Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Above Board: The Biblical Call For Financial Accountability In Christian Ministry (Part IV)

How are Christian Ministries Financially Accountable

So, how does it look in ministry today? Christian ministries better not wait for an apostle to come around for a benevolent offering for saints in Jerusalem before applying the principles that are found above. Bacher and Inskeep (2005: 157-158) write:
In a world of financial off-shore deals designed to hide debt and inflate income statements, where freedom is understood as the absence of accountability, appropriate accountability may be attractive to outsiders. A denomination with self-imposed accountability practices may receive attention to its open, top-of-the-table, nothing-to-hide approach.
 The first thing is to commit to developing a philosophy of financial accountability. How is the church or Christian ministry, not just the denomination, going to ensure integrity and trust with respect to finances? The best position is definitely a nothing-to-hide approach. Christian ministries have to start by saying that they are going to do whatever is necessary to preemptively care for the testimony of the church and the name of Christ. Start with the smaller areas, like Paul did. One of the reasons he encouraged the offerings to be collected on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2) was because it was open and public. Malphurs and Stroope (2007: 95) have a nice list of some of the smaller areas—things like collecting funds in groups, counting in groups, using multiple people to make deposits, requiring multiple signatures for checks, etc. They say, “It’s imperative that every church implement a clear system of financial accountability that governs its financial operations from the time a trusting congregant places money in the offering plate to the time the church writes a check to a vendor” (2007: 93). Pastors, they say, should never have the authority to sign checks (2007: 95-96). Instead, the church should identify a man/woman like those described in 1 and 2 Corinthians above.
     The areas of auditing and transparency demand special consideration here. Bacher and Inskeep (2005: 157-158) suggest that because financial accountability is often neglected, there should be regular audits. They suggest that these audits should be by outside firms. Someone reading this is probably saying “Wait a minute. Hold up!” Malphurs and Stroope (2007: 95) agree. They say that it should be an annual audit conducted by someone who is (1) not a member of the church, (2) not involved in the collection of money, (3) not involved in distribution or monthly auditing throughout the year. By doing so, they say, “the financial integrity of the church is protected, and the confidence contributors have is strengthened” (2007:96; for a description of how the public trust stands toward nonprofit organizations and financial accountability, see Ciconte and Jacob, 2009: 5-6). Zietlow et. al. (2007: 167) suggests that independent audits are probably only feasible options for larger ministries (i.e., those over $100,000 annual). However, where financially possible, external audits are the way to go and they pay dividends at cultivating internal and external trust.
     Transparency is a word used to describe “full disclosure of income and expenditures” (Pyle, 1981: 337). D. Pollock (2010: 28) acknowledges that many church leaders do not want full disclosure. They are worried about the information falling into the wrong hands. They are worried what people will think. But, he says that donors have a moral right to know and donees a moral right to make known. Legally, churches do not have to make the information known. But, the moral right to know and the standard set by the Corinthian correspondence demand it. Pollock goes so far as to suggest that donors should not continue to support any ministry that is not open with its finances. Care can be exercised while still providing full disclosure. For example, the leadership of a church can protect to whom the information is given by allowing people to see full details at the church office or upon request (Busby, 2010: 22). How much, how often, and in what manner information is disclosed should be addressed in the policies and procedures of the local church or organization when developing a philosophy of financial integrity.

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