Verifiable Accountability

The biblical pattern for Christ-centered ministries and their leaders is based on
verifiable accountability.


 

by Dan Busby

 

Verifiable accountability is a key theme which runs through the Scriptures.

Character is more
than a man-to-his-God
humility, for it involves
transparency and
accountability to others,
not merely a private quest
for purity
.
Jack Hayford

In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus tells the story about investing funds. The crux of the parable is verifiable accountability to the Master.

In 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NIV), we read these words: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” What is the “trust”? It is the gospel, the mysteries of God. What are we to do with it? We are to guard the deposit! “Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us” (2 Tim. 1:14).

When Christ-centered ministries do not demonstrate verifiable accountability, they risk doing what is right in their own eyes, as the Israelites did (Jdg. 17:6). In his early life, David, king of Israel, sought the counsel of wise and godly men. When his authority grew, he began to operate as the supreme ruler of Israel instead of God’s servant.

Listen to how hollow accountability rings when the CEO of General Motors says it in a hearing on Capitol Hill. When questioned on why it took so long to recall cars with faulty ignition switches, Mary Barra said, “We will hold ourselves fully accountable.”[1] If self-accountability by General Motors to General Motors were a valid concept, the recall of faulty cars would have occurred much earlier and many lives would have been saved. (A few months after her testimony, it was revealed that General Motors placed an urgent order for 500,000 replacement switches nearly two months before the public or federal regulators were notified of the faulty ignition switches.[2])

Verifiable accountability
is not a suggestion.
It is the principle
Jesus taught the disciples—
and us.

Because people form impressions of ministries by looking at outward appearances, the biblical pattern for accountability of Christ-centered ministries and its leaders lies in the concept of verifiable accountability. Jesus set the verifiable accountability example when He sent out the disciples two-by-two (Mark 6), the 72 (Luke 10), and others involved in the early church mission (Acts).

When Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 9–10), He sent them out two-by-two. Each of the disciples had an accountability partner to maintain alignment with His instructions. They would also have a companion to encourage them, to share their victories, and to urge them to persevere through difficulty.

Paul and Barnabas
reported their
faithfulness to proclaim
the gospel and the
results that followed.

Just as two-by-two deployment helped Christ’s disciples to stay on the Kingdom path, it helps us today. Interestingly, when the disciples returned in pairs lamenting their inability to produce results on all occasions, Jesus pointed them to prayer (Mark 9:29; Matt. 17:21). This illustration reveals who is in control and who is not.

Later, in the early church, mission went forth with the same verifiable accountability measures in place. Paul and Barnabas, two-by-two, were the key players on the first missionary journey (Acts 13–14). When they appeared before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), verifiable accountability measures were evident. Paul and Barnabas reported their faithfulness to proclaim the gospel and the results that followed, though the information they shared was quite different from what the Jewish leaders expected. Gentiles were coming to faith.

The ancient Romans
had a tradition.
Whenever one of their
engineers constructed
an arch, as the capstone
was hoisted into place,
the engineer assumed
accountability for his work
in the most profound
way possible:

he stood under the arch.
Michael Armstrong

Coming out of the Jerusalem Council, mission was multiplied as Paul and Silas set out through Syria and Cilicia, and Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cypress (Acts 15:39–41). Two went by land, and two departed by sea.

As ministry grew exponentially, we see continued attentiveness to accountability in the Apostle Paul’s letters. For example, “Paul instructed those he mentored to follow in his steps. He urged leaders to exhibit character that was ‘beyond reproach’ and ‘blameless’ (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:6–11). This does not reflect perfection, but integrity and consistency.”

“God’s leaders must stand the test of public scrutiny and be found blemish-free. We must follow the primary theme of the letters to the churches in the New Testament and teach nothing inconsistent with the sound words of Jesus” (1 Tim. 6:3–4).[3]

When one thinks of accountability, it is natural to focus on finance-related issues: raising resources, accounting for and managing resources, and disclosure of financial information. But accountability starts with a ministry’s governance—carried out by the ministry’s top leader and its board.

