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Actual Case: Keeping Churches Out of Court

First United Pentecostal Church of Parsons, TN had undertaken an expensive building program. The pastor, Rev. James Dixon, and the deacon body enthusiastically contracted with a contractor to do the work. After the foundation had been laid, inspectors discovered the foundation would not support the large steel super-structure. When confronted with this information, the contractor first denied its accuracy then later insisted he had completed the foundation as directed by church leaders. In other words, he tried to lay the blame on the church leaders and the pastor.

Rev. Dixon called me and explained. Each day the work did not proceed the church lost money. The contractor refused to rebuild the foundation. Indeed, he hired a lawyer and the possibility of a lawsuit hung in the air. Worst of all, Rev. Dixon worried about the effect of a lawsuit on the ministry of the church.

The church could not proceed with construction unless it was willing to pay the contractor - despite his fault - to tear up the old foundation and rebuild a new one. Its only other options were to breach the contract and find a new contractor, or file a lawsuit against the contractor.

I have often faced similar situations. I knew that when a lawyer is restrained from using the option of filing a lawsuit, he is handicapped. But lawsuits are often filed too readily, without an intensive effort at resolving a conflict by negotiation or mediation. I had given much thought to this and had written on the subject in my columns. I understood and was sympathetic to the church's viewpoint.

The strategy we used to resolve the problem was intense and complex, but successful: the church and the contractor signed releases ending the contract, a new contractor was hired, and the building was completed without the serious overrun in costs the church had feared. Rev. Dixon's letter to me afterward was deeply appreciated: "We appreciate your help and advice so much. I know you prayed about our situation because you surely had the mind of Christ and your advice was correct!"

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