. A copy of the report has been posted at the ABCNW web site for your referral. While transition always includes stress associated with change please know that your Region Board is committed to supporting you throughout the forthcoming transition process.
Previously, we sent you a letter about how the restructure would impact the old “Area” model. Since that letter was sent out most “Areas” in the ABCNW have disbanded in favor of the changes recommended by the Region Assessment. By way of our assessment it became clear that, as a whole, this structure was no longer serving it's purpose. Dr. Hoyt had reported to the board:
“Areas no longer work. This was overwhelmingly evident from the information gathered in the online survey. Areas aren’t what they used to be and they aren’t ever going to be. They are an economic improbability if not an outright impossibility. There are now different and better ways to provide connection and resourcing.” 
This is a follow up to the previous letter written to explain the process for nominating and electing of Representatives from each geographical area to serve on the Region Board. During the transitional period of the Region restructure the Region Board feels that the election process can best be facilitated at the LLC level. With this in mind, the Region Board is asking the LLCs that reside within the boundaries of the old “Areas” to vote to elect these Representatives from within their respective churches. All nominations will be subject to Region guidelines including acceptance of the Commonly Held Essentials, Resolution on Human Sexuality, and affirmation of the new structure and vision of the ABCNW. To this end, the Personnel and Nominating Committee of the Region Board will work in conjunction with the LLCs and the Executive Minister to assure that the above guidelines are met.
For the time being, if there is more than one LLC within a given area boundary they would need to divide the vote between them. For example, the Inland Northwest Area has three LLCs. These LLCs would establish a rotation by which each one would have a vote for a Representative over time. In the old model, each Area had two Representatives who served a three-year term. If the Eastern Montana LLC and the Spokane Area LLC vote on the first two Representatives from within their geographical area, then the Central Washington LLC would have a vote on the following cycle and one of the previously mentioned LLC’s would not vote. As you can see, this system has the potential to increase the actual involvement from a greater geographical area.
In order to give these votes bylaw authority, each Pastor in each LLC will be asked to sign a form acknowledging that they are casting a vote on these Representatives. This form will be kept on record at the Region office and updated whenever an LLC is eligible to vote.
The Area elected Representatives to the Region Board who are currently in office with continue to fill out their term and this new system will begin when their terms expire. This timing will differ based upon the dates at which the currently serving Representatives finish their terms.
If you have any questions regarding the upcoming changes, the suggestions of the assessment or the decisions reported at our Biennial meeting please feel free to contact your Area Representative to the Region Board or the Region staff.
Rev. Jim Amend
President, ABC of the Northwest Region Board
Dr. Charles Revis
Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest