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The Financial Affairs Of Congregations:

The Financial Affairs Of Congregations:

"Providing Honorable Things...In The Sight Of Men"

            Giving us with "all things thatpertainto life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3), God has also given us knowledge about propriety and transparency in the financial affairs of congregations. Entrusted with benevolence funds, Paul was acutely aware of problems that can arise if sloppy management leads to questions or accusations. How did the Apostle answer questions before they were asked? He proactively "provided honorable the sight of men" (II Cor. 8:21). This article will review this interesting passage and suggest applications.

"A Lavish Gift...Administered By Us"

            Most church members give little consideration to church financial management - until there is a problem. Accounting is thought to be a lesser and perhaps even a sub-spiritual effort - kind of like washing the dishes instead of cooking a fine meal. All that changes when questions or accusations arise about congregational spending. Then comes the chorus of "shouldas," "oughtas" and "whydidn'tchas?"  

            Knowing of the human tendency to first ignore the details of financial management, but then to complain in chorus, Paul acted proactively. He had been entrusted with "a lavish gift," the "rich generosity" of Greek Christians who had learned of famine and want among Jewish Christians (I Cor. 8). How did he conduct himself?    

            Paul's responsibility was to (i) receive the contribution, (ii) in the absence of dependable systems of mail, banking, or wire transfer, to physically carry the money, and finally to (iii) deliver the money to the congregations of those in need. To these three responsibilities Paul added a fourth, to (iv) "administer" the money. Taken from the Greek word diakonoumenÄ“, to "administer" the funds, Paul had the task of managing and caring for the funds.

            Those who have been entrusted with the care of funds are often the targets of complaints and criticisms. Paul understood this and worked to prevent this. He explained his concern - "We want to avoid any criticism" (I Cor. 8:20). Then Paul explained his plan - he was going to "take great care to provide honorable the sight of men" (II Cor. 8:21).

            Paul recognized the dangers associated with handling money. He worked diligently to remain free from any suspicion the he either mismanaged the money or took some for his personal use. Taking extra precautions to avoid dangerous scandal, the Apostle practiced the highest of ethics and the greatest of care.

Application to Today

            James Burton Coffman, a famed commentator of the Churches of Christ, made this common-sense observation about "providing honorable the sight of men":

There is no area of human behavior more likely to give occasion of slander than that of handling public funds; and Paul's precautions were not merely wise; they are also an apostolic precedent that should be observed by the churches of all times and places. The wise, prudent and business-like handling of a congregation's financial affairs is without exception prerequisite to any general confidence of a congregation in its leadership.

            What did Paul do so well that we ought to follow his precedent? He refused to handle the money by himself. Another "brother was chosen by the churches to accompany us with the offering" (II Cor. 8:19) based on his "praise by all the churches" (II Cor. 8:18). Titus was also involved (II Cor. 8:16+). familiar with the biblical principal that "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (II Cor. 13:1), Paul surrounded himself with trusted others who could vouch for each other's propriety and transparency.

            Propriety and transparency ought to be our watchwords when it comes to the finances of congregations and ministries. When it comes to receiving and disbursing contributions, we should go above and beyond in following accepted methods of accounting, explaining, and publicly reporting. Nine times out of ten it does not matter. But if we do not regularly practice propriety and transparency, when the chorus of complaints eventually comes, we will wish that we had.




Final Report

Sundown over the Bataan Peninsula is breathtaking.

