Friday, October 18, 2013

A Deficit of Trust and Truth

Trust is difficult to earn, easy to lose, and even more difficult to regain. 
It has been said  “Trust leaves on horseback and returns on foot.” If true, there is no wonder it feels like the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness Stakes have all three been running 24/7 in some high circles in the United States.
As just one example, with disturbing disclosures made in May of this year, the current trust deficit of the IRS is hard to measure. Five nonprofit IRS officials have been replaced—some whom I have known, some with whom I have had private meetings in the recent past, including Lois Lerner—are all gone. Then, there were the extravagant IRS conferences, the line-dancing video, and more. Clearly, trust left the IRS on horseback.
What can we learn from this? If we as Christian leaders desire to be trusted, just saying “trust us” is not enough. We must demonstrate trustworthiness. We must lead organizations in which people can place their trust and be assured that their trust will not be betrayed. 
Trust and truth are inextricably intertwined. People may not trust us even though we tell the truth, but not telling the truth ensures lack of trust. 
The Bible provides the baseline for truth: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (2 Timothy 4:8).  
Francis Schaeffer said, “Today not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died.” And Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
How can Christ-centered organizations be beacons of trust and truth in an environment where these qualities are often lacking? Let me suggest a few principles:
  1. Exemplify truth in all we do—internally and externally. For our organizations, it means truthfully accounting for our operations and ministry outcomes. Exemplifying truth starts with a keen understanding of what is true and false.  
  2. Add clarity to truth. Start with truth and then add clarity. Nowhere is this needed more than in our communications with our constituents, especially with givers and potential givers. There is often a tendency to be expansive in explaining ministry accomplishments. After all, isn’t it all about how much ministry impact we can claim? Fuzziness—or worse, exaggeration—in our funding and other communications can easily turn into lost trust. The concepts of truthfulness in our communications with givers are embedded in ECFA’s stewardship standards. They are increasingly important as givers tend to focus more on ministry outcomes.
  3. Be exemplary in managing resources. One of the key ways we gain trust is based on how we steward God’s resources. Christ-centered organizations are not unlike the people described in the parable of the talents—we have different amounts of resources with which to work. Yet, we are all called to steward what we have been given as unto the Lord.  
From the parable, we see that the servants didn’t get to keep the money for themselves. The two successful servants aren’t working for their own increase—they are working for the increase of their master. Their true reward is sharing in their master’s happiness, and their happiness comes from serving others.
So it is with us. We are stewards of the Master’s money. We don’t get to keep it for ourselves. We are working for the increase of our Master!  
Enhancing trust is what ECFA does. For 34 years, the ECFA peer accountability concept has had a tremendous impact by creating and maintaining trust. But, in the final analysis, it is up to you—up to your organization—to create and maintain an atmosphere of trust with your constituents. May it be said of us: “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy” (Psalm 111:7).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Charitable Giving Deduction and Churches

The tax deductibility of gifts to churches and other charities continues to be an issue of high interest on Capitol Hill. In the 2012 Presidential race, both candidates proposed capping the charitable deduction—so this is hardly a partisan issue.

Even though supporters of churches are generally more committed to make charitable gifts as compared with those who give for other charitable purposes, any reduction in giving incentives would not be good news for churches.

The recent hearings conducted by the House Ways and Means Committee provided more evidence of the interest of Congress in tax deductions claimed by those making charitable gifts. Forty-three representatives of nonprofit organizations made their way to the Hill on Valentine’s Day to share their ideas on this issue.

Some of the positions shared with the Committee but those presenting testimony:
  • Non-itemizers. Presently those who do not itemize deductions on Schedule A do not receive a charitable deduction benefit. There was some sentiment expressed for expanding access to the deduction.
  • Charitable deduction floor. For those who currently itemize their deductions, charitable gifts are deductible from the first dollar given. Here is how a charitable deduction floor would work: Only gifts above a certain dollar floor, let’s say $100, would be deductible. So, ever itemizer would “lose” a deduction for the first $100 they give each year.
  • IRA rollover. The Individual Retirement Account (IRA) rollover is a provision givers have enjoyed for a number of years—but it is not a permanent provision in the tax law. The benefits must be extended from year to year. Conrad Teitell, noted charitable tax attorney, urged Congress to make permanent the provision that allows direct tax-free distributions from IRAs to charity. Unless Congress acts to extend the provision, it expires at the end of 2013.
What may come from the current debate about the charitable deduction? Only the Lord knows—literally—but while it is unlikely we will see the charitable deduction disappear, it is very possible that changes will be made as a part of tax reform, resulting in a reduction of incentives to make charitable contributions.

