The word shall is a legal term. Wherever it appears in a legal document, it’s a decree. A command. An imperative. Like when we tell our kids to clean their room. Not a suggestion.
A nonprofit Board should be reviewing its Bylaws at least every two years. And while we’re at it we should review our Board policies and the Employee Handbook and the staff and volunteer procedures manuals on a regular basis.
In addition, because we’re a medical nonprofit, our Medical policies and procedures manual needs to be reviewed and signed off by the executive leadership annually. It’s three or four times as thick as the other manuals!
When the Board members and I started reading through the Board policy manual, it was obvious a few Bylaws needed work.
Like this one: Board meetings shall take place on the third Monday of every month.
In the months when there’s a legal holiday on the third Monday, we bump the meeting to either the week prior or the week following, depending on our schedules. We had no idea it was law!
We changed it to read that a Board meeting will be held once a month, on a predetermined date and time, except in December and any month when we know beforehand that there won’t be a quorum.
Chances are your state government won’t bother you about your Bylaws, your policies or procedures. But if there’s ever an issue that does get their attention, such as: an employee files a complaint with your state labor board, claiming improper actions by her employer – and you end up in court – as my risk management friend says, “It’s not a problem, until it’s a problem. And then it can be a big problem.”
If you’re ever taken to court, most likely the judge will ask, “What do your Bylaws say?” In the Bylaws the word shall carries a lot of weight, and the judge will side with the law, i.e. your Bylaws. Which is why the legal documents need to be reviewed and updated regularly.
In God’s writings the word shall is also a legal term that indicates intention – what God determines and is obligating Himself to do. In modern English and modern Bible translations the word isn’t used as much, but the meaning is there in the original languages.
Of course, for someone without a strong moral compass, shall could make her feel uncomfortable. See this passage (King James Version):
…Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. – Matthew 19:18-19
But when the word shall is connected to one of God’s promises, this word can (and should) bring huge comfort!
Notice how many times shall is used in the passages below (KJV):
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident… For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord. – Psalm 27:1-6
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil [having a fallen nature], know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? – Matthew 7:7-11
Sometimes we forget how truly good God is and how secure His promises are. He is the covenant Maker and covenant Keeper. If you’re in doubt, try doing a Bible study on the promises and prophecies that have been fulfilled since time began.
If the words God speaks are powerful enough to create a universe (Hebrews 11:3), wouldn’t His words be powerful enough to accomplish good things in the lives of His children?
Of course they are.
And our response should be nothing less than gratitude.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. – Psalm 63:3
Read: Isaiah 40