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Intellectual Property

The interview for the position of Minister of Fine Arts was going as expected until the applicant asked me about intellectual property. Admittedly, this is a serious subject that our church had not addressed yet. After explaining our lack of policy, I asked the job seeker to elaborate and help me to understand the situation.

Basically, the applicant wanted to know who owned any song, script, poem, or musical arrangement the Minister of Fine Arts created while on staff at our church. And upon leaving the staff, would that individual have ownership of the material or be required to leave it with the church? And if created material generated any income, would the composer benefit, too?

This one interview caused us to create a comprehensive policy that would address questions about intellectual property in our local church. In the 21st Century every published sermon, musical arrangement, Bible study, and other material, has the potential of marketplace sales. And where dollars are concerned, everyone is listening.

“Intellectual property,” sometimes abbreviated as IP, refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. And every local church has been benefiting from someone’s intellectual property.

Years ago, as a newly hired youth minister, I was asked by the pastor to upgrade the ministry to youth. Among other things, I created a unique title for our youth services and designed a logo to correspond. This was published in our bulletins, mail-outs, and electronic correspondence. One year later, several other churches were using my service title and logo for their youth ministries. At first, I was flattered. But then, I wondered why they didn’t at least make contact before they, uh, borrowed my idea.

After I had vented to my pastor about being ripped-off by my fellow ministers, he read Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV), “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”

Here's the Gospel truth. A person writing a book or publishing musical arrangements has a right to reap recognition or profits for the work. But all of the honor and thanks must be returned to God who inspired insight, revelation, and creativity. Paul said in Acts 17:28, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” If this is true, then all creative thoughts are a product of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

Bottom line: God owns all of your intellectual property! Before you seek just compensation, be sure that the Lord has received His proper recognition.

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