Three Financial Administration Tips for Steward Leaders
Back in college (which seems like a lifetime ago) I studied accounting. From there I went to seminary to get further training to use my skills to help run a ministry. In that setting few people understood financial statements and even fewer knew the difference between debits and credits. Later I did doctoral research on the handling of riches in the world of the New Testament. These experiences collectively birthed within me a desire to help steward leaders with financial matters.
Today, on a part-time basis I serve as ECFA International Liaison helping equip people around the world to champion the faithful administration of God’s work. God’s Word serves as my manual for teaching foundational truths that are globally transferable, and it also contains many financial administration tips for steward leaders. For example, the Apostle Paul coordinated a campaign from about A.D. 53-58 to collect gifts from churches across the Mediterranean world. We can read about this in his correspondence to the churches in Corinth and Rome. In these letters we find three financial administration tips for steward leaders.
(1) Steward leaders appoint approved administrators to handle ministry funds.
Paul instructed all the churches to have approved people handling ministry funds. In antiquity, an “approved” leader held credentials to demonstrate their capabilities and trustworthiness. We learn this in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.
If you are a steward leader, might it be time to put procedures in place to verify that the people handling ministry funds possess the right credentials so that God’s resources are handled with integrity? Having the right people handling money, however, is only the beginning of faithful financial administration.
(2) Steward leaders set standards such as financial controls and transparency.
Paul also sent couriers two-by-two to minimize the temptation of theft (financial controls) and to ensure that gifts were handled right before both God and people (transparency). We see this in 2 Corinthians 8:16-21.
But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord. We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
Has your ministry adopted standards for financial management? If not, consider the seven standards for responsible stewardship of the ECFA (whether or not you are an ECFA member). After appointing approved administrators and setting standards, Paul might suggest one more practice to encourage greater participation in God’s work.
(3) Steward leaders affix a seal to enhance trust and confidence in the integrity of gift administration.
Paul says that he affixed a seal on the collection for the starving saints in Jerusalem. We see this in Romans 15:25-29.
But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
In the world of the New Testament, the seal would have given people confidence that the gifts were handled with integrity. Today when people see the ECFA seal, it enhances trust. Does the ministry you serve have a seal that gives people confidence to give? If you are based in the USA, visit www.ecfa.org to learn more about getting the seal. God is raising up similar peer accountability groups in the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, and Kenya with similar seals.
If you are a steward leader with responsibilities linked to financial administration, appoint approved people to handle ministry funds, set standards such as implementing controls and exhibiting transparency, and affix a seal on your financial management to encourage greater giving to God’s work. For Paul, the collection was about making known the love of God throughout the ancient world through generous sharing. How it was administrated mattered in catalyzing participation. Likewise, it matters today!
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as visiting professor at various seminaries and part-time as ECFA International Liaison. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about the global network of steward leaders working together to advance the faithful administration of God’s work.
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