Church Transparency

I cannot remember who preached it, but I will borrow from whoever it was when I say, I am a Christian by faith, a Baptist by belief, and a Missionary Baptist by conviction.  It also seems that each and every time that I read another article or blog about the happenings in other Baptist groups, I am reminded again of just how thankful of that fact that I am.

I am not saying that the American Baptist Association does not have it’s share of problems, but sometimes I think I would rather have our problems than the ones that I read about in other groups.

Anyone who has read this blog before knows and is familiar with the fact that I have a personal affinity for the happenings of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.  The reason is simple.  Their annual Pastor’s Conference has been a blessing in my life in recent years.  Of course anyone who has an interest in the conference cannot help but pay attention to the controversies that have arisen surrounding Mac Brunson and Tom Rich,  of the (famous/infamous) Watch Dog blog. 

Now without getting into all of the issues that Tom Rich and his fellow “commentarians” have addressed, one particular issue seems to draw the most ire, and appears to be the central rub of their problems.  Furthermore, the central rub between Rich and Brunson seems to be a common rub among “commentarians” of the blog and the larger Southern Baptist Churches.  That issue is the issue of “transparency.”   While many people have danced around this problem with different and varying barbs about “anonymity, abuse of power, secrecy, etc.” all around it, the fire that is boiling the pot has to do with “transparency” in church administration.  Specifically when it comes to money.

Now I cannot speak to whether or not this problem has to do with being “in the convention” or with dealing with “mega-churches.”  I can say, and will say here that whether it is a conventionism issue, or mega church issue, it is certainly a theological issue, that to my knowledge has never caused a problem among the churches of the American Baptist Association.  Now you may have isolated incidents, but predominantly this is not the case.

In 2 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul is dealing with receiving and dispensing funds for the cares of the ministry. In this case specifically for the saints of Jerusalem.  When he gets down to verse 20-21 he says, “Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” In other words, the accounting records were to be open. 

Now whatever else may be said, the fact is that nothing is to be a secret when it comes to reporting the administration of the Lord’s money.  That is not a small church way of doing things, that is the Bible way of doing things. 

Now certainly the Bible does not forbid withholding the names of people who receive necessary benevolence from the church. (Matthew 6:3-4)  However when it comes to managing funds for the corporate visible body of the church, the real practicality is that the church body is to be the manager of those funds.  “Congregation Approved” as Adrian Rogers used to say.

I may be wrong, but I believe that the way that things are done here at Pinecrest Baptist Church, is the same general way that they are done all throughout the American Baptist Association, no doubt with variances according to each church bodies preferences.

1 – In keeping with the Biblical principles of providing things honest in the sight of all men, the church body sets and votes on the salaries, wages, and benefits of every staff member, regardless of the number of staff.  The arguments I have heard from other baptist bodies, is that such a system is impractical and leads to all kinds of jealousies and problems.  The Greek word for that is “baloney.”  Such a system is 1.) Biblical, and 2.) Easily practiced, 3.) Rarely contentious, at least as far as I have seen and heard. 4.) Eliminates much angst over the pastor’s care.  The fact is that everyone has their say, and once the body has voted, it is settled.  Usually anyone who doesn’t like it either agrees to go along with the body, or they evaluate whether or not they are in the church the Lord wants them in.

2. – We have three different treasurers for three different operating funds, and all three give full detailed, printed, take home reports for anyone in the church each month.  I have heard that such a thing couldn’t happen in every church.  See previous Greek word.  The practicality is that we have this magnficent church management computer program (as I am sure most do) that within a few key strokes, up to date financial information is available in each and every category for anyone who wishes to see it.

3. – We do have committees that have preapproved budgets from our annual meeting.  Those committees are trusted to manage their budgets according to their spiritual discretion for the benefit of the church and her purposes.  However, whatever may be spent within each month is included in the detailed financial reports given for that particular month.  No expense goes unnoted or unpublished.    If benevolence is rendered, then it is noted as anonymous benevolence, and the amount or action revealed.

Now I am not here to say we know how to manage church business.  I am here to say that this general way of doing things is Biblical, and Practical.  4 years ago, when I came here we had about 60-65 people.  We now have about 130.  Lord willing, we will double again in a few years, and keep on doubling until the Lord comes back.  My point is this, that this system, will be the same system, for as long as I am the pastor.  There may be some changing minor points along the way, but the philosophy of it, and the theology of it, will remain.

I cannot speak for other pastors specifically, but I do understand why some want their salary and care packages to remain unknown, at least in detail.  The reality is that some people view the pastor as nothing more than a whipping boy, and a person that they can exercise perceived power over because they don’t have it anywhere else.  Recently, one of Tom Rich’s “commentarians” said to a pastor, “stop whining, that’s what you signed up for.”  (Or something close to that.)  No it isn’t. No pastor has signed up to be “whipped” by sheep who have nothing but sharp tongues, mean minds, and chicken hearts.  

 The views on what a pastor should have are unbelievably extreme on both ends of the spectrum.  The fact is that some people are just plain hateful and mean, and want a man to suffer, and many pastors just do not want there to be one more stone for those kind of people to throw.  I sympathize with the desire some have to keep this part of their life separated from ill spirited people, but I believe that the Bible way can and will be much better for them than they think.

I am extremely thankful to pastor the church that I do.  They take care of me and my family.  Generally when it comes to the annual business meeting, before the finance committee makes their recommendation to the church body about me, everyone in the building with the last name Haney will exit so the church can discuss freely what they want to do.  They have always been gracious and considerate when it comes to the needs and conditions of our household.  I wished every pastor had the kind of emotional, financial, moral, and spiritual support that I have. 

I am convinced that our method of managing things is successful not because it is practical, but because it is Biblical.  To my knowledge it is the general way that most Missionary Baptist Churches function, large and small, and rarely is transparency an issue.  If all churches were able to function this way, it would definitely be a change worth making.

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