In Mr. Teitell’s recent testimony before the Committee, he warned against tinkering with the current charitable giving deduction. He said we should beware of salami tactics which Congress might use with respect to the charitable giving deduction. The term “salami tactics” was coined by Matyas Rakosi, a Hungarian politician in the 1950s. Matyas said:
If your opponent has a salami and you want it for your very own, you must not grab it — because he will defend it. Instead take for yourself a small slice and he will not notice it. Or, if he does, he will not mind very much. And then you take another slice, and then another slice. And slowly but surely, that salami will pass from his possession into yours.
So it could be with the charitable tax incentives — a slice here and a slice there. Caps can be lowered, floors raised and credits reduced. And before you know it our nation’s unique tax encouragement to charitable giving would disappear.

In the light of the discussions about reducing charitable gift incentives, what should churches do? Here are just a few of the basics:
  • Inform congregants to take advantage of the current charitable giving incentives:
    • Gifts of cash (and checks). Cash gifts to churches are deductible up to 50 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
    • Gifts of stock. Gifts of publicly held stock to churches that has been held 12 months or longer are deductible up to 30 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
    • Gifts of real estate. Gifts of real estate that has been held 12 months of longer are deductible up to 30 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
    • Rollovers from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). An individual age 70-1/2 or older can make outright charitable gifts from an IRA—including required minimum distributions—of up to $100,000 to a church (or other public charities) and not have to report the IRA distributions as taxable income on his or her federal income tax return. A charitable deduction is not allowable for the amount transferred to charity from an IRA, but the donor is not taxable on the amount transferred. Not being taxable on income that would otherwise be taxable is the equivalent of a charitable deduction. This benefit is available even if the taxpayer does not itemize his or her deductions.
  • Encourage generosity toward God. If Christians use the charitable deduction as a basis to support their church they are acting more like the rest of our culture. Generosity toward God should not be not dependent on a charitable tax deduction.
As my friend Wes Willmer says, “Scripture consistently reminds us that if Christ is not first in the use of our money, He is not first in our lives. Our use of possessions demonstrates materially our spiritual status. Is it possible that our checkbooks are a better measure of our spiritual condition than the underlining in our Bibles?”
 
Since God owns it all (and He has no lack of resources), we must steward our resources to edify the body of Christ. Regardless of what happens with charitable giving incentives may our hearts be drawn closer to God and the priorities of His Kingdom!

