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.