“But thank God! He has given Titus the same enthusiasm for you that I have. Titus welcomed our request that he visit you again. In fact, he himself was very eager to go and see you. We are also sending another brother with Titus. All the churches praise him as a preacher of the Good News. He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem—a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help. We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. We are also sending with them another of our brothers who has proven himself many times and has shown on many occasions how eager he is. He is now even more enthusiastic because of his great confidence in you. If anyone asks about Titus, say that he is my partner who works with me to help you. And the brothers with him have been sent by the churches, and they bring honor to Christ. So show them your love, and prove to all the churches that our boasting about you is justified.” (2 Corinthians 8:16-24, NLT)
Early in my ministry I was faced with a difficult situation. In those days the ushers would receive the offering and then together march the money into a room where it would be sorted, bagged, and placed in a safe. The offering was sorted into three categories: envelopes with checks, envelopes with cash, and “loose offering,” which was cash dropped into the offering plate. Then the total of each was tabulated and placed into the safe. This system seemed to work well, as the ushers served as accountability for one another. Accountability can promote trust, but it can also become so familiar that trust can turn into assumptions.
One of our ushers enjoyed the task of gathering and sorting the “loose offering” because he also enjoyed taking random bills and slipping them into his pocket. This evidently had been going on for a long time without notice, until one of the team decided to retire from ushering and a replacement was enlisted. You guessed it…the new set of eyes observed the usher’s theft. At first, he didn’t say anything. He watched the thief for two more weeks to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. He then went to a staff administrator and asked him to come to the counting room the following Sunday, and together they observed the crime. When confronted by the new usher and the staff member, the usher vehemently denied any wrong doing shouting the objections of “How dare you?” and “Do you know how long I’ve been a member of this church?”
The good news of the gospel is that the usher’s conscience wouldn’t let him sleep. Some time later he came to me and confessed what he had been doing. He had been doing it a long time and had no idea how much he’d stolen. He believed that no one would miss an occasional $20 here or $50 there. He was a fixed income pensioner who ran out of money before he ran out of month. Though he apologized with tears, he couldn’t make restitution. His conscience wouldn’t let him sleep, but his pride wouldn’t let him stay. So he left the church, and we changed how we handled our offerings.
The Scripture cited above reveals Paul’s conscious concern for financial integrity concerning the collection in Corinth. To simplify, Paul does two things in the passage. First, he shares that he is sending a team of credible people with proven track records to receive the collection. Second, he announces that they will accompany him as he delivers the offering to Jerusalem to ensure accountability.
The fact that Paul recognized the need to take these steps reveals that financial transparency and integrity have always been an area of vulnerability since the inception of the local church. And as in the days of Paul, many churches are dependent on volunteers to help with the process. Larger churches may employ office staff to help with this, but the fact remains that whether volunteer or paid, human beings are subject to temptation. I think the news cycle will bear this out.
One hundred years before Paul penned this letter, the Roman orator and statesman Cicero declared that “the chief thing in all public administration and public service is to avoid even the slightest suspicion of self-seeking.” His statement has been used throughout history as a baseline for public integrity and transparency where actions and processes match the purported intent and impact of the organization. What serves as the standard for public service should be considered the minimum standard for Christian service.
In the words of George Guthrie, “Do our churches today act with such sterling integrity that we allay suspicion of our motives and promote a positive witness before both a watching world and our God?”