 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Then and Now

“If ECFA had not been formed, another organization would have been needed to fill its role,” said Lauren Libby, ECFA board member and TWR president.
Still, questions are sometimes asked, such as  “Where would we be if there were no ECFA?”;  “Why ECFA?”; and  “Why does ECFA get to set biblically-based standards for churches in the areas of sound governance, financial oversight and accountability, and stewardship practices?”
To answer these questions, it is helpful to take a brief look at history. Thirty-four years ago, there was no evangelical organization setting standards for sound governance, financial oversight and accountability, and stewardship practices. 
Billy Graham and a handful of other leaders had a vision to serve the evangelical community by forming ECFA. They envisioned an evangelical organization which set high standards, accrediting other evangelical organizations. Organizations would voluntarily apply, requesting to be held accountable for compliance with the standards.
The leaders knew that ECFA would not provide integrity to a ministry; ECFA accreditation would be an external reflection of a ministry’s internal integrity.
In 1979, significant questions were being raised about how certain religious leaders were handling funds provided by their supporters. In those days, the media was quick to criticize ministry leaders and extrapolate the misgivings of a few to the entire religious community. Sound familiar? There is generally a similar rush to judgment by today’s media.
Thirty-four years ago, ECFA took a stand on behalf of religious organizations—for self-regulation and against additional government oversight. Today, through the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, ECFA is doing exactly the same thing as it facilitates responses to Senator Charles Grassley on a host of church tax policy issues.
Commission Chairman Michael Batts said, “ECFA exists to foster a policy of integrity in the form of self-regulation and accreditation without burdensome government regulation. That’s what ECFA exists to do. It is an opportunity to provide meaningful input into these areas that will really make a positive difference for the Kingdom.”
So, what are the differences between then and now? Then, there were no standards for governance, oversight of finances, and the raising and handling of charitable gifts. Then, there was no peer group to accredit evangelical organizations—no standards to achieve and no accreditation of Christ-centered organizations.
Now, ECFA’s standards are a model for the Christ-centered arena and other accrediting organizations. Even the Internal Revenue Service has come to embrace some of the governance principles of ECFA’s standards as their own.
Today, ECFA has a time-tested approach of accrediting Christ-centered organizations and assuring their supporters that they are complying with all of the standards—all of the time.
Today, more and more givers look for the ECFA seal of approval. ECFA helps accredited organizations operate within the ECFA guideposts—think of them as guardrails or bumper guards. This provides more freedom to provide ministry within the parameters than if there were no standards to follow. 
What was once a dream has become a reality. Today nearly 1,750 Christ-centered organizations, with 1,200 related entities and programs, are demonstrating integrity in that they utilize independent boards, engage independent CPAs for the organization’s annual financial statements, avoid conflicts of interest, handle charitable gifts with care, and much more.
So, “Why ECFA?” Because for over three decades, ECFA has modeled consistent, confidential, and fair application of high standards—many of them beyond the law. The ECFA seal enhances trust of givers, providing increased resources for ECFA accredited churches to fulfill the Great Commission. Christ-centered organizations increasingly want to participate in ECFA’s peer accountability process, so they can show third-party accreditation as evidence of integrity, transparency, and accountability. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff and Its Impact on Churches

Giving to churches is flat. No turnaround of the economy is in sight. Many church attendees are unemployed or underemployed. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that givers to churches are traditionally more dedicated than others. They are more committed to God’s work than concerned about tax deductions for their gifts.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations in December between President Obama and Congress placed the charitable deduction very much on the table. Since 1917, the deduction has served as a vital giving incentive for charities. There were talks of percentage caps, dollar caps, tax credit substitutes and a variety of other alternatives, which could have cost churches and charities billions of dollars in contributions. Even church supporters were concerned. Anything that would hurt charitable giving is a negative for churches.

Thankfully, the fiscal cliff deal, formally titled the “American Taxpayer Relief Act,” did not result in a flat percentage or aggregative cap on itemized deductions. There were positives and negatives in the fiscal cliff legislation impacting givers to churches—the “Pease limitation” was included, while the “IRA Rollover” was extended.

Looking at what happened through the fiscal cliff negotiations and with an eye toward the future, how does all this impact churches? Congress is far from through discussing issues which could impact charitable giving incentives.

Looking Back: The Pease limitation, what some have called a “back-door tax,” was reinstated and became a permanent provision of the tax code through the fiscal cliff deal. Taxpayers must decrease itemized deductions by 3 percent of the amount by which adjusted gross income exceeds a threshold amount. The Pease limitation is not new. It’s been with us in some form since 1990 (except for its repeal in 2010 that lasted through 2012). Plus, it is such an obscure provision that few donors associate it with gift considerations. Bottom line: there’s very little impact on churches associated with the reinstatement of the Pease limitation.

  It appeared the special charitable rollover provision relating to contributions from Individual Retirement Accounts was history after it expired on Dec. 31, 2011. Through the fiscal cliff deal, it was renewed retroactively for 2012 and prospectively for 2013, allowing taxpayers age 70-1/2 or older to make direct IRA or Roth IRA distributions up to $100,000 per year to qualifying charities without having to pay income tax on the withdrawn amount.

An additional bonus is that taxpayers can make these distributions by Jan. 31 and treat them as having been made in 2012.

Advantage for Churches The extension of the IRA charitable rollover provision is clearly helpful to many churches, as retired attendees may desire to give to their churches while meeting their IRA required minimum distributions each year. (In my February column, I will share more ideas of how churches can help givers use this IRA option.)