After confirming early this AM that my passport is ok, Alan and I spent the day in the 19th-floor, glass-enclosed club of Manila's Jen hotel.  The management took pity on us and allowed us to work here instead of walking the streets as we await our midnight flight.  We took advantage of the comfortable location and the attentive staff to work on our report.
Manila Bay is one of the world's great ports.  Protected from prevailing typhoons and protected by islands like Corregidor, this is calm water, without even the wave action of Galveston.  Even the Romans knew of Manila Bay.
From our comfortable perch, we can see more island-sized ships at anchor than I've ever seen in my life, many more than the Port of Houston.  At anchor, they dreamily turn away from the wind.  Here and there service boats shuttle in and out.
In the hazy distance, there in an uncountable mosquito fleet of small fishing boats.  People live and work and live and die on those little boats, an entire culture that ignores dry land. 
Beneath us, the lights of Manila and its dizzying traffic twinkle and honk.
Then there is Bataan on the dying, distant horizon about 30 miles away
Bataan was the location of the U.S. Army's last stand when Japan invaded the Philippines at the beginning of WWII, the biggest loss of MacArthur's embarrassing defeat at arms.  Starving and malaria-ridden troops fought and died in Rugged Bataan before surrendering to endure the infamous Bataan Death March.  Texans, especially Aggies, were counted high among the still-remembered heroes in that defeat (kinda like when A&M plays UT).
Bataan juts into Manila Bay like a down-turned thumb pointing at Corregidor.  The mountainous extension into the sea of Luzon's backbone mountain range, the Bataan Peninsula is nothing but mountains.  That's what makes them so beautiful tonight.
As dusk settled, the dying brightness back-lit Bataan's mountains, their purple appearance stark against the graying sky.  So prominent are the peaks of Bataan that even after darkness fell, the huge form of mountains made looming gaps where stars ought to be.  Once gathering clouds are now a fully joined tropical lightening storm illuminating Bataan, with straight, piercing strikes visible across Manila Bay.
We have to struggle to keep at our work.  The beauty of Bataan is as seductive as our wits are dulled by physical and mental exhaustion.  Still, work is better than daydreaming because it makes the time go faster.
Go clock go.  At 7;30, we are 1 1/2 hours away from taking a taxi to the airport.  We'll leave at 9:00; the airport is visible from our 19th floor; it'll take us at least two hours due to Manila's manic traffic.  We don't look forward to the traffic jams, but we do look forward to seeing Sarah and Janie.  From Manila to Seoul to Houston, we'll be home soon - or as soon as we can make these next 26 hours pass.
Getting home is the glorious end of every trip, and every one of my overseas trips has been great - for different reasons.  Baguio 2016 has been great for I Corinthians 15:32 reasons.  Paul fought with wild animals at Ephesus.  I have to say that we have fought our own fight in Baguio, and won.

Don Prather

Report #3

This report will cause Janie to smile the smile of smug wives everywhere.

As planned, today, our last full day in Baguio will consist of a very long and tedious concluding meeting.  Last Friday, we gave the staff a long list of questions and requests for information.  In today's meeting, we will receive those answers.  We will also review other critical information we gathered.  This meeting will be a big deal.
Not as planned, we will leave Baguio for Manila late this afternoon instead of early tomorrow morning. 
Why are we leaving this afternoon?
Taking advantage of the laundry service available at our hotel a few days ago, I had a pair of my pants washed.  Although that might at first sound responsible, it was, in fact, S.T.U.P.I.D.
I did not remove my passport from my pants and so my passport got thoroughly washed in a washing machine with detergent and dried in a dryer with sweet-smelling softener.  This is only important if I want to eventually leave the Philippines and return to the U.S.
Question: what does one do with a washed passport?
Answer: NOTHING.  All it is is nice clean paper.  Passports now contain electronic security whatsits that do not tolerate washing and drying.  In all honesty, my business card means as much as my washed passport - neither will get me out of here.
So - I have to go to the US Embassy in Manila tomorrow (they have been really helpful and nice).
Here's the bad news - the friendly and efficient US embassy is only open for business between the hours of 7:30 and 11:30 AM.  That means we have to leave this afternoon, ride the bus for eight hours, get in late to a Manila hotel, and then go to the embassy.
Imagine, if you will, the smug look on Janie's face. It is the husband-emasculating look of a wife who knows full well that, had she been here, her helpless husband would not have made this foolish mistake.
Now imagine, if you will, the look on Alan's face.  He has a lot of Janie's personality, but not very much of her patience with me.  After I explained this to him, I got this sideways "My father is an old idiot, possibly suffering from pre-Alzheimer's" look. 
Then he became positive and came up with a great plan.  We'll leave Baguio this afternoon instead of tomorrow.  We'll get a room in Manila tonight.  That will split the travel into two days.  That will also give us an opportunity to put a day and some distance between ourselves and Baguio.  Tomorrow (scheduled as a time for us to work on our report anyway) will still attend to that task.  We will actually be better prepared to get it done.

