The Importance of Transparency and Storytelling in Your Church

by Bo Prosser

Organizations that demonstrate qualities including transparency, responsibility, and reliability are most trusted, according to those surveyed in the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor for 2022 (Johnny Wood, World Economic Forum). 

People join organizations and churches they perceive to be successful. They become dissatisfied when they perceive mismanagement. Transparency means sharing information about the administrative and ministry work of the church without deception or misinformation.   

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines transparent as “free from pretense or deceit: frank; easily detected or seen through: obvious; readily understood and characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.” 

So, does transparency of financial matters apply to churches?  Absolutely! 

Transparency includes, but is not limited to, church finances, church expenditures, and the work of the church. This does not mean that every check that is written must be approved by the body.  Nor does it mean that every item in the budget must be detailed exactly. However, it does mean that we give people enough information to make sound decisions about their support for the church. 

People today give us their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (doing good work for the growth of the church) and ethical behavior (doing the right things that make a difference in the life and relationships of the church). People give us their money for the same reasons. Without trust, we don’t have the ability to forge successful empowering relationships. Without trust, we won’t have the resources to produce effective and quality ministries. 

Frank Newport of the Gallup organization reports that in 1975, 68 percent of Americans believed that organized religion could be trusted. “As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions Gallup tracks” (Newport, 2019, p. 1). By 2019, the church had reached a new low, with only 36 percent having confidence in its leadership. 36 percent. Pastors should be concerned.  

Politics, moral scandals, social issues, social media, and finances are all polarizing for churches across our country and in our congregations. The Covid Pandemic has also been an unexpected source of constant tension within churches. Church leaders must use every tool available to move beyond these sore spots in their congregations.  

And there is nothing worse than conflict arising over money matters in the church. Being transparent not only builds trust but also holds everyone accountable.  Examine the communication patterns of your church. What are the obstacles to transparency? What or who is not allowing the major items in the church ministry and the major events in the church’s calendar to be shared openly and clearly? These are questions that you must deal with in order to communicate transparently and to deepen trust in your congregation. 

Transparency revolves around four areas of the church – people, processes, organization, and technology. It’s about predictability and consistency. Transparency builds trust. Building trust takes a while. The promise itself only builds trust if we are delivering on our promises. If the church leaders say that there is $100,000 in the church budget for doing missions overseas and then the money is diverted for other causes without good cause, trust erodes. If the church leaders don’t represent the causes of Christ to which the church is committed, trust erodes. Strengthening trust means saying what we will do and then doing what we say. Trust may be freely given; yet trust can disappear quickly. 

If members can see their gifts being used for the intended purposes, they tend to be more satisfied and trusting. If members trust those in places of leadership using funds as expected, they will give regularly and perhaps with more enthusiasm. This trust may also lead to members being more involved in the church’s activities. This means a deeper involvement in church ministries, Bible studies, and missions. And most especially, this will lead to the deepening of relationships leading to a more profound sense of community.  

If members feel more at home with their church community, they also tend to give more. Not everyone increases their pledge or tithe; not everyone wants to obligate themselves considering unpredictable financial circumstances. However, greater participation resulting from transparency will lead to an increase in giving overall. Some of your congregants will be happy to engage the administrative processes and participate in leadership activities, financial decision making, and committee responsibilities. Remember, not everyone wants to see how the “sausage” is made, but they do expect quality “sausage”! 

You may have seen the same things happening in your church. You may have many people giving; yet these same people will not commit to a pledge or tithe. Rather than focusing on the tithes and offerings needed by the church, focus on the stories of what the church is doing because of the tithes and offerings. Be more transparent, tell stories, let this become personal.  When we put faces and names to the needs and ministries of the church, people respond.   

As people feel more comfortable, as we are more transparent, God’s Spirit begins to move in ways that we cannot explain. Perhaps trusting one another, loving one another does indeed lead to growing givers into generous givers. Perhaps as relationships grow deeper and enthusiasm builds higher, money in the offering plate increases too

James Jordan contributed to this article.  He is a CPA and professor of Church Finance at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  You can see a presentation by James Jordan, Transparency Leads to Greater Giving.