The most significant element of the fiscal cliff law was the increase in the highest marginal federal income tax rate, from 35 percent to approximately 40 percent (applying to individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and households above $450,000).

Otherwise, the current income tax rates were preserved for most Americans. Especially for higher income donors in your church, the higher marginal rates may provide an additional encouragement to donate generously and reduce individual income tax. The higher capital gains rates in the law likewise provide an added incentive for donating appreciated assets and avoid paying the increased taxes on capital gains.

A significant issue that received little attention in the fiscal cliff talks was the payroll tax reduction which expired on Dec.31, 2012. Lawmakers did not renew the two-percentage-point cut in the employee share of the social security tax. Church attendees who are employed saw smaller paychecks as of January 1, unless they got a raise that offset the impact. Self-employed individuals saw a similar increase in self-employment social security tax.

Looking Forward Major fiscal and tax policy issues remain unresolved. In the first quarter of 2013, the president and Republicans will duel again over raising the federal debt ceiling and the mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration. The GOP wants federal spending trimmed for every dollar in higher debt. The President will ask for increases in revenue by limiting business deductions. In the end, the ceiling will be raised. Will the charitable deduction be on the chopping block again? It is unclear.

Big picture Churches continue to have mostly clear sailing on the charitable giving incentives front. While it is helpful for church leaders to have a good working knowledge of charitable gift incentives, enabling them to have meaningful discussions on the tax aspects of charitable giving with attendees, churches should continue their focus on teaching biblical principles of generosity.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Religious Liberty

We are in the midst of an era of religious liberty challenges.

Religious organizations and religious communities are faced with this new reality: The federal government has decided that it can and should define two classes of religious organizations, two kinds of religion, and two degrees of religious freedom. Churches, being inwardly oriented, get an exemption—full protection for their convictions and practices. All other religious organizations, being outwardly oriented on service and not only inwardly on worship, are not exercising pure religion according to the government and thus only merit a lesser degree of religious freedom—an “accommodation.” This deeply mistaken conception is the biggest problem underlying the contraceptives mandate under the health care law.1

But it doesn’t stop there. “[T]he deeply troubling contemporary trends [are] for laws and regulations themselves to be less accommodating of religion, and for constitutional interpretive schemes to prioritize other values over religious freedom. If these trends continue, then fewer religion-accommodating rules will be allowed to stand, and then fewer court decisions will end up favorable to religious exercise by individuals or institutions.”2

Some positive news came last year with the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous Hosanna-Tabor decision, upholding the right of religious organizations to select their ministers without governmental interference.3 Consistent with First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom, the Supreme Court recognized that religious organizations should be autonomous in important matters of self-governance.

Since its founding in 1979, ECFA has played a vital role in preserving the freedom of Christ-centered organizations to carry out the Great Commission. ECFA is unique in that it facilitates an environment for organizations in the Christian faith community to exercise self-government and demonstrate appropriate accountability, alleviating the need for burdensome government oversight.

Critical to ECFA’s success in this area are its time-tested standards requiring accredited members to operate with biblical integrity and excellence in the areas of governance, finances, and fundraising.

