Posts Tagged church

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. 

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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?

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Are We Listening? Pat Took” goodfaithmedia

“Hello”, I say, looking down at the bundle in my arms. The baby peers up with squiffy eyes, straining to discern where the sound is coming from and what it might mean. In this overwhelming need to communicate we reflect the image of the God who is Word, the God who speaks life.

Three years later the little girl wakes up chattering and goes to bed without pausing for breath. Listening has become talking in the drive to uncover meaning. And from that early reversal we seem set to find speaking both more congenial and considerably easier than listening. This is not surprising, since what I have to say is already within my head, within my mind, awaiting the opportunity for articulation, whilst what you have to say requires a pause in my thoughts and speech, a journey outwards on my part to discover your meaning. Our instinctive desire to communicate has become problematic. We have become curved in on ourselves and struggle to step generously over our threshold to give proper attention to someone else. We need God’s help to relearn the art of listening, but we must decide to do this, we must make the effort to do this, for the sake of ourselves and of each other, for the sake of the church and of the Kingdom.

We must listen for our own sake. No-one’s life is long enough to acquire, simply by our own discovery, the knowledge and experience we need – we depend on the wisdom of those who have gone before. Our wellbeing, perhaps our survival, depends on our paying attention to accumulated and inherited knowledge. This requires a degree of humility in those who grow up so much more technically skilled than their elders. They have to discern that age brings a different kind of wisdom – a wisdom worth listening to. It also carries a responsibility to courtesy and love in those who are older, to listen to and learn the shape and pattern of life as it is experienced by this generation, which is so different from that which shaped us, and to discover new knowledge and new wisdom. What if that new wisdom challenges, undermines ideas we have held sacred, principles we hold dear? Perhaps at that point the shutters come down. But thoughtful discussion with those who think differently enables our own perspective to be clarified, or changed. To be genuinely open to the new and the different we need not just humility but also courage, generosity and confidence. The conversation among us on issues of gender has demonstrated the difficulty and the fruitfulness of this. In the voyage into understanding I need to listen to all the voices, the dissonant ones, the strange ones, the harmonious ones, allowing myself to glean truth wherever it is to be found, to be enriched, to have my heart expanded and my mind broadened by them all.

And then there is you. To listen seriously to you is a proper honouring of the debt I owe to love and to humanity. It requires that I should set myself aside, my opinions, my experiences, and pay attention to what you have to say, to who you are.  When this self-forgetting does not take place, conversation becomes a fraud, communication self-enclosed, impervious, fruitless as two people talk past each other in a kind of concurrent monologue – two voices speaking and no-one listening.

And just as we are called to speak the truth in love, so listening for the truth also requires love, to look for the kernel of what the other is attempting to convey – to look for the best within that. Simply as a human being I am obliged to pay attention to you because you need to be heard. And I too, needing to be heard, have a right to expect you to listen, as a matter of humanity and love. And very occasionally, with a proper reticence and care, we may be called to speak for God into the situation of someone else’s life. Within the Christian community we have the gift of intentional and holy listening: confession. Many of us have known what it is to hear someone pour out the grief and distress, the regrets and hopes of their life, and listening with the greatest care to gather up those broken fragments before God in prayer. And we have seen that person go on their way liberated and restored simply for having been heard – heard by God – heard by us. The therapeutic power of being heard is widely appreciated: the awareness of the presence of God brings hope and power to such conversations.

Above all, for the sake of the Kingdom, we need to listen for the voice of God. And those most careful in listening to each other will have the greatest facility for hearing God. That God speaks, and that his speech is personal, is the testimony of all the faithful. Most often we hear him in the words, the voice, perhaps the action of another person. Frequently it is through those who are closest, family, colleagues and friends. We must pay attention even to the most familiar because it may be God who is speaking in this familiar tone. The one who speaks in Scripture and preaching and worship, through mentors and spiritual friendships and all the wealth of the Christian tradition speaks also through the nine-to-five mundane experiences of our daily lives. But are we listening?

The difficulty we have in listening is a particular problem for Baptists who are governed by community discernment. We aim to discern together the mind of Christ. Pointless for those who come to the meeting already knowing Christ’s mind, fixed already in their own opinion. Difficult when our agendas of self-aggrandisement and success run counter to the teachings of Christ, when fundamentally we do not want to know his will. Only by listening to each other within the company of pilgrims will we learn what tones are recognisably his – those that call us forward out of ourselves into demonstrations of love, into that which is generous, grace-full, hopeful. Every church meeting opens up the possibility of further conversion to the ways and priorities of Christ, provided we are listening – listening to the least significant, the least articulate, the least sane, in the knowledge that they too might be speaking with the voice of Christ.

In the stillness of the night,
I listen.
Only footsteps and shouts of the guards,…
Brother, we seek and call for thee!
Brother, do you hear me?

Voices in the Night  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1945

*Pat Took is a former Team Leader of the London Baptist Association, and was Baptist Union President 2011-12

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“The meanness of this moment in America (and its churches) Bill Leonard

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