“The royal secretary and the high priests…counted the money” (2 Kings 12:10)
“…the chest was brought in by the Levites… (2 Chronicles 24:11)
These two passages are a good illustration of what accountants refer to as “a proper segregation of duties”. What makes accountants breathe easier is for their clients to distribute bookkeeping and administrative tasks to as many people as possible. The passage from 2 Kings tells us that the royal secretary and the high priest came together and counted the money and placed the funds in bags. Although only two individuals are mentioned, it would be safe to assume there were probably more. Of the two mentioned, one represented the king, and the other the priesthood. This appears to be an ancient version of segregation of duties and checks and balances.
Many churches need to take this practice to heart. Unfortunately, often for reasons outside of their control, churches and pastors don’t employ this procedure. Often because of expediency or lack of funds, one person will be given all of the financial tasks – from start to finish. As long as the person is honest there is usually no problem. But, other times…
Key: Pastors should know enough of the details of their church organization to make sure that their church is using Jehoiada’s model. Churches should appoint teller teams to count the money. The teams should be made up of multiple members who serve in rotating terms. Also, the business office tasks should be split between as many individuals as possible. For example, employees who assist in counting the offerings should not be involved in posting tithing information to individual member giving records. Also, individuals who prepare and write checks should not have check signing authority or be in charge of mailing the bills. Because of budget constraints and the cost of employee benefits, many churches are beginning to address this problem by outsourcing some office tasks to professional organizations.
Segregation of duties should not be limited to bookkeeping tasks but should also extend to church management and organization as well. A church should employ a team concept for crucial duties such as the setting of compensation for church staff, budget development, and long-range planning.
The verse from 2 Chronicles reminded me of a simple test I advise my clients to apply to themselves to determine, on a surface level at least, if they have any weaknesses in their organizations. Notice that the passage states that the chest was transported by the Levites – plural. Key: Counsel I have given to many pastors and business administrators is to look closely at how money flows into and out of their church. As they review their procedures, I advise them to make a list of who is involved in the process. The ultimate question I instruct them to answer is this: “Is the church’s money ever in the possession of one individual, no matter how short a period.” (I have knowledge of one situation in which the funds were in one individual’s possession for no more than thirty seconds. Unfortunately that was all the time needed!)
Every Sunday morning, in churches across the nation, money is being transported from the sanctuary to the counting room, from the counting room to the safe, and from the church to the bank by sole individuals. This is a threat to the church. But, it is also a threat to the carriers. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to swoop in, grab what’s needed, and soar off. The best defense is to devise a system where the funds are never, even for the shortest of moments, in the possession of one individual. In doing this, the church should include all funds, special events, program fees etc., as well as the Sunday offering.
Verne Hargrave is the Church and Ministry partner at PSK LLP and author of the book, Weeds in the Garden.