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From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-03-14-2As I write this, it is still early in the Lenten season. As is always the case, Lent either overlaps or immediately follows the annual meetings of the General Board of the Church of the Nazarene. The Board of Pensions and Benefits USA convenes immediately before the General Board, so by the time the first Sunday in Lent arrives, I’m in the wake of several meetings.

As I listened to the sermon for the first Sunday in Lent, it occurred to me how many of the activities of the annual board meetings of organizations and the Lenten season are related. Such sessions include a review of activities to assure funds and resources were used properly, and they help provide direction for the coming year. One of the most significant elements of any such meeting is the report from the auditors and the auditing committee. And that is where the Lenten connection seemed most applicable.

Generally, unless one is an auditor, the mental images related to the idea of an audit are not usually pleasing. They rank with dental visits, annual physicals, and license renewals. All are helpful, but none are ever mistaken as examples of what you’d do for fun. And while the discipline of the annual audit is good for any organization, the prospects of an audit by a local, state, or national taxing authority brings its own anxiety. (That probably has more to do with our general confusion in the face of taxation complexity as much as anything.)

So, how could something as mundane and potentially foreboding as an annual business audit have any connection to spiritual matters? In my perspective, the linkage is in the areas of discipline and accountability. If the routine annual audit does anything, it sensitizes an organization to the need for maintaining discipline. That discipline is deeply linked to an awareness that at some point the transactions and operations of the company will be reviewed by another set of eyes. That should prompt an organization to develop internal control. And how could the idea of internal control not be filled with spiritual overtones?

Every year, Pensions and Benefits USA, as well as other GMC offices, undergo the audit process. A professional third party firm receives access to our work, and they begin to develop audited financial statements. The work starts with meetings in August, even though our reports aren’t due until February. We meet with the audit team and plan the audit event. During that time, we receive lists of what the auditors need. We also sign authorizations allowing them to check with our business partners and constituents regarding all activities. At both the beginning and end of the process, we are required to certify in writing that we will hold back neither materials requested, nor information pertinent to the understanding of our operation (even if not specifically requested). It’s called transparency, and without it, an organization can’t get a clean bill of health—an unreserved audit opinion.

And as I listened to that first sermon in Lent 2014, it occurred to me that the season is nothing more or less than a frank spiritual audit. I must agree to submit myself to review by a third party—no less than the Holy Spirit—if this process is going to work. There is irony here, in that the Holy Spirit already knows what He will “discover.” The process isn’t for Him. It is for me. And this is probably where the annual “Lenten Audit” process usually begins to chafe. If I am willing to undergo the reflection of Lent, but settle for rituals alone to define my observance without submitting myself to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit, the results of my audit will be superficial at best—as hollow as a chocolate bunny.

I am pleased to report that Pensions and Benefits USA had another year of unqualified audit reports—a clean bill of health. That doesn’t mean the auditors didn’t help us by suggesting ways to improve, but it does mean that, in their opinion, the financial statements we presented to the various boards and committees who supervise our work were accurate in reporting our financial position.

A few years ago, our auditors were helpful in an unanticipated way. For some time we reported payments for one of our small benevolence programs on a “pay as you go” basis. The auditors had reviewed those records without concerns. However, one year the rules changed. We needed to modify the way we reported potential future cash flow. It was a glitch in an otherwise smooth report. It caused us to change something we’d become comfortable with and which hadn’t been a problem in the past. Yet, correction of our course was needed, even though we hadn’t violated any rules or norms to that point. At first, the change seemed a nuisance, but it was made, and our financial positions are accurately reported.

It reminds me of the counsel from Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” We are all human, and, as such, subject to error, even if well-intentioned. God has made provision not only for our forgiveness, but for our growth and maturity as His sons and daughters. And those He loves, He disciplines (Hebrews 12:7).

Just as the business audit process is hard work, so is the spiritual audit. Neither can happen without complete openness to the Auditor. And the value of the process is only as good as our willingness to submit to correction and change. To the extent they help us improve our internal control, they reduce the chances of future problems.

If the God who loves me enough to die for my transgressions also wants to lift me to my greatest level of fulfillment in Him, I must cooperate with the process. His internal presence finds the greatest success when I provide complete access to my will and passions, without reservation or second opinions.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

See Also

2014 Annual Report Summary
2014 Annual Report Video

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