It is interesting that God called His people, better stated, commanded His people, to be holy. Holy is a word that can be defined as “different” or “set apart.” In both the Old and New Testament, the command is clear.
Leviticus 11:44 – For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.
1 Peter 1:15 – but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
If a man on the street poll was taken, I doubt holiness would be the top response to this question:
When you think of a Christian leader, what is the first word that comes into your mind?
While discouraging, it is even more so when we consider the public black eye received when a church leader steals or commits some other form of fraud. The news outlets seem to love freely sharing the sins of the Christian. When a well-known Christian is exposed as a cheat, thief, immoral or unfair in their dealings, the news receives above the fold exposure.
The Institute of Church Management was created by a good friend of mine. Glenn Miller saw a need for the Church and Christian ministry arena to step up in their financial integrity. Glenn often asks those attending the workshops offered by the Institute the following question:
“Is there any reason why the Church cannot, or should not be, the financial integrity leaders in our communities?”
The truth is that we all are an example to those around us. Will our behavior be a benchmark or an excuse? When we fail to lead in financial integrity, we provide an excuse for those that do not know Christ. Every time a Christian leader is caught in fraud, the Church suffers shame. Why can’t the other side be true? If we would learn to lead with exemplary integrity, our light would shine brighter in the darkness.
The good news is that we can limit the potential damage of fraud through our procedures, and by gaining the appropriate knowledge. The Church does not need to continue down the same old path of failure. There is a movement beginning to change the way the Church does business. At least there should be. If there isn’t one yet, then let’s you and I begin one today.
The Church of Jesus Christ should be leading the way in financial integrity. Pastors and Christian leaders should be providing answers regarding how to handle money and not gaining headlines through practicing unethical behaviors. We serve the King of Kings. We work as unto the Lord, so why shouldn’t we be the best in the industry?
Every church or ministry receives and spends money. How we do those two primary activities will reflect our financial integrity. Do we have the proper controls in place to discourage fraud? Do we even know what controls are necessary? If not, we are unarmed in a gun battle, and that is always unwise. (Can I still write gun in our current political climate?)
The Church is populated with humans. Humans are subject to temptation. Money, and often large quantities of it, is a major temptation to many humans. What are we doing to help those that deal with money to resist or overcome this temptation? How do we know if they are being successful in their struggles? Financial integrity demands that we answer these questions. If we fail to do so, we may find our ministries on the front page of the newspaper, or the subject of thousands of tweets. We may lose them entirely.
Do not despair, there is good news! Churches and Christian ministries can implement policies and procedures that will keep honest people honest. These practices do not have to cost much. In fact, most of them cost nothing at all. Okay, there is the cost of time, and perhaps overcoming the resistance to changing improper behaviors, but these are not financial in nature.
Where do we begin to change?
First, there must be a desire to want to change. Will you embrace Glenn’s challenge to become the leader in financial integrity in your community? Even if no one ever asks you a question about how you handle your finances, you can and should excel. We serve the King of the Universe and anything less than our best is too little and unacceptable.
Second, will you pursue education to learn how to become an excellent leader in financial integrity? No one knows everything, so we all need help. Glenn is a Certified Fraud Examiner.
That fact that we have to have such people in the Christian world is disheartening, but leaving that aside for a moment, he, and those like him, haves a lot of wisdom to share.
In the interest of full disclosure, I help teach along with Glenn at The Institute of Church Management. I have been in full time, paid ministry for over thirty years. For eleven of those years I was the administrator of a large church in my city, and for about the last twenty years, I have served as a senior pastor of my own church. I am therefore somewhat familiar with the inner workings of the church.
While serving as an administrator, I studied and passed the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) professional designation exam. Since becoming a senior pastor, I have completed my Masters degree, a Doctorate and a Ph.D. I know a little bit about studying and learning as well. When I challenge people to keep on learning I am speaking from a position of experience. We must study and we must grow, learn and adapt.
So, back to my second point; will you pursue the education necessary to learn what needs to be accomplished to protect your ministry? If you will not, who will then? If you will not become the leader in integrity in your ministry who will? Who should be if not you?
There are tools available to assist you in your pursuit of excellence in integrity. The Institute of Church Management has plenty of them. The National Association of Church Business Administrators, and The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability do as well.
Regarding financial accountability and integrity, Jesus’ words still remains true – ask and you will receive, seek and you will find.
Lead with integrity and you soon will be followed. I know the last words are not Jesus’, but they are true nonetheless.
I will leave you with two questions of my own – Will we lead in integrity? If not, why not?
This is part one of a series on Financial Integrity in Christian Ministry. In future articles I will address: Knowing the state of your ministry, the role of audits and internal controls, the fraud triangle, the inconceivable nature of fraud, how to overcome fraud, and other topics. You can find these, and other articles, on my blog.
If I can be of service to you, please contact me.