Don Prather

Report #2

Much of what we are doing in Baguio is gathering information about the condition of the church here.  A great deal of our time has been spent meeting with church leaders and listening to them tell us what is going on.

There is no "Churches of Christ in the Philippines" annual reference.  This information is only available by grunt work.
Baguio (population 325,000) and its immediately adjacent city of La Trinidad (110,000) form a metro area of about 450,000 people.
In this area there are 11 Churches of Christ.
The Baguio Church of Christ is one of the largest (if not the largest) and most prominent congregations in the Philippines.  This church boasts an attendance of 350*.  Established immediately after WWII by American missionaries, this group supports by itself the Philippine Bible College (more like a school of preaching) and has a long-established eldership.
The Midtown Church of Christ has 250 members.
* Congregations here report attendance as a combination of whoever attends at least once on a Sunday.
The Midtown Church of Christ has 250 members.  Lacking elders, Midtown is one of THE MOST organized and efficient congregations I have ever seen anywhere (period).  Midtown is Baguio's "professional" congregation, consisting of businessmen and professionals.  Like the Baguio Church of Christ, Midtown owns its own building.
The NLEX congregation (North Luzon Expressway) directs the school of preaching that I am associated with.  NLEX has no elders (only three or four churches in the Philippines have elders).  NLEX meets in a rented hall.  There are 75 members.
Meeting next door to Baguio is the La Trinidad Church of Christ.  Their 60 members meet in their own building (although La Trinidad has no chairs, no songbooks, and no communion set - prepare to be begged on behalf of La Trinidad).  Like Baguio, Midtown, and NLEX, La Trinidad has a full-time preacher.
The Ambiong and A-Hill congregations have 50 members each.
Lamot, City Camp, Centerpoint, and Nanglishum have 40 members each.
That leaves the unusually small Antamok congregation that consists solely of little old ladies.
Quite by coincidence, the eleven congregations total 1,000 reported average attenders.

Report from Baguio

Allow me to describe lunch today.  We had Indonesian Bar-B-Que.

Think about the BBQ we typically have in Texas.  We would have sweet iced tea.  The BBQ would be served on a tray covered by butcher paper.  There would be some kind of slaw and some kind of beans and/or potato salad.  The meat would be the star of the show - savory/sweet/smoky beef, pork, and chicken.  The meat would be complimented by some kind of BBQ sauce.
Now forget all about what we are accustomed to in Texas.
Our meal was served on a wooden slab covered by a huge palm frond.
To drink, we had cucumber lemonade and cherry iced tea.  Multi-flavor infusions are popular here, and they are sooooo refreshing.
As complimentary dishes, we had (i) the ubiquitous Asian sticky rice piled into the shape of a volcano, and (ii) a delicious "slaw" of mango, tomato, red onion, and some unknown kind of green.
On the the stars of the BBQ show...
We had bbq chicken" Indonesian style that would have been great BBQ chicken if served anywhere - smokey, sweet and with a nice crusty skin.. 
We also had skewered grilled chicken strips that were slathered with a citrusy baste that included spices that were totally unknown to us but totally delicious.
Then we had their amazing version of pork belly.  The pork is first slowly smoked, and then flash fried.  The result is meat that is crusty on the outside and succulent on the inside. 
Several sauces were served on the side.  One was a vinegar, oil and green pepper super-incendiary mix.  One was like a super sweet ketchup.  One was as dark and textury as refried beans, but was all deep, smoky heat.
Alan and I shared lunch with two Christian men who were driving us from meeting to meeting.  It was a "guy" lunch.  It was great.

Don Prather