Just do it?

Just do it?

Have you ever stopped to consider just how many decisions we are called to make every day? According to research, the average adult makes 226.7 decisions each day on just food alone. Add in what to wear, where to go, what time to leave, what to say (the list could continue) the number of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day averages around 35,000. The marketing tag line of a well-known sportswear company, encourages us to not think too hard, and ‘just do it’ – presumably so we will part will ever increasing sums of money to purchase their products. However, discernment and reflection are disciplines we should each exhibit as Christian leaders. I have observed too many situations where damage has been caused by leaders who ‘just do it’, as every choice we make carries consequences - good and bad.

The ability to choose is an incredible and exciting power that we have each been entrusted with by God. He has given us free will and reason because He wants us to use it to make decisions. This tradition is exemplified in Augustine's famous motto "Love God and [then] do what you will." In other words, if you truly love God and his will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.

So how should we go about making good decisions as Christians? How can we each align our own will with the will of God in order to learn what He is calling us to? I do believe that God can speak to each of us prophetically and powerfully at any moment, and have experienced this myself, however the art of ‘discernment’ is usually something that emerges from hard work, close attention and prayer. Allow me to offer a few steps that may help.

1. Start with what you know. I am a great fan of simply noting down two columns on a piece of paper, and listing the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of the decision that I need to make. If we note what we know for sure including how if fits God’s word, we will perhaps avoid the mistake of Adam and Eve who neglected what they knew in favour of what they were promised.
2. Talk to someone you respect. God often speaks to us through the wisdom of others. Seek out the wisdom of at least one and perhaps several people who you feel have the gift of wisdom and ask for their advice. No Christian is an island. There is much to be learned from one another, as we share the wisdom and insights God has revealed to us from His Word, by His Holy Spirit.
3. Find some solitude. It is crucial to make some time to be alone with our thoughts and with God and invite God into our decision-making process. Most of us don't audibly hear a voice when God speaks to us, however, pay attention to our thoughts, feelings (especially love, joy, and peace, or a lack thereof), and memories. These might be how God is stirring within us to help us make our decision.
4. Pray. Be honest and tell God what your deepest desires and fears are in this situation is. Before we can say the words, “thy will be done,” we need to be sure we are truly in touch with our own will; otherwise it could come back to bite us!
5. Wait. Know that God has a plan for us, and we don't need to shout or scream to get God’s attention. The time of waiting is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that God has a plan for us, and that his plan is driven purely by love. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Finally, I would place a lot of emphasis on the absence of peace, as this is usually bad news. God is not a God of confusion; I believe it will not be within God's purposes for God's followers to be confused, or be confusing. I do however fully believe in a God who loves us so very much; he is not trying to catch us out, but rather show us what is best. May God bless you in your decision making over the Christmas period.

Simon Mattholie 

Good financial practices - how to protect your treasurer. (Part 2)

Good financial practices - how to protect your treasurer. (Part 2)

Last month we looked at how to handle the income side of church finance and especially service collections. Equally important is the expenditure side of the coin and, as before, these controls should be seen as a way of supporting those responsible for making and authorising payments, rather than a lack of trust in those individuals.

Some controls are set at a bank mandate level where the bank requires a set number of signatures; however some banks do not offer accounts that have the level of control a church may require. Consequently it is always good to have a written policy defining the financial authority levels and controls.

As a general rule, no payments should be made unless there is an invoice or bill associated with it, and evidence that the goods or services ordered have been received. The exception may be where gifts are made, for example to visiting preachers, in which case the recipient should be asked to sign a receipt book or form for the cheque received.

Methods of payment have changed significantly over recent years. Almost everyone has a bank account to pay cheques into, and on-line payments are becoming dominant. This means that cash payments are hardly ever required and they should be avoided wherever possible.

Payments by cheque
Generally speaking the bank mandate should be set up to require two signatures. It may be appropriate to allow a single signature on cheques below a certain value but in this case additional ‘single authoriser’ controls should be put in place (see below).

  • On NO account should cheques be signed that are not completed in every aspect.

  • Cheque stubs should also be completed with as much detail as space will allow to ensure the cheque can be cross referenced against the payment.

  • Cheque books should be held securely, and preferably locked away, to prevent unauthorised use.

  • All receipts or other payment records should include all the details of the cheque including the date of issue, payee, and cheque number. Don’t rely on the cheque stubs as a full record.

On-line payments
In rural areas where banks may be sparse and travel can be difficult church members may not like to be reimbursed by cheque. Similarly, many suppliers prefer on-line payments. A few banks, include CAF Bank used by Rural Ministries, allow a two-stage payment where one person can initiate a payment which can then be authorised by a second person, so mirroring the cheque signing process.

As the two individuals making the on-line payments do not necessarily meet face to face it is imperative that the first authoriser or ‘initiator’ has full details of the invoice, or payment request, and that the second authoriser is also fully aware of the payment they are authorising. Ideally the physical invoice should be signed off by two signatories before payment is completed but this is not always possible.

