How transparent should a church be about its finances?
Concerns regarding church finances are important. Those who give want to make certain their donations are used appropriately. How transparent should a church be regarding its finances?
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The Bible does not record many details regarding the administration of church funding. For example, the first Christians were simply known for "selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:45). Acts 4:34-35 shares, "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira were judged with death when they lied about the money they had given to the church.
When Jesus spoke about money, He taught our giving was to be in secret (Matthew 6:4) or without making a big deal about it. The Philippian Christians gave generously to Paul's missionary efforts, though Paul gave no details about the amount (Philippians 4:15).
The New Testament examples appear to focus on the attitude of giving and that church leaders were to make sure giving was used appropriately. This likely took place through the multiple elders that existed in early churches as well as the development of other leaders (Acts 6:1-7), including deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-12).
In today's churches, there are some general best-practices we can recommend. First, assuming it is a 501c3 organization, American churches must meet certain legal requirements regarding financial gifts. Similar laws exist in other nations regarding church financial regulations. Meeting such requirements would fall under the command in Romans 13 to "be subject to the governing authorities."
Second, the many church financial scandals of our time have revealed the need for accountability regarding church finances. This usually includes a copy of an annual budget, copying to each member regarding their own personal giving, and involvement of church members regarding major financial changes such as purchases of land or building projects.
Third, a small team of individuals should be involved to help provide accountability. The entire church may not need to know the amounts given to the church each week or who is giving, but there should be more than one person involved in finances to keep problems from happening. Groups of individuals can misuse finances just as an individual can, but if a committee is intent on accountability and proper stewardship, troublesome issues are less likely to occur.
The overall goal must be to serve as good stewards and servants of the resources God has provided to the church. We must seek to hear our Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21).
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