Especially in recent years, concerns have been voiced by some donors and lawmakers that leaders of certain nonprofit organizations and related parties are abusing their organization’s tax-exempt status by receiving excessive compensation or other unreasonable financial benefits. In response, the ECFA board has just approved an enhancement to ECFA’s existing standards, including a policy for excellence in compensation-setting and related-party transactions. In doing so, ECFA once again takes a leadership role in promoting and upholding the highest degree of ethical standards within the Christ-centered nonprofit community.
ECFA’s history and present activities demonstrate its strong commitment to religious liberty: 
  • ECFA’s founding. ECFA was formed at a time when the behaviors of some religious institutions caused concern and distrust with the giving public.
Leaders in Congress began to question whether they should step in to provide additional government oversight to ensure tax-exempt religious organizations were operating ethically and within the bounds of the law.
Senator Mark Hatfield met with Christian leaders and encouraged them to form a group where interested organizations could demonstrate integrity and accountability to their donors and the government and, in turn, avoid the need for new burdensome legislation.
  • Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations. The Commission was formed in 2011 at the request of Senator Charles Grassley.
The senator’s inquiry into the financial practices of several media-based ministries raised issues concerning whether new legislation would be necessary to regulate the activities of churches and other religious nonprofit organizations.
Senator Grassley turned to ECFA to address the tax and policy issues raised by his staff’s inquiry. In doing so, he recognized ECFA’s proven track record of self-regulation to avoid unnecessary legislation and preserve religious liberty: “The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective.”4
ECFA formed the Commission and its panels of religious sector representatives, nonprofit sector representatives, and legal experts—comprised of experienced leaders known for their integrity—to provide input on these issues.
In the Commission’s report, Commission chairman Michael Batts commented, “Religious freedom is one of the most sacred freedoms we enjoy in the United States and it must be preserved. Religious and other nonprofit organizations positively impact our society in virtually every aspect of life, and their good work is immeasurable. We cannot allow the behavior of a few outliers in the religious and nonprofit sector to threaten the freedoms of those who are not the problem—those who are doing the good work.”
ECFA continues to play a vital role in preserving religious freedom in this country by facilitating an environment of self-government and self-regulation within the Christ-centered nonprofit community. The recent enhancement of the ECFA standards and the latest work of the Commission demonstrate this ongoing commitment by ECFA consistent with its founding over 30 years ago.
The exponential growth of ECFA in recent years demonstrates that Christ-centered organizations are now more interested than ever in assuring the government and the giving public that they properly steward God’s resources with which they have been entrusted.  
 
 
1 Stanley Carlson-Thies, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, eNews for Faith-Based Organizations, November 14, 2012.
2 Stanley Carlson-Thies, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, eNews for Faith-Based Organizations, September 11, 2012.
3 Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012).
4 Press Release, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Grassley Releases Review of Tax Issues Raised by Media-based Ministries (Jan. 6, 2011), available at http://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/Article.cfm?customel_dataPageID_1502=30359.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Doing Well

Ever get tired and want to quit?  I certainly have. And, there are certain times in life when we should quit. When we discern what we are doing is not in accordance with God’s plan, we should quit. If we are headed in the wrong direction, we should quit traveling that way. When our “passion has dried up,” as Hans Finzel puts it, “it’s time to go.”
   
Just tired while doing well? This is not a reason to quit. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9 KJV).
   
In 1945, Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers and be the pioneer to finally break the integration barrier in baseball. Subjected to threats, taunts and humiliation, Jackie could have turned back, but few would have remembered him. For Jackie Robinson and for us, the margin between success and failure is often measured by our perseverance.
   
These are truly days that try our souls. When I talk to religious leaders, they stress the increasing opportunities where others might serve compared with the limited financial resources at their disposal. Believers continue to be committed to supporting local churches and other worthy ministries, yet the impact of the national economy, including high unemployment and low investment returns, is being felt by Christ-centered organizations.
   
Few are the religious organizations that have not cut staff, reduced benefits, and eliminated programs. These are challenging days with no short-term relief in sight.
   
Yes, there is a danger of becoming weary in doing well.
   
John Piper observes, “Almost every one of you can think of something you were enthusiastic about recently, but now the joy has faded. Your first day of vacation on the coast, the sunset was breathtaking and made you so happy you could sing. But by the end of your stay, you hardly noticed it anymore. Vacationers get tired of sunsets, millionaires get tired of money, kids gets tired of toys, and Christians get tired of doing good.”
   
But this is no time to even consider losing heart. The Apostle Paul is saying there will be a payday someday. And the charge to keep on keeping on is motivated by the prospect of future reward. As John Wesley put it:  “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” In short, don’t lose heart in spending yourself in love.
   
The prophet Isaiah said it well: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).
 
Paul recognizes the direct correlation between persistence and motivation as he urges his readers not to “grow weary” or “lose heart.” John Stott observes that “active Christian service is tiring, exacting work.” So the apostle gives us this incentive: He tells us that doing good is like sowing seed. If we persevere in sowing, then “in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” If the farmer tires of sowing and leaves half his field unsown, he will reap only half a crop. It is the same with good deeds. If we want a harvest, then we must finish the sowing and be patient, like the farmer who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it …” (James 5:7).
 
