There are few things more important to guard before a watching world than a church’s financial reputation.
With Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, and the “My Hope” effort across the world, I was reminded how few people have maintained the moral integrity necessary for a lasting and influential public ministry better than Billy. Without a doubt, he is finishing well.
For that, you can thank the Modesto Manifesto.
In November of 1948, as his public ministry began to take hold, Billy called his co-horts Bev Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows to his hotel room during an evangelistic campaign they were holding in Modesto, California.
“God has brought us to this point,” he said. “Maybe he is preparing us for something that we don’t know. Let’s try to recall all the things that have been a stumbling block and a hindrance to evangelists in years past, and let’s come back together in an hour and talk about it and pray about it and ask God to guard us from them.”
When they gathered back together in Billy’s room later that afternoon, they had all made essentially the same list, which came to be known among them as the ‘Modesto Manifesto.’ From it they made pledges to guard themselves, among other things, against the two most damaging to the cause: the inappropriate use and allure of money, and sexual immorality.
Most Christian leaders steer clear of sexual sin, and when they fall into it, find themselves universally admonished by fellow believers. Oddly enough, money seems to be less and less of a concern within the Christian community.
But it is very much a concern to the watching world.
Those outside of the church, and far from faith, care about financial integrity in the lives of those who would preach Christ. They care about whether our relationship with money and material things meshes with what little they do know about Jesus and His lifestyle.
So here are ten basic things, in no particular order, that every church and its leaders should endeavor to practice:
- The church should honor its debts and pay its bills in a timely manner.
- Churches shouldn’t feel compelled to share staff salaries, but the salary-setting process itself should be transparent and above reproach.
- The salary of the senior pastor should be set by individuals who are not related to the pastor or staff, do not receive compensation from the church, and are set aside by the church’s membership or denomination for that task.
- Have no part in “prosperity” theology, a “health and wealth” gospel, or any other such nonsense that ties God’s blessing to material riches.
- Have an annual audit from an outside agency, and make that audit available to any member of the church who wants to see it.
- Debt should be taken on for strategic purposes only (the mission), ideally for appreciable assets (land and building), and within the church’s means.
- Have the church’s annual budget submitted to the church’s membership for evaluation and approval.
- Any outside business/financial activities of staff or leadership should be separate from the finances of the church.
- Pastors and staff should be well compensated, but not outrageously so as Christian leaders should lead by example and without having a lavish, opulent lifestyle.
- Avoid guilt and gimmicks when it comes to raising money or encouraging giving. Just teach the basics of Christian stewardship about savings, debt, responsibility to family, and generosity to the things of God.
James Emery White
On the “Modesto Manifesto,” see A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story by William Martin.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
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