Transparency and Accountability in Financial Stewardship of the Local Church
Therefore, since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1, 2).
In the above passage of scripture, the apostle Paul advances the notion that it is both the duty and privilege of pastors and local church officers to perform their ministries transparently so that everyone to whom they are accountable may understand the teachings of God. This not only applies to presenting the Word of God, but also to handling His financial resources.
The importance of transparency and accountability in business is seen as “an accessible first step for leaders to take to build trust.”¹ If these qualities are seen as necessary in secular organizations, how much more important are they in the Adventist churches which collectively receive approximately US $3.2 billion annually in tithes and offerings?²
“Transparency,” as used in science, engineering, business, the humanities, and other social contexts, is operating so that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. Gaventa and McGee (2013) define it as having access to information.³ However, transparency does not automatically produce accountability.
“Accountability” is the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility. It is about being responsible to someone or a group for actions taken; about being able to explain, clarify, and justify actions taken.
Organizations that openly share information with stakeholders foster a culture of trust, communication, and social responsibility. Even in handling confidential matters, there needs to be transparency as to why certain information is restricted. If secular organizations benefit from exercising openness and accountability, how much more would the local Adventist church?
In a study conducted by Petr Cincala, Rene Drumm, and Duane McBride (2016) on behalf of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR) and the North American Division, 872 North American church members were surveyed regarding their giving patterns to World Mission. The first reason cited as a barrier to giving was “a growing distrust, or lack of understanding, regarding how funds are managed.” Other reasons were “a preference for local giving, a perceived shortage of communication regarding missions, and a lack of personal funds.” As unfavorable as the responses might seem, the study participants went on to state that “learning specifics about where their money is going” would help to increase transparency.⁴
Below are some concepts I have discovered in the book of Matthew that help establish transparency and accountability:
- Setting a personal example by supporting the local church with my tithes and offerings and staying out of personal debt provide good examples for members to follow. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).⁵ Also, see page 137 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (2015).
- Upholding God’s love and sacrifice before the people and then presenting the church’s needs as opportunities to express their love and gratitude in return (Rees 1995).⁶ “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV).
- Safeguarding the church’s resources by investing wisely and spending carefully builds confidence in the members that the money is being cared for. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, 25).
- Promoting faithful stewardship keeps the importance of personal faithfulness alive in the members’ minds. A key point to stress is that “spiritual prosperity is closely bound up with Christian liberality.”⁷ Matthew 7:7, 8 says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
- Reporting the church’s financial position timely, clearly, and completely instills confidence in the members. Holding regular church business meetings where the treasurer presents the church’s financial status and allows for feedback from the members is a good method of keeping the church informed. Promptly issuing receipts to members for their contributions is another way. An excellent way to share with the local church how their contributions are used globally is by sharing the Adventist Mission videos available at www.adventistmission.org, and the Adventist World Radio reports available at https://awr.org/videos, just to name a couple that I have found informative. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. . . . Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:18–20).
- Conducting regular financial, membership, and operational compliance audits ensure the members that the reports presented are truthful. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37). Also, see page 141 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (2015).
- Achieving goals and objectives on time, according to plan, and within budget inspires the members to give again. Most people are attracted to supporting successful ventures. “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
The points stated above are practical ways I have found to show transparency to the members and be accountable to God and those over me. However, initiating various approaches to promote transparency and accountability alone does measure the degree to which transparency and accountability are perceived. Below are techniques that can be used to measure that:
- Evaluate the changes in member contributions qualitatively since transparency and accountability positively correlate to trust (Penn 2017).⁸ People will contribute to programs they have confidence in. “They first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5).
- Conduct a quantitative survey of the members to assess their attitudes to giving following the launch of a drive to foster transparency and accountability. “Test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1,).
- Set giving goals, and track their progress. Make changes as necessary. “But others [seeds] fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).
When God said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16), He was calling upon us to be transparent and accountable in:
- the frequency of our activities (“Let your light so shine before men,” all humanity);
- the quality of our activities (“That they may see your good works”);
- the impact of our activities (“Glorify your Father in heaven”).
The bottom line is that if we want our members to grow more spiritual, we must create more transparency and accountability by sharing lots of important information with them proactively, ensuring that it is understood, and allowing them to provide feedback. Only when they feel part of the church’s progress will they support it more heartily.
1 Catherine Ellwood. “Building Trust through Transparency,” The Myers-Briggs Company, March 25, 2020. www.themyersbriggs.com/en-US/Connect-with-us/Blog/2020/March/Trust-and-Transparency.
² Archives, Statistics, and Research. Annual Statistical Report, vol. 2 (Silver Spring, MD: Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research), https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics....
³ John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee, “The Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives,” Development Policy Review 31 (2013): 3–28.
⁴ Archives, Statistics, and Research. “Barriers to Giving,” Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Sept. 18, 2018, https://www.adventistresearch.info/barriers-giving....
⁵ Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
⁶ Mel Rees, Biblical Principles for Living and Giving (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1995).
⁷ Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1940), 49.
⁸ Christopher S. Penn, “Transparency is the Currency of Trust,” Awaken Your Superhero, October 5, 2017, https://www.christopherspenn.com/2017/10/transpare...;