Sunday, January 29, 2006

Money and Ministry

One of the ministries that I have the opportunity to work with is “The Good $ense Ministry”. Yes, that is a dollar sign instead of an “S” in case you didn’t know that we are not bashful about what we talk about in the ministry. Good $ense is one of those ministries that takes seriously the numerous verses and instruction about money in the Bible.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn is one of this countries top Christian authors. I just counted ten of his books presently available on our website at (http://www.lifelinesbooks.org/). It was his book, The Treasure Principle, that I had just finished reading when I met him and we had a great, albeit brief, conversation about financial stewardship. Randy teaches very clearly that while there are over 2,300 verses concerning money, we should not assume that means that Jesus is talking solely about money in these verses.

The Scripture is very clear that there is a fundamental connection between our spiritual growth and our ability to handle our money. While it’s often considered more “spiritual” to be above any concern for financial stewardship, the Bible actually teaches the exact opposite and makes our stewardship of our money and finances a prerequisite to handling true spiritual riches.

In Matthew 16, Jesus tells a very unusual parable of the unjust steward. In the conclusion of the parable Jesus says, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (money), who will commit to your trust the true riches?"

While I’ve written a few times on the importance of individuals to be good stewards, I want to talk a little about how important it is for Christian ministries to be good stewards as well.

What is a good steward? Well, from the biblical perspective, we understand that a steward is a manager of the household of another. The Bible teaches very clearly that everything we have belongs to God. Further, we are entrusted with the care of what he temporarily allows us to manage; and we need to manage it for His glory. Ministries, unfortunately often avoid the very necessary requirements of budgeting, saving, planning and forecasting as if these financial skills were somehow contrary to having faith. Nothing could be further from the truth as we can site numerous instructions in the Bible to plan for the future.

Here are two good examples: The first is from Matthew 6:31. Jesus said, "Do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat? or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?” The late Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministry said, “God does not want us to worry, but He does want us to plan.” One of the verses he often quoted was Luke 14:28. "For which of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?"

Christian Ministries should understand that just as they need to follow a budget and a financial plan for their own family, their ministries need to carefully budget and plan as well in order to successfully prepare for the financial needs of the future. God often calls us to step out in faith and I believe that those ministries that are in good financial health are much more likely to be able to commit additional financial resources to new opportunities that the Lord brings their way.

One of the essential elements of a financial plan that ministries need is a detailed spending plan. A ministry that doesn’t control its spending will never have enough money regardless of how much is received through offerings, gifts and tithes.

I’m somewhat amused when I hear a ministry leader tell me, “Ministry is not like a business; there are too many unforeseen events in a ministry”. Actually, from my observation, the opposite is true. Many businesses often have much more severe financial cycles than the average church. “Boom or bust” is a characteristic of many businesses and it’s not unusual for businesses to have to cut fifteen to twenty percent of their expenses in order to maintain a healthy bottom line.

Churches on the other hand are typically slow but steady. Revenues, while totally dependent on giving, are often very predictable. Capital campaigns for extensive building expansion plans are often based on pledges, which are predictably and faithfully fulfilled over a two or three-year timeline. Spending is typically predictable and can be forecasted if the ministry leadership is willing to look at historical spending patterns and identify likely needs.

What most ministries don’t want is financial accountability. Accountability is often embraced when it comes to moral, sexual, ethically, doctrinal and other questionable practices, but money and financial stewardship is usually not covered in ministry handbooks.

Proverbs 27:17 says, "iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” and many ministries have taken the first step and paid lip service to financial stewardship. They may have even hired or otherwise been fortunate to have found very gifted business professionals that are willing to give advice and council on financial matters. All too often however, these financially gifted individuals are relegated to “a voice, crying in the wilderness” and given about as much respect as John the Baptist had with the Pharisees and Sanhedrin.