Three key elements of verifiable accountability include:

Ministries should clearly
communicate to their
constituents how they
demonstrate proper
oversight and
accountability.
  1. Open relationship between a ministry’s leader and board. Accountability in a ministry begins with the relationship between the ministry’s leader and the governing board. Without verifiable accountability to the board, much of the board’s governing power disappears.
  2. Internal/external processes to verify integrity. Ministries should, as a best practice, establish appropriate measures to verifiably demonstrate (through independent accreditation by a bona fide accrediting organization or by other appro­priate methods) to their financial supporters that they have adequate and proper oversight regarding financial activities and that they do not engage in or tolerate questionable activities.
  3. Transparency to constituents on how oversight and accountability are demonstrated. Ministries should clearly communicate to their constituents how they demonstrate proper oversight and accountability. Financial supporters of ministries should be appropriately engaged in the giving process and should take the necessary actions to make informed giving decisions. A giver should request information about a ministry’s financial activities as the giver believes appropriate. A giver should evaluate the information provided (or not provided) in making a wise giving decision. Put simply, “Know the organizations you support.”[4]
The more people
learn to be fully
accountable for
their lives, the more
freedom each of us
can enjoy and the
more fulfilling
all of our lives will be.
Reed Konsler

ECFA is the only peer accountability model in the religious world—using a concept of pass-fail accreditation since 1979. While most of the large Christ-centered ministries in the United States are accredited by ECFA, tens of thousands of other ministries do not have a verifiable accountability relationship. Without a peer accountability relationship, a ministry is generally limited to self-accountability regarding their governance, financial management, and stewardship/fundraising practices.

There are three reasons why some Christ-centered ministries do not have a verifiable accountability relationship:

  1. Inability to qualify for peer accountability. Many small Christ-centered organizations do not qualify for ECFA accreditation because of their size.
  2. Lack of an accountability mindset. Many ministry leaders have not committed to the peer accountability concept because they do not believe peer accountability is important enough to commit to the discipline that the process requires.
  3. Reliance on self-accountability. Some ministry leaders believe self-accountability is an adequate approach.

The national Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations provided clear guidance on oversight and accountability:

History is a grim
reminder of what
happend to those who
think they have no law
but themselves.
Ravi Zacharias

Regardless of whether the oversight and accountability comes in the form of a denominational structure, an association, independent accreditation or some other form, any model for applying oversight must be meaningful, robust, rigorous, and appropriately independent in order to be effective. Otherwise, the credibility of the process is little more than that of the ubiquitous “Who’s Who” credentials that can be obtained by anyone willing to sign up.

On a similar note, organizations should steer clear of so-called accreditation organizations that are, in essence, shams—organizations that falsely claim to operate meaningful, robust, rigorous, and independent accreditation programs. Use of such organizations would be damaging not only to the credibility of the organization itself, but also to the credibility of the bona fide accreditation process.[5]

The landscape of Christ-centered ministries is littered with examples of ministries that were accountable only to themselves. Ministry failure was due in part to the absence of external checks and balances.

In ministry work, it is essential that we be found faithful, and accountability is the true test:

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God (2 Cor. 4:1–2).

Trusted ministries openly accept verifiable accountability—it is what Jesus taught the disciples and it remains the model for fruitful ministry today.

 

  Questions   for reflection

 

  1. How accountable is the ministry you serve?
  2. What are key ways the ministry demonstrates accountability?
  3. In what areas should the ministry be more accountable?
  4. What steps could the ministry take to demonstrate greater accountability?
 

[1] James R. Healey, “GM’s Barra apologizes to families in testimony.” USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/03/31/ barra-remarks-house-recall/7118161/ (April 1, 2014).

[2] Jeff Bennett, “GM Ordered New Switches Seven Weeks Before Recall,” The Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2014), 1, 4.

[3] Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes (Winchester, Va.: ECFAPress, 2014), 73.

[4] Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, Enhancing Accountability for the Religious and Broader Nonprofit Sector (December 2012), 31.

[5] Ibid., 42.

 

From TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, ECFAPress, 2015, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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