In ministry, to have integrity means to be whole and sound. Ministerial integrity inspires confidence, much as money does in the economic realm. Anything less than 100 percent integrity breeds mistrust and creates a suspicion of being robbed.
There are four areas in any Christian’s life, but especially in the ministry, that must be sound: finances, commitments, honesty and doctrine. Careful attention to these areas is crucial and will pay off in a lifetime of influence.
When it comes to integrity in finances, there are several basic principles to guide us and certain practical rules to protect us.
1. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another” (Rom. 13:8, NASB). Debt that is secured (has property standing for its value) is acceptable but still requires prompt, no-excuses repayment. Some ministries hold their payments to vendors and creditors for 90 days for cash-management purposes. The phrase “The check is in the mail” has become a farce. It has no place in Christian ministry.
2. The cost of buildings and their operation should never exceed 35 percent of a church’s income. Salaries should run between 20 and 40 percent. Missions giving must never fall below a tithe level of 10 percent and can increase to 25 percent or even more if the church is debt-free. Savings should be 5 to 10 percent. These percentages do not affect integrity unless the church violates them and can no longer pay its obligations in the month they are due.
3. Money given must be used for the purpose designated. There is no compromise on this principle—to do so is both illegal and unappreciated.
4. Outside business interests between leadership and membership change the relationship and cannot exist. The body of Christ isn’t a convenient collection of contacts. Second Timothy 2:4 says, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” I cannot see the apostle Paul with multilevel contacts in all the churches he founded. His motives remained pure because the sheep were his stewardship, not his reward.
5. Churches should adequately support their pastors and leaders. It isn’t the duty of the congregation to keep the pastor poor and “dependent on God.” Neither is it the congregation’s duty to support a lavish, extravagant lifestyle for a pastor who wants to live far above the norm. Resources are available that post the median salary for nonprofit ministries in America.
6. Pressure for finances yields the perception of manipulation and insincerity. It’s no secret that it takes money to operate ministry and expand it. However, when the sheep sense that they are a means to an end—part of an agenda that equates their worth with their money—a loss of integrity results.
7. Members deserve to be informed of expenditures. At Bethany World Prayer Center, we issue a financial statement at the end of each year, showing in categories all expenses and income. This is to assure our members of our priorities (missions, youth and children, local outreach) and also our obligations (principal payments, utility costs, staff costs). We avoid listing each employee’s salary because that inevitably leads to contention and strife. In addition, all our executive-level salaries are controlled by an outside compensation committee as mandated by the IRS.Commitments
A man of integrity “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:4). When a commitment comes out of your mouth, you must have the same integrity with it that God has to His Word. You’d be better off to bear personal expense rather than change a commitment you publicly made.
Commitments from the pulpit, of course, are inviolate. Our staff knows that if I announce something, it becomes our new direction. It takes only once for a pastor to alter his word to bring suspicion of any and every announcement.
Of course, mistakes may be made, but if the pastor has set a course, he must follow through. This brings confidence in the pulpit as the true source of accurate information about the direction of the church.
Commitments also involve responsibilities. Before you accept a responsibility, count the cost (see Luke 14:28). Don’t commit to an event, a project, a board or a task and then change your mind about it. Christian believers and leaders must exhibit the steadiest, most trustworthy commitments in the community.
It’s time for a new standard of integrity that no worldly institution can even begin to rival. The reputation of not only the American church but also our Savior Himself is at stake, and we must radically change direction and dedicate ourselves to keeping our commitments.
In a court of law, you are asked, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” Integrity means a commitment to the entire truth. It is following the scriptural mandate to “provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17, KJV).
A lie is simply any intent to deceive. Therefore, lies are not only what you say but also what you allow people to believe for untruthful purposes. Intentionally withholding pertinent truth that leads people to wrong conclusions does not show integrity.
Exaggeration is another serious temptation. One person ministered in our church years ago and described a bus he was using to transport cancer patients. My father calculated the length the bus would have to be in order to hold the number of people the minister said it could hold. That bus would have needed to be more than 125 feet long!
When confronted with this obvious inaccuracy, the minister responded, “You know, you can’t tell anything too big for God.”
This pitiful response reminds us that testimonies of miracles, answered prayer and apparent supernatural interventions must be accurate. God doesn’t need any help defending His greatness. It diminishes His glory when certain facts come out later that cast a shadow over the truthfulness of a miracle.
Fear of embarrassment also brings a great temptation to be dishonest. People can adjust to reality, but not to a sense of denial. As embarrassing as the truth may be, when you tell the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” the crisis ends.
The root of all dishonesty is pride and insecurity. Those who appear shady, slippery and devious have a deep sense of insecurity that they will be rejected if their faults are known. But there’s an answer to that problem: just admit it! Bring your pride to the cross and be transparent.
The greatest Christians I know are totally transparent with others and are greatly loved in return for this confirmation that we are all, indeed, just flesh.Doctrine
Scripture often refers to doctrine as something that needs to be sound. Second Timothy 4:3 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” Titus 1:9, in speaking of overseers in the church, says that they must be able to “exhort in sound doctrine” (NASB), and Titus 2:1 exhorts us to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (NASB).
Shady, flaky doctrine built upon a wisp of revelation hurts the credibility of the body of Christ. That kind of doctrine may tickle the itching ears of some who long for something novel, but in the long run it destroys.
Your doctrine needs to be sound. This means having balance, holding to a solid thread of scriptural truth that runs throughout the Bible, and not building on a nuance of Greek or Hebrew inflection in Strong’s Concordance. Predictions, timelines and scriptural “facts” that are mere interpretations shake people’s faith when the predictions don’t come true. Preface your particular insight into Bible doctrine with a qualifier such as, “It is possible that ...” and avoid dogmatic statements such as, “This obviously means ...”
As we move into perilous times, more and more I am becoming a stickler for sound footing on any and every doctrine. You will not be penalized in your effectiveness for the Lord by not adopting the latest doctrinal fad. You will be penalized if you catch each doctrinal “flu bug” that comes around and then “recover.” Your soundness and integrity will come into question.
My father-in-law once made a statement that has guided me in these areas of integrity. He said, “Integrity is like virginity. When it’s gone, it’s gone.” Truly your finances, commitments, honesty and doctrine form the essence of your good name.
Paul told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:13-14, NASB).
Satan would give anything to steal your treasure, so you must guard it. If you fail, honestly admit it and change immediately.
Your family, your church and the gospel are depending on it.