1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 2) – Being Director of Finance at My Church And Being Clean & Close

Posted: November 16, 2017 in Book of 1 Samuel, Uncategorized
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1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 2 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

One of my senior pastor’s continuous sayings is for him and for us, his staff (the other elders and church employees), “to be clean and close!” What does that saying mean? Pastor Jeff means that we need to be (1) above reproach and (2) seeking to always be close to the Lord in our walk. For me as director of finance for our church, I am therefore charged with being clean and close in my responsibilities for the financial reporting of the church.

The first part of that clean and close statement is the clean part. We must be clean in how we operate our church’s finances. We first must never be secretive about the financial position of our church. To that end,

• we have established financial reporting systems to allow us to know exactly how the church is performing from an incoming donations and outgoing expense standpoint. We can produce financial statements on the spot when requested. At no time will we ever have to say, we will get back to you about where we are as a church financially. We have an established routine of closing our books on a monthly basis and reporting the financial performance to the elders each month. Along with the financial statements, I provide them with a monthly commentary on what all these numbers each month means.

• We also have established our financial reporting systems around the four stakes of ministry plus one as we call it. The four stakes of ministry plus one are the four areas of ministry that we focus on at our church and the plus one is the administrative function of the church. Our four stakes of ministry, the things that we want to concentrate on as a church, are Sunday Morning Experience, Next Generation, Revolution (local, national and international missions), and Life Groups/Discipleship. All of our budgeting and expense tracking revolves around these four stakes of ministry. Then, the plus one, is the administrative side of the church (all the operating expenses of the church such as salaries, utilities, repairs and maintenance, all the needed expenses of keeping an enterprise going). Everything is controlled around these points of accountability. Each elder is charged with responsibility and accountability of one or more of these stakes of ministry and administration.

• These reporting systems allow us to generate financial statement at will and on a routine basis. Any member of our church can come in and ask to see the financial statements for any period or year and we can generate them on the spot. We also can provide our bank with whom we have our checking accounts and our bank loans with annual financial statements and budgets. We have been told that we have the most professional financial reporting of any church that our bank deals with and, in some cases, they say we have better financial reporting than some of their business clients such as small businesses, etc.

• Finally, we have systems of internal control to ensure that no one person in our organization has access to all steps in the financial reporting process or in the handling of cash, checks, or any form of monetary value. We segregate duties in accounting for our weekly Sunday morning collections. Our church financial manager does not even have complete access to the cash/checking function. Even I as director of finance does not even have the ability to generate a check from our accounting software. We are that concerned about real issues of fraud that are rampant in churches today but also even the perception that we are not above board or secretive or even that their would be a hint of impropriety in how we handle our people’s gifts and donations and then how we spend that.

The second aspect of this clean and close concept is the close part. How does how we handle our church’s money reflect that we are walking closely with the Lord. The systems that we have in place ensure that we are accountable to God for how we use the funds that are given to His glory and that we are entrusted by our people and by God himself to spend. Our financial reporting systems help us demonstrate that we spend our money wisely and on what we say we are going to spend it on. Our philosophy, starting with Pastor Jeff as senior pastor on down, is to spend all our money on ministry and to only build up cash reserves as is required by our banks to support/secure our loans. We are never going to be a church that builds up cash to build fancy buildings with gilded edges. Our pastors don’t want big fancy offices or mahogany desks or cherry wood conference tables with built in audio visual systems. We don’t want the major focus of our church to be building up investment accounts or giving huge bonuses and fancy cars to our elders. We want the money and the point of our spending to be on effectively spreading the gospel and then growing people into full devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That’s what it will be about always. Our financial reporting systems help us document this fact. If we are not walking closely with the Lord as a staff then our spending as reflected in our financial statements would reflect that also. So our financial reporting systems hold us accountable and encourage us to take seriously our walk with the Lord as a staff of one of God’s local churches.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage again. There was no accountability for Eli’s son. Without a framework of accountability, we as church leaders can easily get off track as to what our true purpose is. We have seen is so often lately in the news with the fall of numerous megachurch pastors. So with that idea of lack of financial and moral accountability in mind, let us read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the second of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that we must ask the question, “What were Eli’s sons doing wrong?” They were taking parts of the sacrifices before they were offered to God on the altar at the Tabernacle. They were also eating the meat before the fat was burned off. This was against God’s law (Leviticus 3:3-5). In effect, Eli’s sons were treating the offerings to God with contempt. Offerings were given to show honor and respect to God while seeking forgiveness for sins, but through their irreverence, Eli’s sons were actually sinning while making the offerings. They were using the offerings to their own advantage before they were given to God. To add to their sins, they were also sleeping with women who served at the tabernacle.

Like Eli’s sons, some religious leaders today act as if they deserve large automobiles, large homes, fancy clothes, expensive vacations, chartered or private jets. Often their “overheads” take away directly from the ministry that they say they are doing. As leaders of the church, we must be aware and accountable for how handle gifts given by our people and be transparent in how we handle the money that has been entrusted to us. Sure, full-time and part-time church leaders and employees have got to eat (i.e., earn enough of a living to take care of themselves and their families), but we should never our personal desires for fame, fortune and power take precedence over the work that we have been entrusted with by the Lord.

We must develop systems of accountability financially and morally to ensure that we can preach the gospel with integrity and never let ourselves become a detractor to that message. When moral failures of church employees and pastors become the focus, then the gospel message gets lost and people are led astray as to what Christ’s church is all about. It should always be drawing people unto Christ and then growing them to maturity in their walk with Him so that they too can draw others unto Christ and then grow them to maturity in their walk with Christ. Nothing else matters. Thus, I take seriously how I protect the gospel message through the financial reporting sytems and systems of accountability at my church that I am in charge of. It is all about protecting the message of the gospel. We must be clean and close so that the message of the gospel is the message that we sent – not anything else!

Amen and Amen.

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