By Gary L. Johnson
Long before I went to seminary, I earned a degree in finance and worked as a commercial loan officer. I enjoyed everything about the banking environment, from the people to the processes to the policies.
Many banks use the word trust in their names, such as First National Bank & Trust. It should be no surprise, then, that one of the many services banks provide is the management of trust accounts. Banks typically have a trust department where workers oversee assets entrusted to the bank. A trust department can manage thousands of trust accounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more. Trust accounts can be comprised of cash, real estate, stocks, bonds, and other such funds or assets.
The bank and its directors are responsible for safeguarding these trust accounts. The board of directors do not actually manage the trust accounts, but they are ultimately responsible for protecting and overseeing them.
As church elders, we also have a trust under our care. Paul wrote, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Elders have been entrusted with the church, the bride of Christ, and we must prove faithful in protecting her, even when it comes to money. Think of the threefold trust we have been given.
Trust 1: Fiscal Oversight
Just as bank directors are ultimately responsible for the fiduciary trust of all the institution’s assets, elders are responsible for the protection and oversight of all fiscal operations of the local church. Again, as with bank directors, elders are not charged with the minutia of fiscal oversight. Elders do not balance the checking account, renew the insurance coverage, or prepare the monthly financial statements or annual budget. Instead, elders delegate these responsibilities to church members who have been carefully vetted.
Do you remember Bernie Madoff, the billionaire who “made off” with about $60 billion investors had entrusted to him? He pleaded guilty to money laundering and various other felonies and is now serving a life sentence in prison. This incredible loss could have been prevented had there been a careful examination of Madoff’s brokerage firm. Similarly, elders must prevent any fiscal wrongdoing in the management of church assets by carefully selecting people to manage day-to-day financial and legal matters.
Elders must thoroughly screen and appoint individuals who are known to be spiritually mature, professionally skilled, and truly trustworthy before entrusting them with any authority in this arena of church management. Elders, after all, “have been given a trust” and it is required that they be faithful, for they are ultimately responsible.
Trust 2: Teaching and Preaching
Trust in and among elders stretches beyond the church’s bank account and real estate holdings. Elders must also be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), and one vital subject they must address in their lessons is money and the things it can buy. God’s Word contains much wisdom in this regard. More than 2,000 verses address fiscal issues, as do many of Jesus’ parables. Yet, too often we avoid discussing the topic of money for fear of a backlash from people in the pew.
Money impacts everyone. Money is required to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. As elders, we should teach and preach on this much-needed issue. Teaching is the explanation of the Word, while preaching is the exhortation of Scripture. Elders can explain verse-by-verse the many principles and practices of personally managing money and the things it can buy. Likewise, elders can—and must—exhort (i.e., preach) about money; after all, Jesus did so—and without apology.
Trust 3: Leading by Example
Most importantly, elders must lead by example in managing money and the things it can buy. Every elder has been entrusted by God with personal assets, and “an elder must be above reproach” in this regard (1 Timothy 3:2). We must lead by example.
To that end, are our house and vehicle payments current or past due? Are credit card balances paid off each month or are the cards maxed-out? Have all debts been paid or is there a never-ending cycle of credit?
Are we content with what we have, or do we want more and more? (More, of course, is never enough.) Do we bring the whole tithe into the storehouse or do we rob God of tithes and offerings?
On the last night of his life, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and said to them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
What example are we setting for people in the church with regard to money and what it can buy? Is it one we would want them to follow?
We do not serve First Christian Church & Trust, but trust is certainly implied. As elders, Jesus has entrusted us in many ways, including fiscal leadership of his church.
Teaching material on this topic is available through e2: effective elders. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Dr. Gary Johnson served 30 years with Indian Creek Christian Church (The Creek) in Indianapolis, retiring last year. He is a cofounder of e2: effective elders, which he now serves as executive director.