When will we reap? The harvest will occur in due time, at the appointed season, the proper season, the due season, the proper time in God’s time. The fruit is reaped in the season that follows the sowing, but it is ultimately the time of God’s appointment.
   
The good news? The law of sowing and reaping will never be repealed.
   
As Hitler was mounting his attack against England during World War II, Winston Churchill was asked to speak to a group of discouraged Londoners. He uttered an eight-word encouragement: “Never give up! Never, never, never give up!”
   
When it comes to someone who never gave up, the Apostle Paul is our hero. In Acts  20, he said nothing moves me. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and get it all done and finish the work Jesus gave me. And nothing stopped him.
   
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry as we have received mercy, we faint not.” Never get tired, he says. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed. We are perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Cast down, but not destroyed.” Yes, Paul, is our hero when it comes to doing well in spite of fatigue.
           
There will be times when we will become discouraged in our Christian service, but we must never, never, never quit doing good.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rules

In my youth, I aspired to be a baseball umpire. Trained by a former minor league umpire, I pursued that aspiration for many years in my free time, umpiring hundreds of games, up to the college level—although not willing to give up my day job for the joy of making decisions on balls and strikes, safe or out.
Like any sport, rules are the backbone of baseball. Without them, the game would quickly turn into chaos.  The rules must be so thoroughly understood by an umpire that they are applied instinctively—often in a split second.
Each of us lives by rules. In his marvelous new book, Crafting a Rule of Life, my friend Steve Macchia says “All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life that we are following, some with great clarity, others less knowingly. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, worship, vacation, and so on.”
He continues, “Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life that God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory. Rather than being a set of laws that forbid us to do certain things, a rule of life is a set of guidelines that support or enable us to do the things we want and need to do.”
Just as individuals need a personal rule of life, so churches need a biblical rule of organizational life. As a trellis offers support for a plant, guiding its growth in a certain direction, a church needs to adopt a rule to articulate its intentions (via rhythms and relationships) and identify the way it wants to function best to fulfill its mission.
The word “rule” derives from a Latin word, regula. In the ancient sense of the term, regula or rule meant “guidepost” or “railing,” something to hang onto in the dark, that leads in a given direction, points out the road, or gives us support as we climb.
We minister so we can make known Who He is—so the excellency of God can be seen in us. Churches need a guidepost or railing to ensure consistent practices which glorify God. When financial or other pressures come like a flood, a church needs to stay the course following its biblical rule of life.
Throughout its history, ECFA has provided key elements of a biblical rule of organizational life. It does this through its high standards in the areas of governance, financial management, and stewardship.
While the word “rule” often has negative connotations, following ECFA’s “rule” enables an accredited church to focus on what it needs to do. It allows a church to function with intention and purpose in the present moment. Compliance with the law is a fundamental expectation of churches. Many of ECFA’s standards go far beyond the law.  In turn, many ECFA-accredited churches have created their biblical rule of organizational life based on these standards, but they have taken their rule to an even higher level.
Could a church follow its own rule which is similar to ECFA standards without being accredited by ECFA? Yes, this is possible. But how does a church convince others they are following these standards if only a few insiders are privy to whether and how the church complies with its own rule. It calls to mind the old fable about the dangers of the fox guarding the henhouse.
The strong benefit provided by ECFA is its third-party accreditation. The accredited church is the first party. Givers and others entering into transactions with the accredited church might be termed the second party. And, ECFA is a third party, not involved in the interactions of the accredited church.
It is the third-party oversight of compliance with high standards which sets ECFA apart. When a question is raised concerning whether an accredited church is in compliance with the standards, an objective decision can be provided by ECFA.
The combination of the standards and the third-party oversight, evidenced by the ECFA seal, is what sends a strong message to givers and enhances the givers’ trust of the church.
ECFA does not give an accredited church integrity. Churches have their own integrity based on following their biblical rule of organizational life. ECFA’s biblical rule of organizational life lends its significant credibility to churches that already have established integrity. The trust of givers is enhanced, providing more resources to carry out the Great Commission. Craft a biblical rule of life, follow the ECFA standards of integrity, and rejoice as your church flourishes under the guiding hand of God.