The communications office of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship contributed to this article. 

Tags: , ,

Hooray for the Hymnal by David Garrard

Hooray for the Hymnal

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Several months ago, I began using my old 1956 Baptist Hymnal as part of my devotions. I started at the very beginning and am gradually working my way through. I just read the text — singing along if I know the tune, which I most often do — and let God speak to me through the words.

This has been a wonderful experience. So many of these hymns have texts that are inspired and incredibly insightful. It’s a shame we don’t sing them more.

In the hymnal’s Preface, then SBC Sunday School Board Executive Secretary-Treasurer James L. Sullivan wrote, “In this music we find expressed every feeling and emotion, every truth and doctrine of our Christian faith. As we sing, we not only express what is in our hearts, but we grow in Christian character and are strengthened in our faith.”

That certainly has proved true for me as I have revisited hymns I first heard and sang as a child.

My experience prompted a new feature on my Facebook page which I decided to call “Hooray for the Hymnal!” On occasion (not every day), I highlight a hymn and call attention to part of the text. I might include a comment or two, but for the most part, I just let the hymns speak for themselves.

As many will remember, No. 1 in the Baptist Hymnal is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It leads off the General Worship section and is specifically tagged as a hymn of adoration and praise. The words were written by Reginald Heber and the tune by John Dykes. I’ve always been partial to verse three:

Holy, holy, holy!  Tho the darkness hide thee,
Tho the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
Only thou are holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

As one who has more of earthly life behind me than ahead, I resonated with, and was encouraged by, the last verse of No. 29, “Day Is Dying in the West” (words by Mary A. Lathbury, tune by William F. Sherwin):

When forever from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night,
Lord of angels, on our eyes
Let eternal morning rise,
And shadows end

Verse two of No. 54, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand” (words by Daniel C. Roberts, tune by George W. Warren) has given me a new way to think about and pray for my country:

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by thee our lot is cast;
Be thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.

And I’ve always loved No. 59, “This Is My Father’s World” (words by Maltbie B. Babcock, tune by Franklin Sheppard).  Verse three of this beautiful hymn reminds me that even when it seems the entire world has lost its way, God is still in control:

This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.

With 553 entries (including the Amens!) I’ve got a long way to go, but the journey already has been rewarding and has brought new insights as well as good memories. And the response has been wonderful. I have received messages from folks who have dug out their own copies, found copies that belonged to parents and even purchased copies on eBay.

So hooray for the hymnal! I invite you to find a copy, join me in this adventure, and allow these great songs of faith to speak to you in the same way they are speaking to me — again.

David Garrard

*David Garrard is a professional magician who lives in Louisville, Ky. He was the longtime minister to children at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville until his recent retirement

 

Tags: , , ,

Searching for God and Finding the Treasure by Sister Sandra Makowski

The Black Lives Matter movement caused me to look at the privileges that being white has afforded me. An unexpected outcome from reading Sister Sandra Makowski’s book Searching for God and Finding the Treasure was being forced to look at the privileges that being male has brought me.

No one ever questioned my ability to work in the church because I am a male. In fact, many urged me to assume more responsibility. Never have I been told that my prayers were unacceptable because I used the wrong words to sign off.

It is difficult to imagine the horrors that this devout Christian has endured unless you have read Susan Spark’s account of being told that girls can’t be preachers by her Baptist pastors.

This is not just a Catholic story. It is the story of how women who are called to serve God have been abused, denied, ignored, disrespected, belittled, undervalued and underpaid.

My friend was serving her first job as an assistant pastor in a church affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The lead pastor was so disrespectful of her gifts, so jealous of her popularity with the congregation and so insecure that he drove her from the ministry entirely.

It is not a Catholic story. The Southern Baptist Convention has written into its 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement that women cannot be senior pastors. The denomination is now plagued with dozens of cases of abuse, which it has failed to adequately address, often citing local church autonomy as a reason for its limited actions.

Tragically, while the claim that each church is autonomous was cited as a reason for not adequately addressing the sexual abuse crisis, this position has not prevented the SBC from expelling churches that do not abide by its doctrinal views. Not until after the release of a Houston Chronicle report in 2019 did the SBC decide to make mishandling sexual abuse as a basis for removing a church from the convention.

In addition to losing her twin sister in a car accident, Sister Sandra’s search for God was thwarted at every turn by men and women who should have been the ones to help her. What she discovered through many trials is that God is not always in the places where she was taught that God should be.

She was so traumatized by her confirmation that it was years before she entered the confessional booth again. There were those “Sisters” in grade school who showed her kindness and compassion. Thanks to their influence, she was not lost to Christian service.

She was in the first class of women admitted to study Cannon Law, but the women were often belittled and ignored by the male faculty. The same maltreatment greeted her in her new role.

Sister Sandra was deceived, belittled and ignored. In desperation she pleaded, “God give me a sign? I am going to close my eyes and open my Bible. I will put my finger down on a verse and it had better be a sign from you or I am done.”

She put her finger down and opened her eyes. The verse was, “Love is strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6, NRSV). Makowski began to realize that she saw God every day and God was saying to her.

“See the mothers holding their babies with love and affection. See the crippled and lame being taken care of by a loved one who held them steady as they entered the church doors or stood in line for confession. See the face of the homeless man who lost his entire family in a car accident – he asked you for help in getting a library card because he was trying to find a book that would comfort him,” she wrote. “You gave him the Bible … and he wept. This is the real church.”

Sister Sandra has written an exciting, challenging and disquieting book. It leads me in a direction that I did not expect and leaves me with work to do in my own life, church and denomination.

Who could expect more?

Tags: , , ,

“Listening Is Hard Work : www.day1.org

Wednesday September 21, 2022

Day1
Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

“To be heard is to be healed,” according to the Rev. Susan Sparks. A great many of our problems and national wounds could be healed, if we would listen to one another.

No one wins nor do we make progress when we shout at each other or turn a deaf ear to a proposal without considering its possible merits. This is no easy solution. Listening is hard work even under the best of circumstances. One must make a conscious effort to actively listen and not interrupt.

Interrupting is an act of war. It shouts that what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. We may feel that way, but if progress is to be made we must be willing to listen. That does not giving the other person permission to run on forever. We are talking about give and take in a civil conversation. Bishop Sally Dyck of the United Methodist Church has suggested Holy Conferencing. The idea is that the person holding a plastic dove has permission to talk without interruption. The dove is then passed to someone on the opposite side of the issue.

Calling each other names or pinning labels on each other will make the situation worse. A sure way to block real communication is to tell me that the problem is my fault. That may be true, but it will not move the conservation forward. Instead try, “Here is a way that could help us solve our impasse.”

If I treat you with respect and you treat me with respect, we are well on our way to creating an environment in which it is possible to make progress. I am not suggesting that it is necessary for any of us to give up our convictions or principles. I am suggesting that we sincerely take the time to listen to each other.

There are so many issues on which we disagree, but there are so many more issues on which we agree or have some levels of agreement. Start with the basics. I love this country and I know that you do as well. I am in favor of national health insurance for all of our citizens. Help me understand why you are not. I favor finding a way to citizenship for the so called Dreamers. Tell me why you are not. At this point you are tempted to call me a liberal, but that would not move us forward nor would it solve our problem.

Perhaps I should rephrase my statement. How could we improve accessibility to health care for all Americans? Are there some steps we could take that would lead to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers?

I have dinner every week with a group that I have been eating with for at least 35 years. We celebrate birthdays and holidays. We have attended weddings and funerals in each other’s family. All of the others in the group are members of a different political party from me and yet we have found a way to maintain our friendships. It has not always been easy, but we are dedicated to one another.

Honest conversation is rare because it is so difficult. It requires effort and a willingness to engage. It is far easier to ignore you, discount you or call you names. That requires no thought at all, but I am the loser. Our country, our civic organization or our church is the loser. As usual the Scriptures say it best: “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)

……

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. He is the founder of Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday on the first Sunday in June. He blogs at www.mitchcarnell.com.

Tags: , , ,