Guest Post: What is verifiable accountability?

Today we welcome Dan Busby, President of Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), to the blog. Please read on as Dan shares about verifiable accountability and why it is important in our churches and ministries.

shutterstock_64255828The biblical pattern for Christ-centered ministries and their leaders is based on verifiable accountability.

Verifiable accountability is a key theme which runs through the Scriptures. In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus tells the story about investing funds. The crux of the parable is verifiable accountability to the Master.

In 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NIV), we read these words: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” What is the “trust”? It is the gospel, the mysteries of God. What are we to do with it? We are to guard the deposit! “Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us” (2 Tim. 1:14).

When Christ-centered ministries do not demonstrate verifiable accountability, they risk doing what is right in their own eyes, as the Israelites did (Jdg. 17:6). In his early life, David, king of Israel, sought the counsel of wise and godly men. When his authority grew, he began to operate as the supreme ruler of Israel instead of God’s servant.

Listen to how hollow accountability rings when the CEO of General Motors says it in a hearing on Capitol Hill. When questioned on why it took so long to recall cars with faulty ignition switches, “We will hold ourselves fully accountable.”1 If self-accountability by General Motors to General Motors were a valid concept, the recall of faulty cars would have occurred much earlier and many lives would have been saved. (A few months after her testimony, it was revealed that General Motors placed an urgent order for 500,000 replacement switches nearly two months before the public or federal regulators were notified of the faulty ignition switches.2)

When one thinks of accountability, it is natural to focus on finance-related issues: raising resources, accounting for and managing resources, and disclosure of financial information. But accountability starts with a ministry’s governance—carried out by the ministry’s top leader and its board.

Three key elements of verifiable accountability include:

  1. Open relationships. Accountability in ministry begins with the relationship between the ministry’s leader and the governing board. Without verifiable accountability to the board, much of the board’s governing power disappears.
  2. Internal/external processes to verify integrity. Ministries should, as a best practice, establish appropriate measures to verifiably demonstrate (through independent accreditation by a bona fide accrediting organization or by other appropriate methods) to their financial supporters that they have adequate and proper oversight regarding financial activities and that they do not engage in or tolerate questionable activities.
  3. Transparency to constituents on how oversight and accountability are demonstrated. Ministries should clearly communicate to their constituents how they demonstrate proper oversight and accountability.

For 36 years, ECFA have effectively provided an accountability model for the evangelical world—using a concept of pass-fail accreditation. While most of the large Christ-centered ministries in the U.S. are accredited by ECFA, tens of thousands of other ministries do not have a verifiable accountability relationship. Without a peer accountability relationship, a ministry is generally limited to self-accountability regarding their governance, financial management, and stewardship/fundraising

Whether or not a church or ministry is accredited by ECFA, verifiable accountability remains the key principle. It starts with an accountability mindset—a commitment to the discipline that the process requires. Then, it is demonstrated through the faithful administration of internal or external processes to assure verifiable accountability.

In ministry work, it is essential that we be found faithful, and accountability is the true test (2 Cor. 4:1–2).

Trusted ministries openly accept verifiable accountability—it is what Jesus taught the disciples and it remains the model for fruitful ministry today.

Endnotes:

1 James R. Healey, “GM’s Barra apologizes to families in testimony.” USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/03/31/ barra-remarks- house-recall/7118161/ (April 1, 2014).

2 Jeff Bennett, “GM Ordered New Switches Seven Weeks Before Recall,” The Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2014), 1, 4.

Dan Busby is president of ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability)

Based on Dan Busby’s latest book, TRUST, The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness.