Tuesday, July 24, 2012


In my youth, I aspired to be a baseball umpire. Trained by a former minor league umpire, I pursued that aspiration for many years in my free time, umpiring hundreds of games, up to the college level—although not willing to give up my day job for the joy of making decisions on balls and strikes, safe or out.
Like any sport, rules are the backbone of baseball. Without them, the game would quickly turn into chaos. The rules must be so thoroughly understood by an umpire that they are applied instinctively—often in a split second.
Each of us lives by rules. In his marvelous new book, Crafting a Rule of Life, my friend Steve Macchia says “All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life that we are following, some with great clarity, others less knowingly. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, worship, vacation, and so on.”
He continues, “Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life that God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory. Rather than being a set of laws that forbid us to do certain things, a rule of life is a set of guidelines that support or enable us to do the things we want and need to do.”
Just as individuals need a personal rule of life, so Christ-centered nonprofits need a biblical rule of organizational life. As a trellis offers support for a plant, guiding its growth in a certain direction, organizations need to adopt a rule to articulate their intentions (via their rhythms and relationships) and identify the way they want to function best to fulfill their mission.
The word “rule” derives from a Latin word, regula. In the ancient sense of the term, regula or rule meant “guidepost” or “railing,” something to hang onto in the dark, that leads in a given direction, points out the road, or gives us support as we climb.
Christ-centered organizations need a guidepost or railing to ensure consistent practices which glorify God. When financial or other pressures come like a flood, an organization needs to stay the course following its biblical rule of life.
Throughout its history, ECFA has provided key elements of a biblical rule of organizational life. It does this through its high standards in the areas of governance, financial management, and stewardship/fundraising.
While the word “rule” often has negative connotations, following ECFA’s “rule” enables an accredited organization to focus on what it needs to do. It allows it to function with intention and purpose in the present moment. Compliance with the law is a fundamental expectation of Christ-centered organizations. Many of ECFA’s standards go far beyond the law. In turn, many ECFA members have created their biblical rule of organizational life based on these standards, but they have taken their rule to an even higher level.
Could a Christ-centered nonprofit organization follow its own rule that is similar to ECFA standards without being accredited by ECFA? Yes, this is possible. But how does a nonprofit convince anyone it is following these standards if only a few insiders are privy to whether and how the organization complies with its own rule. It calls to mind the old fable about the dangers of the fox guarding the henhouse.
The strong benefit provided by ECFA is its third-party accreditation. The accredited organization is the first party. Givers and others entering into transactions with the accredited organization might be termed the second party. And ECFA is a third party not involved in the interactions of the accredited organization.
It is the third-party oversight of compliance with high standards which sets ECFA apart. When a question is raised concerning whether an accredited organization is in compliance with the standards, an objective decision can be provided by ECFA.
ECFA’s seal, signifying the standards and third-party oversight, sends a strong message to givers, enhancing their trust.
ECFA does not give an accredited nonprofit organization integrity. Organizations have their own integrity based on following their biblical rule of organizational life. ECFA’s biblical rule of organizational life lends its significant credibility to organizations that already have established integrity. The trust of givers is enhanced, providing more resources to carry out the Great Commission. Craft a biblical rule of life, follow the ECFA standards of integrity, and rejoice as your ministry flourishes under the guiding hand of God.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Integrity Slipping

What are the greatest household risks? Some are what you would expect: 460,000 people a year are injured by kitchen knives; manual and power saws account for about 100,000 injuries a year. Some risks are surprising. Got any draperies? Every year, 20 people in America are strangled to death by drapery cords. Some 4,000 of us seriously injure ourselves on pillows.
What is one of our greatest dangers for injury? An issue that tops the charts is the potential for a spiritual 911-type injury is when our integrity slips.
Politicians spin promises, telemarketers scam the elderly, job seekers enhance resumes, repair shops pad bills, and students steal essays over the Internet.
People do these things even though they know the scriptures say: “The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).
But, you say, “Those examples do not often relate to Christ-centered organizations. What are some examples that apply to us?”
Having an integrity slip can happen in many ways. Here are two examples.
Integrity can begin to wane when we focus too much on comparing our organization with another.
John Ortberg tells the story of a conversation with two other pastors. One man said to the other, “So, how is your church going?” The pastor responded, “Excellent, we have about 1,000 at our church. How’s your church going?”
The first pastor said, “Well, the Lord’s blessing us all right. We run around 1,500 or so.”
John says, “Then they looked at me. I knew what was coming next. I was working at a church that had 250 attendees at the time. And then a little voice, so quiet I was hardly even aware of it, began to whisper a management impression strategy to me: Say the church has about 300 people. 250 people is really small.”
“Right at the same time, another inner voice responded: What are you doing? You don’t even know these men. Are you willing to trade your integrity, which, when you come right down to it, is all you really have, for the sake of the status you would gain by 50 people?”
Ortberg continues, “So I said we run about 2,000. Not just transfers from other churches, either. Seriously impressive converts—Hugh Hefner, Jimmy Hoffa, the Dalai Lama.”
A related integrity loss chart topper can involve competing. Many of us are driven to compete. Professor Jonah Berger, the James G. Campbell assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business, suggests that people who are slightly behind in a competition are more likely to win than those who are slightly ahead. He found that NBA teams that were down by one point at halftime were more likely to win than teams that were ahead by one point at halftime. It’s all about competing. No sports arena sells a giant foam hand holding up two fingers.
As an author for more than 20 years, I am curious, but not obsessed, about how books written by other authors are selling. As Ortberg says, “My hunch is that Jeremiah never checked out Israel Today to see if he had passed up Isaiah on the nonfiction bestseller list. William Shakespeare didn’t look to see how many copies of his plays Christopher Marlowe sold.”
Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). The entire life of Jesus isn’t the story of somebody climbing up a ladder; it’s a picture of someone coming down—a series of demotions. The problem with spending our lives climbing up the ladder is that we will go right past Jesus, for He’s coming down.
People who are servants—humbly, honestly, and joyfully—keep getting revealed as the biggest winners. People who recognize and embrace their smallness keep getting bigger and bigger in God’s eyes.  It’s the oddest scoring system.
So, step up and sign your own non-compare, non-compete agreement. Paul said it best: “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct” (Galatians 6:4-5).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

2011 Remembered—2012 Anticipated

2011 was a memorable year for the Christ-centered community but 2012 portends to be a chart-topper in many respects.
     Let’s take a trip down the 2011 memory lane:
   Grassley hands nonprofit tax policy issues to ECFA.  In January 2011 Senator Charles Grassley closed his investigation of six ministries and referred the open issues to ECFA for study. ECFA’s board accepted Grassley’s challenge, approving a new national Commission.
   ECFA’s astounding membership growth.  2011 was ECFA’s fourth consecutive year of record accreditation of new members. Christ-centered nonprofits increasingly understand the ECFA seal enhances trust with givers. 
•   Resources.  2011 was the third year for nonprofits to secure resources in a recessionary environment. ECFA’s 2nd Annual State of Giving Report reflected ECFA’s members fared much better than the largest secular charities.
•   Religious hiring.  The U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear a case that had potentially significant implications for religious organizations’ hiring practices, clearing the way for World Vision to continue hiring Christians.
•   Housing allowance.  After dropping one constitutional challenge, the same group filed a new case seeking a declaration that the clergy housing allowance violates the First Amendment.
    The Department of Justice also appealed a ruling which allowed a minister to exclude multiple houses under the housing exclusion rules.
What to expect from ECFA in 2012 as we serve our members and those who give to our members:
•  Issuance of a Phase I report from the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations
•  Expansion of ECFA’s web-based member profile, giving each member control over a section of their profile to communicate issues of donor interest
•  Launching of an ECFA church membership initiative, including a focused approach for the need of churches—a separate newsletter, Focus on Church Accountability, church-focused webinars, and more
•  Continuing the popular CEO Dialogues under the ECFA brand
•  Releasing the first in the Governance Toolbox Series—training for boards
•  Increasing the impact of the popular ServantMatch concept—expanding the giving opportunities well beyond the current 2,100 giving options
•  Republishing When Giver’s Designate Gifts (formerly Donors-Restricted Gifts Simplified) and Igniting a Life of Generosity from ECFAPress in hardcover format with a softcover version for ministry imprint
What does 2012 hold for the Christ-centered community? To coin a phrase from my pastor, I am only a “prophet of the obvious”—and this is what I believe is becoming obvious.
•   Impact of the economy. In nonprofit budgetary planning, caution will continue to be the watchword.  Some Christ-centered nonprofits will flourish while others will be challenged to match income with outgo. There will likely be an increasing pressure on smaller nonprofits to maintain or increase resources.
•  Tax legislation. While conventional wisdom dictates that new tax legislation impacting nonprofits will be delayed until the Presidential and Congressional elections of 2012 are history, tax legislation could be passed on a rather impromptu basis as Congress desperately searches for new and increased sources of Federal revenue.
    Continuing challenges to the charitable deduction are virtually certain to come in 2012. A charitable deduction floor is the most likely of the options to become law.
    If the Charitable IRA provisions are extended for 2012, it likely will not occur until late in the year—again making charitable gift planning very difficult with respect to gifts from IRA’s.
   Increased collaboration and, yes, some mergers—especially at the small to medium size charity level. A great example is the agreement of CrossGlobal Link (formerly IFMA) and The Mission Exchange (formerly EFMA) to merge, forming a body representative of 35,000 evangelical missionaries.
•  The courts. The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on healthcare reform will have a significant impact on the future of healthcare for nonprofits and staff.
•   Donors. Individual donors will likely continue to contribute over 80% of all donations to nonprofits. Donors will increasingly look for assurance (peace of mind) that charities are legitimate charities and will make good use gifts.  They will strongly value the accreditation of charities, looking for appropriate transparency. This is where ECFA shines.
     Overall, 2012 will be a time to focus on the open doors God provides—and walk through them. It will be a time to discern God’s plans—a time to say:  “You speak, I am listening.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Serve Boldly

