Matthew 7:15 (NIV) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 24:11: (NIV) “…and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”

2 Timothy 2:23 - 25 (NIV) - 23Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Let's Talk Financial Accountability

As we wind up the month-long emphasis on stewardship, Mac Brunson will likely be preaching tomorrow (9/30) on your duty as a Christian to tithe, and to give above and beyond the tithe, and that you must give your entire tithe to the local church. He'll try several approaches: he'll use some testimonies of people who will tell you "I can't afford NOT to tithe", or that they've been blessed finanicially because they've tithed, and that therefore you must tithe if you want to be blessed. Maybe he'll try to guilt you into it, and even will explain that if you can't afford to tithe, maybe its because you haven't been tithing that you are suffering financially. He said this to the congregation Wednesday night.

One thing I doubt he will talk about is the responsibility the church has to be accountable to each and every giver on how the money they give is spent. In fact he'll tell you, as he has several other times recently, that you should give even if you have reservations on how the money is spent because its God's money, and its your obligation to give it to the church. However the church, like any other not-for-profit entity, has a moral responsibility to be accountable to its givers as to how finances are spent. We've seen many examples lately of mega churches misusing funds through extravagent pastor salaries (too many to mention), extravagent salaries paid to pastors' family members, misuse of church credit cards, shady land deals (Google "Frank Harber"), and other financial improprieties. Are we so arrogant as to think that we are above being taken advantage of like these other churches have?

Now that Mac Brunson has been at FBC Jax for 1 1/2 years, we know he and his wife make a huge salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year (sources put the number between $400k and $500k), the Brunsons were given free use of a multi-million dollar condo and were given a $300k piece of land upon their arrival in Jax. We can never find out how much they make, for if it were public knowledge there would be such outrage at the committees that approved this and at the pastor that giving would likely fall drastically. To make matters worse, since Mac arrived now there is even LESS detail given in the monthly budget reports given to the congregation in the monthly Wednesday "business meetings" on how the money is spent. We no longer can see a separate line item for salaries, for instance.

Church, THIS IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE. We may have been able to trust our previous leadership to do the right thing with little accountability to the congregation, but if we continue in this manner it is at our own peril. In the past you may have felt comfortable with our board of directors and lay committees to watch out for your interests and to hold the staff accountable, but this past couple of years of hiring Mac Brunson and family with huge salaries and perks and gifts, the departure of long term staff, and other questionable moves; this tells me that we perhaps can't trust the long-time lay leadership either. Our church has always been willing to be on the cutting edge of ministry. We've done things that pastors would come to the pastor's conference to hear how we did what we did. LET'S DO SOMETHING BOLD AND INNOVATIVE ON THE FINANCES FRONT TO MAKE SURE THAT WE ARE NOT BEING FLEECED NOW, AND THAT WE WILL NEVER, EVER BE FLEECED IN THE FUTURE.

What can we do?

1. Our church can join the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) and espouse its best practices. The ECFA has 7 standards of Responsible Stewardship (click here), and a host of "best practices" to be employed by its members to ensure that finances are used properly. Relativey few churches have become members of the ECFA - probably the only one you would recognize on the list is the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale (annual budget of about $24 million). Why will our church administration not want to do this? One reason is that the best practices require the members to submit salary information annually (among other financial statements) for review by the ECFA to ensure conformance with their financial standards.

2. Have real business meetings. We have always been so proud of our short business meetings on Wednesday, but as Mac says we shouldn't be tied to the past. These pseudo-business meetings are a tradition that Mac keeps because its convenient for him as it limits congregational oversight on money matters. He doesn't like the tradition of pastors wearing ties on Wednesday, but he loves the tradition of not giving the congregation any meaningful financial information, go figure. But let's do something very innovative...let's have real business meetings on a night other than Wednesday and give any interested member a chance to be present and ask questions of the pastor and finance and budget and personnel committes.

3. Look at how committee members are selected. Perhaps there needs to be more congregational input on the make up of important committees. I'm not even sure how these committee members are selected now, but the decisions that have been made in the past couple of years tells me we need "new blood" in this area too.

The leadership of our church will give you a hundred reasons why these three are not practical. Very few mega churches have done the first two, but the point is that SOME HAVE. If the ECFA is not the way to go, then let our church take the lead in being financially accountable in some other manner that would pave the way for other churches to follow suit.