Reputation Trumps Riches Every Time

Reputation over riches
When it comes down to it, will you choose reputation over riches? (iStock photo)

A burden for the lost manifested in prayer and fasting, coupled with the preaching of the Scripture, is the foundation of all ministry. Upon those two tenets rests the corner pillar of success: integrity.

In math, a whole number is called an integer. Nothing is missing, and it is totally complete. It is not three-fourths complete or any other fractional part; it is whole. In ministry, to have integrity means to be whole and sound (notice the common root with the word integer). Ministerial integrity thus inspires confidence, much as money does in the economic realm. Anything less than 100 percent integrity in ministry breeds mistrust and creates a suspicion of being robbed.

There are four areas in any Christian's life, but especially in the ministry, that must be sound: finances, commitments, honesty and doctrine. Careful attention to these areas is crucial and will pay off in a lifetime of influence.

Finances

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No issue has been more scrutinized than the church's managing of its finances. Money is so potentially dangerous that though ministers cannot be paranoid, they must handle it as they would explosives. In managing a church's finances, there are several basic principles to guide us and certain practical rules to protect us.

1) "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another" (Rom. 13:8). Debt that is secured (has property standing for its value) is acceptable but still requires prompt, no-excuses repayment.

Some ministries hold their payments to vendors and creditors for 90 days for cash-management purposes. At Bethany, we never do that, choosing rather to pay in the month we owe. That way we protect our reputation and maintain open doors to our vendors and creditors.

2) The cost of buildings and their operation should never exceed 35 percent of a church's income. Salaries should run between 20 and 40 percent. Missions giving must never fall below a tithe level of 10 percent and can increase to 25 percent or even more if the church is debt free. Savings should be 5-10 percent. These percentages do not affect integrity unless the church violates them and can no longer pay its obligations in the month they are due.

3) Money given must be used for the purpose designated. When a member sacrifices to plant a church, build a nursery or support a widow, those funds in the exact amount and at the time given must make their way to that need (regardless of how desperately they may be needed elsewhere).

4) Outside business interests between leadership and membership change the relationship and cannot exist. When a pastor or church leader enters into a business relationship with a member, the relationship changes from pastor/sheep to partner/partner. Any shift in the balance of profit or responsibilities will likely bring a rift between the two.

5) Churches should adequately support their pastors and leaders: "You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox while it treads out the grain" (1 Cor. 9:9; see also verses 10-14). Ministers are not hirelings but guardians of the flock and deserve adequate compensation.

6) Pressure for finances yields the perception of manipulation and insincerity. It does take money to operate ministry and expand it. However, when the sheep sense that they are a means to an end, part of an agenda that equates their worth with their money, a loss of integrity results.

7) Members deserve to be informed of expenditures. At Bethany, we issue a financial statement at the end of each year. This is not for the purpose of budget battles, but to assure our members of our priorities (missions, youth and children, local outreach) and also our obligations (principal payments, utility costs, staff costs).

Commitments

A commitment occurs when someone perceives that you have promised something. Granted, some pushy people may interpret your silence or your head bobbing up and down during their proposal as a commitment. However, a real commitment is not a misunderstanding, but a genuine obligation you make in good faith.

The Bible declares that a man of integrity "swears to avoid evil and does not change" (Ps. 15:4). When a commitment comes out of your mouth, you must have the same integrity with it that God has to His Word.

Commitments from the pulpit, of course, are inviolate. Our staff knows that if I announce something to the people, it becomes our new direction. It takes only once for a pastor to alter his word to bring suspicion of any and every announcement.

Of course, mistakes may be made, but if the pastor has set a course, he must follow through.

Sadly, pastors sometimes cancel international missionary commitments because of their distant and anonymous nature. Promised crusades, conferences and building projects disappear because of budget restraints or because "the Lord has moved in a different direction." Additionally, emotionally charged church members during missions conventions sometimes make pledges to support certain missionaries on a monthly basis, only to never give even the first month's support.

Christians should never need a legal contract to make them keep their word. If they fear the Lord and believe integrity is their highest honor, they'll willingly keep their commitments.

Let's get it together, brothers and sisters! It's time for a new standard of integrity that no worldly institution can even begin to rival.

Honesty

Integrity means a commitment to the entire truth. If you leave out pertinent facts (selective amnesia) in an effort to persuade, it is a lie. A lie is simply any intent to deceive. Therefore, lies are not only what you say but also what you allow people to believe for untruthful purposes. This is an important word. Intentionally withholding pertinent truth that leads people to wrong conclusions does not show integrity.

Exaggeration is another serious temptation in the honesty area. Someone defined honesty as the "accurate recollection of facts." One person ministered in our church years ago and described a bus he was using to transport cancer patients. My father calculated the length the bus would have to be in order to hold the number of people the minister said it could hold. That bus would have needed to be over 125 feet long! When confronted with this obvious inaccuracy, the minister responded, "You know, you can't tell anything too big for God."

This pitiful response reminds us that testimonies of miracles, answered prayer and apparent supernatural interventions must be accurate. God does not need any help defending His greatness.

Doctrine

Scripture often refers to doctrine as something that needs to be sound. Second Timothy 4:3 says, "For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine." In speaking of overseers in the church, Titus 1:9 says that they must be able to "exhort in sound doctrine."

Flaky doctrine built upon a wisp of revelation hurts credibility. Snake handling (based on Mark 16:18), never-die-ism (based on John 11:26) or refusal to seek medical attention based on an isolated verse borders on presumption, not faith.

Your doctrine needs to be sound. This means having balance, holding to a solid thread of scriptural truth that runs throughout the Bible and not building on a nuance of Greek or Hebrew inflection in Strong's Concordance. Predictions, time lines and scriptural "facts" that are mere interpretations shake people's faith when the predictions don't come true.

As we move into perilous times, more and more I am becoming a stickler for sound footing on any and every doctrine. You will not be penalized in your effectiveness for the Lord by not adopting the latest doctrinal fad. You will be penalized if you catch each doctrinal "flu bug" that comes around and then "recover." Your soundness and integrity will come into question.

Adapted from Larry Stockstill's book The Remnant. In the book, Stockstill reminds spiritual leaders that God is issuing a call to maintain integrity in ministry. The book can be purchased at christianbook.com; search Larry Stockstill.  


Larry Stockstill is the former senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He now directs the Surge Project and serves as a teaching pastor at Bethany.

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