Although not ideal, it is acceptable to have ‘single authoriser’ on-line banking so long as additional controls exist (see below).

All on-line login details should be memorised rather than written down and should never be shared.

Card payments
Debit or credit cards can be justifiable for two main reasons. Firstly, they stop someone who makes regular purchases from ‘carrying’ the debt in their own account whilst the church’s expenses payment system works through. Secondly, more and more goods and services are purchased on-line where a card payment is required in order to place the order. Cards invariably have a single authoriser so a clear policy should be laid down including criteria for a card’s use, spending limits and security.

Single user payment authorisation
As mentioned above there are situations where it is necessary to have a single person make payments. In such situations the following controls are recommended:

  • There is evidence such as an email (which can be printed off) from one or more individuals with the necessary authority asking for a purchase to be made, or, there is a documented policy giving an individual authority to make periodic orders for everyday items such as cleaning materials or stationery.

  • All invoices and payment records are submitted and signed by two authorised individuals as soon as possible, and at least monthly.

  • Any card statements are sent to the church’s treasurer/finance officer and not the to the individual card holder.

  • There is a periodic review to ensure use is in line with agreed policies.

There are many other aspects of church finances such as setting up Direct Debits or payment of salaries that need careful management and which cannot be covered here. More detailed guidance is available from the Charity Commission in their publication Internal Financial controls for Charities.

Nick Jones

Free gift for you - give it away!

Free gift for you - give it away!

Free gifts making their way through our very busy letterboxes at this time of year – wow! Free cards, pens, gift tags, even calendars.  Of course they are not really free, simply a novel way of asking us to support a charity or organisation.

After you have picked these up off your mat you are possibly on your way to organise or attend a special Christmas event, or prepare a Christmas message and two of the scriptures that are bound to come up during this month are Luke 2:11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to YOU; he is Christ the Lord.” and Isaiah 9:6 “For to US a child is born, to US a son is given…” "TO YOU", "TO US".

TO YOU (personal), do we get so busy over Christmas that we forget the message was not just to them, the world, the lost, the unsaved, the unchurched, but still applies to YOU (personally) today?  Some years ago I preached a message which I called ‘living a stress-free Christmas’.  As you can imagine, just the title provoked a non-too encouraging response, particularly from those who were imagining the workload of presents, cards, children’s parties and adult dinners as well as church events which were bound to add to their ever increasing list of things to do and buy.  The point of my message was not to ignore the busyness of December, rather to try to think ahead and give ourselves time to take in the message of the Virgin birth for ourselves, for it was to YOU that this gift of a swaddling wrapped baby was given, for YOU that this child would grow and introduce His Father and for YOU that this baby was destined to die on a cross.  So take some time, not just to enjoy gifts from family and friends, countless turkey dinners and cracker jokes (by the way have I told you about the turkey that crossed the road? Oh never mind!). Take time to look afresh into the manger, see that child looking at you and remember to YOU (personally), he was given.

However, our message to others is; it was TO US (plural).  My mother was of an age that, if she received an unwanted gift, she would keep it in a drawer so that next Christmas it would be passed on to some unsuspecting friend or relation. The worst present that I could receive was a box of chocolates, because it was expected that they would be passed around to countless visitors and I would be left with the ones no one else wanted. The wonder of the gift given to YOU (and me) is that we can keep it as well as pass it on to others in our communities at a time of year when they may be more open to receiving.

So there you have it!  Enjoy the gift of Christ in a fresh new way for yourself and pass it on with a fresh thought that the gift is for others but also for you!

David Hughes

Remember, remember!

Remember, remember!

My wife Rosie and I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Scotland to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Such events tend to cause us to look back and consider the past years and the changes that have occurred during that time. For us there have been different jobs, ministry opportunities, churches, homes, groups of friends. There have been the passing of parents, colleagues and friends. There is also some photographic evidence to back all this up and when we look back at our wedding day photos (black and white!), well there is little change! – Until we put our glasses on (glasses, ah that’s another change since then), and yes there are some changes to the colour of our hairs and… well let’s leave it there. Ah, memories.
On the 5th of November we are encouraged to “remember, remember the 5th of November”. There are times when we are reminded to look back at an event. For example, this year we looked back at 90 years of Queen Elizabeth II.

It is good to remember and in Deuteronomy 8:1-2 we read these words:

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

In these verses God speaks about:

The present:  “follow every command I am giving you today”.

The future: “so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors”.

The past:“remember how the LORD you God led you all the way in the wilderness”.

It seems that remembering how the Lord has led and directed us in the past, is inextricably linked to how we relate to God now and obey him in the future

Of course we must be careful when remembering the past not to get caught up in reminiscing with a sentimentality that longs for those “good old days” again but to remember how God has led and how he has guided us through times of change.

If we look back with our eyes focused on the works and grace of God it will give us such hope, encouragement, strength and faith to go forward, willingness to change and be the kind of church that changes a nation.

David Hughes