Leaders of ministry should be very careful to pay attention to wise council and should be willing to submit a spending plan to an accountable third party. Church and ministry boards need to support the leadership of the ministry and one of the best ways that they can support the leadership is to insist on financial integrity.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

About Me

Kenneth Behr is the founder and Execuive Director of Faith Dialogue, Inc.  He has been a guest on numerous news broadcasts including Fox News, CNN, CBN Newswatch as well as the local affiliates for ABC, CBS and Fox. He has been on panel discussions  on NPR Radio and Janet Parshall and is a frequent guest on Christian radio. His articles have been published in Ministry Today, Church Executive, and CMA Magazine

For two years, he served as the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Under his leadership at ECFA, the nonprofit organization with offices outside of Washington DC,  added a church division and expanded their membership to include Accredited Memberships for smaller organizations. He was also involved with the Senate Finance inquiry of selected media ministries ("Grassley Six")

Faith Dialogue, Inc., is a nonprofit faith-based ministry that provides help, assitance and programs to churches in Biblical Stewarship, Discipliship and church growth.   The ministry serves Churches internationally and is located in Celebration, Florida.  He  resides there with his wife Carol.  Ken has been married for over 30 years and has spent the last fifteen years in ministry and was ordained by the Evangelical Church Alliance after a career in business. 

Prior to serving in ministry, he had a long-term career and assignments on three continents for Ford Motor Co., ultimately serving as president of the Ford Financial Group in Mexico City. In Mexico, he held the position of president and general manager of the international subsidiaries of Ford Credit, Primus, Jaguar Credit and Volvo Cars Finance. At Ford, Ken had management positions in treasury, finance, systems and marketing, and served on a number of Ford mergers and acquisitions teams, including the acquisition of Jaguar Motors, Associates First Capital and First Nationwide Bank.

Recently Ken published "Roaming Catholics: ending the wandering to embrace the wonder" as well as a companion three-week study guide named, "Roaming Catholics Study Guide".  These thoroughly researched books present the development of the Catholic Church in an engaging way to help Christians understand the common history that unites us. This history is not only fascinating, but also deeply compelling, revealing how the church has changed, adapted, and grown. Ultimately it reminds us that the heart of the Christian faith is not grounded in denominations, but in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Roaming Catholics" is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and local Christian bookstores.




Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Winds of Change

There are some people that are good at spotting trends. My daughter is that way. It seemed that when she was a teenager, she was able to identify and be the first to embrace emerging fashion trends. That of course meant that she was a little “ahead of the curve” sometimes -- wearing colors, belts or even hats before they were “in”. She really didn’t seem to mind making a fashion statement a little before things became popular with her friends or the general population.

The ability to keenly identify change before it is fully recognized by the rest of the populace is a great asset and something many would aspire to have. In the world of big business, people like Bill Gates, Michael Dell and even Donald Trump have had great financial success because they were able to identify a growing trend in the general population and jumped in to capitalize on it in business.

We call these changes that appear on the scene “trends” and the people that identify and quickly embrace these trends “trendsetters”. When the winds of change are in the air, people that are alert to such changes pick up almost intuitively that things are changing and are better prepared to react and either embrace or resist the change.

In the spiritual realm, there are also times when there are “Winds of Change”. If we use the general term “trends” regarding these changes we will be apt to miss the true significance of what may be actually happening. Often what prognosticators consider to be religious trends may in fact be a movement that is ordained by the Holy Spirit. For example, we can look at recent phenomena such as the popularity of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life”, which has sold over 18 million copies, as just a trend towards spiritual self-help books. The success of conservative political viewpoints in politics could be attributed to the growing alliance between right-wing religious activists and fiscal conservatives. Or we could look at the growth of the mega churches which are typically culturally relevant and often independent non-denominational churches and categorize these phenomena as nothing more than the general trend towards large box, one-stop solutions to everyday needs similar to the growth of Wall-Mart and Best Buy.

If we think of these changes as simply a part of our popular culture we are apt to miss the more spiritual significance. On the spiritual side of our culture, we categorize these large developing trends that are breathed by the Holy Spirit as movements and occasionally even revivals.

Spiritual movements in general and revivals in particular are of great interests to religious historians and theologians. I am neither, so I will not even attempt to define the requirements of a true revival. I can tell you however that there are definite Winds of Change. People are being called to faith in Christ in record numbers and in many different ways, in many different venues and in the most unlikely places. If you study the numbers that people like George Barna provide us, the common denominator among those churches and Para-church organizations that are growing and appearing in greater number in the United States are two things: The first is a deep abiding faith in the God of the Bible and the second is a heart for changed lives.

The wind of change that I see is a growing number of people that are completely surrendered to God. They, like the Apostle Paul are “dead to self”, Paul said it best, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by Faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). I daily thank God that I am meeting people in all walks of life that are “dead to self”. These are people that are only interested in serving God. They are sometimes in ministry but often are employed elsewhere. Together, regardless of their occupation are fully convinced of the reality of the Kingdom of God and they understand that their primary purpose in life is to serve God.

The Wind of Change is in the air.

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