Mismanagement of church finance has generated a lot of scandals which have engulfed not a few men of God, and has brought the gospel into disrepute. We’ve seen ministers of the gospel indicted and jailed for fraud and embezzlement of church money. Other greedy and covetous ones who were lucky to escape human justice have made shipwreck of their faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. How are we to prevent scandals in the ministry when it comes to the issue of money? How are we to ensure accountability in the management of church finance? We shall examine Scripture to find the recommended ways of managing financial matters in the house of God.
To start with, let it be clearly understood that church money and other church resources belong to the church, and not to any individual, including pastors! Financial contributions of members of a church are meant to meet needs and obligations in the church, as the church strives to accomplish its mission and vision. Offerings are given in church with the faith that they will be used in an honest and transparent way to meet needs in the house of God. The handling of church finance should therefore be done with utmost honesty and transparency. Church funds are public funds held in trust, and they should be managed with the highest level of probity and accountability.
The first step towards enforcing accountability in the management of church finance is to ensure that church money is overseen and managed by more than one reputable person appointed by the church for that purpose. Church money should not be controlled by a single person, but should be managed by a committee of people with good reputation, men and women filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who have been proven trustworthy in prior engagements. That was the recommendation of the original Apostles when there was a complaint about how church resources were being used at the church’s inception.
The Acts 6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
The Acts 6:2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
The Acts 6:3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
The Acts 6:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
The Acts 6:5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
The Acts 6:6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
The Acts 6:7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (ESV).
That Spirit-inspired decision of the Apostles resolved the crisis of confidence in the management of church finance that sprung up in the early church, and brought peace and unity to the church, which helped the church to remain focused on its mission. It also preserved and protected the integrity of the Apostles and the gospel they preached. The church was kept free from scandals by the transparent way the Apostles handled the issue of church finance. That was the same approach Apostle Paul adopted in the management of the funds raised for the support of the poor Christians in Jerusalem by the churches in Macedonia. Paul was careful to ensure that the money was not entrusted to the care of one person (not even himself), to avoid scandals which could drag the gospel into disrepute. He allowed the church to select people they had confidence in, based on past records of integrity and honest dealings in the service of the Lord, to manage and convey the monetary contributions to the intended targets. Paul was careful to ensure financial dealings in the church were done in an open, honest and transparent way, to avoid people questioning the project and his motives. He was careful to present things honest not just in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men.
2 Corinthians 8:16 Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.
2 Corinthians 8:17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.
2 Corinthians 8:18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.
2 Corinthians 8:19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.
2 Corinthians 8:20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.
2 Corinthians 8:21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
2 Corinthians 8:22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.
2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ (NIV).
Another important consideration in the quest to achieve financial accountability in the church is the need to understand that church funds are not just meant for the upkeep of pastors alone. Church funds are meant to solve all problems and meet all needs that arise in the house of God. Among the needs to be taken care of by financial contributions in the church include the upkeep of ministers of the gospel, the maintenance of the poor and needy, including widows (especially widows who are widows indeed), the fatherless, etc, in addition to financing programmes aimed at spreading the gospel and maintaining the places of worship. In the Old Testament, the three-yearly tithes were not meant for the upkeep of the Priests and the Levites alone. Rather, they were to provide food in God’s house for all in need, including the Priests and Levites, the widows, the poor, the fatherless, and the strangers in the land of Israel. In the New Testament, financial contributions to the church were not used by the Apostles alone to finance lavish lifestyles while the other members of the church languished in poverty and need. Rather, distributions were made according to people’s needs in the church, such that no one lacked in a church that ran into tens of thousands of people! True accountability in church finance will only occur when church funds are used to solve all problems in the church, and not just to take care of pastors while the flocks suffer! Ministers will be called to account for the way they took care of the flocks under their care, spiritually and otherwise, with the resources available at their disposal!
Deuteronomy 26:12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied (NIV).
The Acts 4:33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
The Acts 4:34 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
The Acts 4:35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (ESV).
Matthew 24:45 Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
Matthew 24:47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
Matthew 24:48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, My master is delayed,
Matthew 24:49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,
Matthew 24:50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know
Matthew 24:51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (ESV).
It’s important that ministers avoid being directly involved with the handling of money or its disbursement in the church. Ministers are to concern themselves primarily with the preaching of the gospel. Administrative matters of the church, including management of finance, should be committed to tried and trusted faithful men and women who have the requisite training and aptitude in those areas. When ministers entangle themselves with financial matters in the church, they lose focus in the preaching of the gospel, and open themselves up to scandals. Ministers, as superintendents of the church, should have oversight of even those who manage church money, because they’re overseers of all resources in the church, human as well as material, but they should not be the ones to handle church money or disburse same! Ministers should distance themselves from anything that will likely bring blame to the ministry. Nothing raises suspicion and brings scandals (real or imagined) more than the way money is handled in the church! That’s what the original apostles of the Lord taught us to avoid.
The Acts 6:2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
The Acts 6:3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them
The Acts 6:4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (NIV).
