by Raul Rivera
I wrote previously about the pastor of a wonderful church that made a great impact in their community. As the leader of an excellent ministry, it was obvious to all that God’s hand was upon this man to fulfill a unique calling. Yet, as the years progressed, it became evident that he lost his way in the glory of success. I want to give you three very important keys that will help you build a structure for success.
Structure can be defined in many ways. I like to define it as a comprehensive plan that aligns the vision, mission, and ideals of the church in light of today’s legal environment. I often ask myself, “How can our church have maximum outreach potential while minimizing civil liability?” “How can our church multiply its finances in today’s complex business world, without falling out of compliance with tax-exempt laws?” And most importantly, “How can I experience maximum success and keep my heart humble and sensitive to the Lord?” You do it with structure.
Below are three things I did early in ministry to keep my heart in a place where I could receive correction if needed.
Accountability Board: When I pastored in Florida, I had an accountability board. This was a board separate from my board of directors. I carefully chose three men who were willing to hold me accountable for my actions whether those actions were in the church or outside of the church. In choosing these three men, I was careful to choose men who loved truth, without compromise. The accountability board was codified in the constitution and bylaws of the church and granted the authority to weigh out any accusations against me that were levied unanimously by the board of directors. The accountability board would determine whether I would be removed or disciplined. It is this type of structure that keeps one inside the lines.
Financial controls: When pastors lack the structure of excellent financial controls, they will soon lose their way. Good financial controls require the church to have a budget, spending limits on transactions, and frequent checks and balances. The constitution and bylaws ought to give the pastor significant day-to-day control over the direction of the church. However, when it comes to spending, setting a maximum limit on a transaction before getting board approval is a good restraint. While having a spending limit restraint is good, an active treasurer that keeps the books in balance on a monthly basis is the best check and balance a pastor can have. I was blessed with an amazing treasurer. He never allowed one month to pass without entering every transaction into our accounting program and balancing the checkbook. Knowing that I would have to explain transactions that were uncommon or questionable was enough to make sure I did not use any of it improperly.
Make Legal Compliance a Priority: Legal compliance is a risk that presents itself every day. Whether it is fraud, asset protection, or liability exposure, I have seen how a lack of legal compliance harms a church. Please do not wait until the IRS, a State Revenue Officer, attorney, or a civil dispute forces you to make compliance a priority. Like the pastor in this story, an unfavorable audit can lead to people and the community losing faith in you as their spiritual mentor. Conversely, when a church values legal compliance it is actually valuing God’s Word. The level of your church’s willingness to achieve legal compliance reveals the seriousness with which you take the mission and vision of the church. One cannot be surprised if the very thing that continually slows or prevents a church from growing is the failure to have a structure that values legal compliance.
The pastor in this story has been fighting for years in legal battles between him and the church he pastored. Instead of investing his life in impacting people’s lives and building the Kingdom of God, he has been sidelined being sued by his church. You probably know a pastor that has lost his/her way. I know you do not want to lose yours. I close with these simple instructions. Like Solomon once said, “My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel.” The greatest testimony and legacy of your ministry will be that your heart always remained tender and teachable before the Lord. Therefore, put a structure around you so that in success you never lose your way.