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From his column God, Government and Me—Money in the Church

god-government-me-11-14-1Perception is the way we think about or understand someone or something. Having a healthy respect for perceptions evidences a strong connection with reality. We ignore perceptions at our peril.

Some perceptions are accurate; some inaccurate. Some perceptions enhance the name of Christ; others do not. It is important that the churches we serve enhance Christ’s name. John Wesley said, “Our responsibility is to give the world the right impression of God.”

As a person spreads positive words about a church, it has the power of a rolling ocean wave, building a tsunami of goodwill for a church—and, more importantly, for Christ our Savior!

Negative perceptions have just the opposite result. When there is a serious lack of integrity or even the perception of it, the issue takes on a life of its own—it cannot be sealed off hermetically.

Each time a negative perception is told and retold, it expands with every retelling. Truth is left in the rearview mirror.

The Internet is now the best friend of improper perceptions. It is the land where innuendo equals guilt. If a negative perception is shared on the Internet or other electronic medium, the story will spin and live on in cyberspace infamy.

There is a new wild card today. Until recently, churches did not have to contend with hate websites, scathing blog posts, nasty comments on reader forums, online petitions, or spoof social media accounts. All such attacks on churches and their leaders may be based on scanty facts and occur using code names to hide true identities.

Churches are often left without any positive way to respond to incorrect perceptions—especially in the blogosphere. Attackers generally say they want more transparency, but the more information a church provides, the more it is attacked. This is as close to an unresolvable grievance in God’s work as I can imagine.

Those who make derogatory comments about churches and their leaders apparently haven’t learned what it means to anger God. Want to anger God? Get in the way of people who want to see Him. Want to anger God? Exploit people in the name of God.

Incorrect perceptions might be amusing if it weren’t for their potential destructiveness. Churches can be havens for inaccurate perceptions and their related adverse effects. There are several reasons for this:

 

  • Confidentiality vs. transparency. Churches can be battlegrounds where constituents expect almost absolute transparency. This contrasts with the appropriate need for church leaders to maintain necessary confidentiality regarding certain information.
  • Proximity of the leaders and constituents. Church leaders and their constituents are in frequent contact. Although this should make it easier to draw accurate perceptions, the close contacts may result in greater misperceptions than if the contacts were more remote.
  • Spinning a message. Talking points often allow a leader to be consistent in sharing important messages. But if talking points are used as the basis for shading the truth and creating misperceptions, the church is off course.
  • Microscopic analysis. Churches are under the microscope today more than ever before, and this is unlikely to change. This finite analysis can turn molehills into mountains and the insignificant into headlines. Nearly every church has one stubborn soul who has become the master of minutiae and makes a mission out of it—leading myopic battles over needless turf.

Church leaders must work doubly hard to prevent improper perceptions which can lead to so much pain in the church family. What can church leaders do to minimize inaccurate perceptions?

 

  • Temper actions with prudence and discretion.
  • Be above reproach in every area of life.
  • Let others make decisions on money matters that directly or indirectly affect the leader.

Leaders must be above reproach and have a good reputation with outsiders, as clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1–7:

If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: a leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.  

Dan Busby is president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)—an accreditation organization that sets standards for governance, financial management, and fundraising/stewardship for churches and other nonprofits across the country.

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