2 Corinthians 6:3 We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry.
2 Corinthians 6:4 In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind (NLT).
Ministers should go to great lengths to make themselves accountable to the people they serve, especially in the management of church finance. Nothing kills people’s confidence and trust in ministers more than the way church money is handled. Transparency, honesty and accountability in the handling of money are essential to winning the trust and confidence of the people we serve. If we lose that trust, we lose everything, including the acceptance of the gospel we preach. Like Moses, Samuel and Paul, ministers must be able to look the people in the eye and tell them they’ve managed church resources without greed or covetousness, and that fact should be open for all to verify! Church accounts should be published periodically for all to see and judge for themselves!
Numbers 16:15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” (NIV).
1 Samuel 12:1 Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you.
1 Samuel 12:2 Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day.
1 Samuel 12:3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
1 Samuel 12:4 “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”
1 Samuel 12:5 Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said (NIV).
The Acts 20:33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
The Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.
The Acts 20:35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ’It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (NIV).
For the purpose of accountability, church offerings should not be paid into a private account, be it the personal account of a pastor or any church member. The church should have dedicated bank accounts for various offerings, which should be managed by the committee responsible for the administration of various projects in the church. In the Old Testament for instance, the three-yearly tithes were not taken to the private houses of individual Priests or Levites, but were brought to storehouses in various cities in Israel, where they were collected and administered by Levites (who were administrative assistants to the Priests), with distributions made to Priests, Levites, widows, the fatherless, the poor and strangers in the land of Israel. This should be the pattern for collection, storage and distribution/utilisation of church funds and other resources.
Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need (ESV).
Nehemiah 10:35 We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD;
Nehemiah 10:36 also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks;
Nehemiah 10:37 and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor.
Nehemiah 10:38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse (ESV).
Moreover, money raised for a project should be used for that project only, and the people should be kept abreast of all developments during the execution of the project. It’s fraudulent and deceitful to use money raised for a specific project for something else, without seeking approval from the people who contributed the money. The people’s trust is lost if minsiters’ words are not matched with action with respect to the purpose of raising particular funds. An apt example is found in the Old Testament with respect to repairs in the Temple. Let’s consider this example carefully.
2 Kings 12:4 Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money that is brought as sacred offerings to the temple of the LORD —the money collected in the census, the money received from personal vows and the money brought voluntarily to the temple.
2 Kings 12:5 Let every priest receive the money from one of the treasurers, then use it to repair whatever damage is found in the temple.”
2 Kings 12:6 But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple.
2 Kings 12:7 Therefore King Joash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and asked them, “Why aren’t you repairing the damage done to the temple? Take no more money from your treasurers, but hand it over for repairing the temple.”
2 Kings 12:8 The priests agreed that they would not collect any more money from the people and that they would not repair the temple themselves.
2 Kings 12:9 Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in its lid. He placed it beside the altar, on the right side as one enters the temple of the LORD. The priests who guarded the entrance put into the chest all the money that was brought to the temple of the LORD.
2 Kings 12:10 Whenever they saw that there was a large amount of money in the chest, the royal secretary and the high priest came, counted the money that had been brought into the temple of the LORD and put it into bags.
2 Kings 12:11 When the amount had been determined, they gave the money to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. With it they paid those who worked on the temple of the LORD —the carpenters and builders,
2 Kings 12:12 the masons and stonecutters. They purchased timber and blocks of dressed stone for the repair of the temple of the LORD, and met all the other expenses of restoring the temple.
2 Kings 12:13 The money brought into the temple was not spent for making silver basins, wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, trumpets or any other articles of gold or silver for the temple of the LORD;
2 Kings 12:14 it was paid to the workers, who used it to repair the temple (NIV).
Another important issue in accountability is the need to be honest and sincere with the people. The people should be told the exact amount of money needed for a project, and once the required amount is gotten, further donations should be halted in that regard. Regular briefings to carry the people along with the project are required each step of the way. To allow people to continue to make contributions for a project whose financial targets have been met is dishonest and fraudulent. Moses showed how a minister should be honest and accountable with the people while building the tabernacle in the wilderness. As soon as the target was met, he stopped further contributions. That’s being an honest and a transparent leader!
Exodus 36:2 Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.
Exodus 36:3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.
Exodus 36:4 So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing
Exodus 36:5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.”
Exodus 36:6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more,
Exodus 36:7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work (NIV).
Finally, due diligence must be given to the issue of accountability when it comes to church finance. People must give an account of their stewardship at periodic intervals. Such reports must be made available and accessible to all church members. Auditing of church accounts and financial transactions must be done in line with international best practices. Once those who handle church money know that they’re to account to the people for every penny in their custody, people will be more careful how they handle church money. The parable of stewardship given by the Lord should be applied to every aspect of ministry, but especially to church finance. Those suspected of fraud or mismanagement should be removed from such positions promptly and sanctioned appropriately, for others to fear and learn to be honest!
St. Luke 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.
St. Luke 16:2 So he called him in and asked him, ’What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ (NIV).
1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
1 Timothy 5:20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear (AKJV).
In conclusion, accountability and transparency should be hallmarks of managing resources in the church, especially monetary resources. Ministers should supervise the selection of reputable, capable and trustworthy believers to manage church finance, but should not be involved in the day-to-day management themselves. They should give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word while other competent and reliable people handle the adminstration of church finance. Financial transactions of the church should be published periodically for all to see, and church finance should be audited regularly. These measures will help to prevent financial scandals in churches, as well as keep the ministry blame-free.