Open the Books!

We must better police ourselves when it comes to ministry finances--before the government does it for us.
The freedom we enjoy in the United States means several things to us as Christian leaders. It means we can worship God with other believers without the threat of the police carting us off to prison. It means we can openly promote Christian schools and businesses and other organizations so our public lives can be guided by biblical principles. It also means the federal government recognizes our organizations as special entities and frees us from the burden of unnecessary taxation because it recognizes, as we do, that the goal of our work is not financial profit but helping people live better lives.

However, all of our freedoms are subject to the principles of law. If I decide part of my church's worship involves blowing up buildings, the government will step in and prohibit me from exercising my religion in that way. And they should.

There are less grievous--but still very offensive--actions that will cause the government to restrict our work as Christian ministers.

We are fortunate to receive housing-exemption allowances each year. But last year, because some began to claim such large housing allowances that it appeared as though our leaders were taking advantage of our laws, the government began to investigate, and they seriously considered taking away those allowances because of the appearance of excess and greed.

Thankfully, there were enough Christians in the House of Representatives and the Senate that they protected all of us, and nothing happened, but we as Christian ministers have a responsibility to ensure that the government never again has reason to suspect us of ungodly use of the resources that are donated to our churches and parachurch ministries--or, more specifically, to God's kingdom.

Let's put the "simply put" right up front this time: Simply put, we Christian leaders absolutely must police ourselves with openness and integrity, and guard ourselves against the threat of government intrusion. We do this not by resisting the government or resenting the press (which often reminds us of our need for integrity) but by holding ourselves accountable so that we are always, as the Bible tells us to be, above reproach.

Fortunately, for all of us, this is incredibly easy to do. We already have a private organization that offers to do it for us: the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA, www.ecfa.org). ECFA is set up to help us make sure we are using our resources wisely so that no one could ever accuse us of wrongdoing.

When people give to member organizations of the ECFA, they can have full assurance the ministry has met ECFA's basic standards, which include having a yearly audit performed by an independent certified public accounting firm and a willingness to provide full financial disclosure upon request. I believe we as Christian leaders have a responsibility to teach people within our spheres of influence to look for the ECFA seal when considering a financial gift to a parachurch ministry. The ECFA's Web site lists its member ministries.

Ministry is a sacred trust. Ministry finances shouldn't be a secret, and our decision-making groups shouldn't be questionable. There is no reason for us not to live in the light--unless we have something to hide.

Let's walk in the light in every area, including in the way we handle our resources. Simply put, we need to police ourselves, or our government is going to do it for us.

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