The following is a personal opinion piece by Mark Brooks
“How will that impact giving?” That is the question I always ask as a stewardship minister. When the economy goes south, I ask this question. When weather cancels a service, I ask that question. When a crisis such as Covid-19 appears, I ask that question. So, forgive me but as I have watched the fallout from the recent Guidepost sex abuse report, I can’t help but ask, how will this impact giving?
“How can you think about money at a time like this?” I believe passionately in the local church and its mission. My calling is to help churches fund that mission financially. I am thankful that God has called Christian lawyers and other professionals to help churches navigate through crises like the one we presently are in. Their work is valuable for the Kingdom. The hard reality is that controversies like this can and do impact giving. A decline in giving can and will impact your church’s ability to do ministry and missions. Thus, it behooves us to have someone asking the question, how will the Guidepost report impact giving at your local church?
Before I share my thoughts about the potential impact let me state what all of us are feeling, a sense of sadness and grief over these sins and how we failed to address them. I think everyone agrees that we must do better. The question was always what the best path was to achieve what everyone wanted. I have clients on both sides of this issue and after the release of the report I emailed one saying, “I am praying for you today to have the wisdom of Solomon.” I think it would help us all to realize that this is an incredibly complex and potentially fractious time for our Convention. Thankfully, Scripture promises that when we lack wisdom the Holy Spirit will guide us. Let’s keep praying for that wisdom as the Convention meets.
Yet, it behooves us to think about how this issue can and will impact giving and, more importantly, what you as a pastor can do. Let’s start by understanding the three classical standards people use in evaluating any gift to an institution. People give to an institution, including a church because they:
First, believe in the vision of that institution.
Second, they believe in and trust the leadership of that institution.
Third, they believe that institution will be fiscally responsible with the money given to that institution.
Violating any of these three results in a loss of trust that can lead to a decline in giving to that institution. In some cases, individuals will pull all financial support from an organization they feel has violated their trust. For most churches, what occurs is people leave and take their dollars with them.
Without casting stones, I think it is clear that in the aftermath of this report we have violated the second and perhaps the third standards people use when determining a gift. This is why I am asking, how will this report and the follow-up recommendations of the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) impact giving?
The honest answer is that we do not know. Not yet. Right now, Cooperative Program giving at the end of May is 11% ahead of budget.1. That record giving came in before the Guidepost’s report. What will the next quarter’s report show? Again, there is much we don’t know but all you have to do is read a few social media posts to see the anger, disappointment, and disillusionment not only of our members but of the world at large. We have an uphill battle to keep the confidence of our own flock let alone the watching world. What can we do to keep our members’ confidence? Here are some ideas.
To begin with, we must take this seriously. The path to regaining trust in our members and our community lies first and foremost in admitting the problem. Like it or not, our past actions have left us open to criticism that is harming our witness for Christ. We must do better. How? I believe it begins and ends with accountability and transparency.
First, it starts with you. As pastors and leaders of the church, we are called to a high standard. Sexual purity must be an absolute that we strive for. Here are some practical steps every pastor and staff member should consider:
- Realize that anyone can fall to sexual temptation and thus we must never let our guard down.
- Avoid any and every circumstance that could lead to not only sexual temptation but also to protect you from any false accusations. These steps will differ for everyone, but the goal is to avoid even the appearance of evil.
- Find someone or a group of other ministers to help hold you accountable by asking tough questions about your Internet habits and other activities.
- Give your wife full access to your phone and your computer at any time.
- And, lastly, if needed, seek professional help from a qualified Christian counselor.
The above might seem restrictive or overkill but pastors and leaders should set the standard for how to live in this sexually saturated world. Every time a minister falls, the Church’s witness is damaged. We must do better!
Next, establish policies and practices for your church and staff to protect against sexual abuse. These should be clearly stated and made available to not only hired staff but also every volunteer. Background checks should be run on every staff member and volunteer to help avoid even the appearance of evil. We must communicate that any abuse will be met with immediate action. These policies should be made public so that your members know how seriously you are taking this issue.
These basic steps can help regain the lost confidence of donors and show positive proof of correcting those mistakes. Let me leave you with one final important thing your church can do. Keep making the main thing the main thing. We are called to make disciples who faithfully follow Jesus. That is our vision and a compelling vision always attracts generous giving.
Years ago, at a Southern Baptist Convention, I happened to fall into a conversation with a secular reporter. He asked me, “What will you do if your candidate loses the presidential election for Convention President?” My reply then is the same I would give today. I said, “No matter who wins or what the Convention decides, I get to go back to my local flock of believers to do what we have always done, act to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We have a local focus on reaching our community. Our church willingly cooperates and partners with other SBC churches to extend our influence literally around the world but no one in Nashville tells our church what to do. Our members decided the path God has for our church.” That worked for me then and I believe it will work for you today.
Southern Baptist churches employ and depend upon thousands of both paid and volunteer staff. They faithfully serve the call of God upon their lives and those under their charge. Yet, sadly, it only takes a few examples of abuse to taint all of us. Fair or not, the reality is, conflicts like this have historically meant a decline in giving which in turn means a decline in that church or organization’s ability to carry out its mission. Our mission, the Great Commission, is too important to not be fully funded. While we cannot change the past, we can take steps to assure the future. No matter what the Convention decides, your church can be proactive by taking the above steps. The world is watching. Let’s respond prayerfully, thoughtfully, and biblically, taking steps that assure our churches are safe spaces. When we do this, we will build confidence in our donor base which will lead to their continued support of our mission.