A few weeks ago, I flew into Lambert Field in St. Louis. The young man driving the bus for my favorite rental car company (to protect the guilty, they will remain nameless) seemed to be less than energetic. My first indication of this was when he didn’t offer to help me onto the bus with my luggage.

Then, after picking me up, we stopped at another terminal. Patiently waiting was a mother and her eight-year-old daughter. The girl was in a wheelchair. Without leaving his seat, the driver asked if he should send another vehicle that had a chair lift. The mother said No, she could lift her daughter into the van. I hesitated, thinking the young man would get up—but there was no movement. With no thought of doing anything heroic, I quickly helped the mother get her daughter, the wheelchair, and their luggage on the bus. On the way to the rental car office, I visited with the mother and daughter and learned of the girl’s multiple back surgeries and their trip to St. Louis to again visit their surgeon.

I concluded that the young man driving the bus that day probably had been awol for the training session on boldly serving customers. The experience on that hot day in St. Louis served as a reminder to me of the importance of serving boldly—going far beyond the job description—going the second mile.

In this recessionary environment, it is a vitally important time to focus on serving boldly. Whether we serve with a for-profit or nonprofit organization, those of us who serve Christ should set the example for others.

Now is our time to serve boldly following the invitation and command of Jesus who set the ultimate example of serving boldly. Many Scripture passages describe Jesus as God’s Servant. He came as a servant to accomplish God’s will in the redemption of humanity.

To serve boldly, we must develop the servant attitude of Christ which calls for humility and obedience. In His instructions to His disciples about His servanthood, Jesus described His own role of service: “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:27-28).

The servant of a human master works for his master. God, however, works through His servants. When we come to God as His servant, He first wants us to allow Him to transform us into the instrument of His good pleasure. Then He can take our life and put it where He wills and work through it to accomplish His purposes.1 Only then are we in a position to serve boldly.

Elijah served boldly. He challenged the prophets of Baal to a public test to prove once and for all whose God was the true God (1 Kings 17:1). He took a big risk as he was outnumbered 850 to one. Elijah proposed that the prophets of Baal prepare a sacrifice and ask their god to send fire to consume it. He would do the same and appeal to the God of Israel for fire. God answered with fire consuming the sacrifice (and even the stone altar) as Elijah had proposed. God did His mighty work, but He acted through His obedient servant, Elijah, who served boldly.

Peter and John were ordinary men who served boldly. After Jesus’ resurrection, God healed a crippled beggar through Peter. Peter and John were called before the Sanhedrin to give an account of their actions. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter spoke boldly to the religious leaders, and “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Do you want to serve God boldly in the large or small issues of your church or nonprofit? Then find out what the Master is doing and submit yourself fully to Him that He might use you to further that work with boldness. Jesus said: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:26). Serve boldly!

 1 Experiencing God, Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994, pp. 25-27.