screen-shot-2011-05-17-at-084345-copy2Last time we saw how there can be an argument for having a separate charity for carrying out some ministries, particularly the social action ministries, but that this is not always necessary. Nevertheless, where it is advisable eg for fund raising purposes, safeguards should be in place to keep the ministry closely integrated with the other activities of the church.

With this model the ways in which a ministry is viewed from within the church and from outside differ. From within, the people need to see all the ministries of the church in the same light, an expression of kingdom life in the community. They do not need to understand, or even be aware of, separate charities under which different aspects of the church function. From the outside (the ‘world’) the picture may be of one or more charities, each with its own objectives, that focus on the areas of need being met; the outside world’s awareness of the church may be minimal or non-existent.

In many charities the trustees form the management team who make many of the day-to-day decisions. However, in the church, as we have seen, responsibility for the church’s management rests with the elders. Does this also apply to social action ministries? The answer must, of course, be ‘yes’ as they are an integral part of the church community and outreach.

It is essential for the elders to carry the spiritual oversight of and fully embrace all the church’s ministries including social action. But they may not have the expertise or time to give detailed input. Similarly the trustees must fulfil their responsibly of ‘guarding’ the charity. But, with the structure I have suggested, they too probably do not have the expertise or time to take on the traditional role of charity management in a detailed way. Often a specific ‘social action’ ministry will require specialist knowledge and skills.

So, in order to support the ministry there may be the need for specialists to be involved. For instance, in one ministry we had to reach trafficked women in the sex industry we needed the expertise of the police. To achieve this we wrote the legal document in a way that appropriate authority could be delegated by the trustees to a sub-committee or working party. They could then make decisions within defined boundaries.

In another ministry in which we were involved related to unplanned pregnancies we worked closely with other churches in the city while maintaining the legal and spiritual responsibility ie our church ‘held the reins’ but had wider support. In this case we created a Support Group of people from across the city who could bring the ‘added value’ of professional expertise to the ministry. But this was on an advisory not an executive basis.

Some legal requirements
In the charitable structures we have been discussing different bodies have decision-making or advisory powers. Regardless of which category these bodies fall into each has legal standing, whether elders, trustees, sub-committees or support groups. As such they are accountable to and through the trustees within the terms of the trust. Accordingly it is essential that minutes are kept and ‘signed off’ for all meetings of any of these bodies. Charities are in the public domain and, in event of a problem arising, a full trail of the decision-making process must be available.

The same is true of financial audits. The size of the charities’ finances determines the level of audit required but in all cases the finances must be well maintained and transparent.

In this short six-part series it has been impossible to cover all aspects of charities, their legal structure, the financial management etc. But the key message is that charities should not be set up in haste and should have a clear and accountable relationship with the life of the church; integrated as far as possible, not separate. Charities have longevity, and due care must be taken to ensure that they will serve your needs both now and well into the future. Be sure to use those who are knowledgeable when writing the legal instrument, such as a solicitor with charity expertise or a body like Stewardship. Also refer to the excellent resources available through the Charity Commission website. May you know God’s favour as you seek to advance the Kingdom of God!

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