A Christian council governing almost 3,000 evangelical nonprofits is hoping its new guidelines will help diminish the ever-increasing moral failings of those in leadership. 

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has noticed that the greatest threat to finances the church faces are due to leadership making bad moral decisions. Because of this, the ECFA is making the biggest changes to their standards in 45 years. 

The proposed standard outlined in March this year states that "Every organization shall proactively care for its leader and support the integrity of its leader in conformity with ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Supporting Leadership Integrity."

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This new standard by the ECFA is the eighth on their list of standards for churches and ministries and is appropriately named "the integrity standard."

"There’s consensus around the idea, that the board has an opportunity and responsibility to come alongside a leader to help leaders be in a position where they can best thrive," says ECFA president and CEO Michael Martin in an interview with Christianity Today

During a survey done in 2021 involving over 800 members, the ECFA found that 94 per cent believed leadership failures are impacting donor trust.

The new standard set by the ECFA includes some direction for churches and ministries, including:

  • The board, or a board committee, should meet at least annually with the leader to discuss how the board “can provide appropriate support in proactively caring for the integrity and well-being of the leader as a whole person.”
  • The leader is responsible for “investing in their relationship with Jesus and guarding their heart (Prov. 4:23), striving to live above reproach in the biblical expectations for leaders (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Tit. 1:6–9), and submitting in a spirit of love and humility (1 Pet. 5:1–6) to the care and support offered to the leader by the ministry’s board.”
  • The board should also ask the leader about the leader’s commitment to upholding biblical integrity principles, as outlined in a written code of conduct. According to the commentary, leaders ought to demonstrate traits like humility, growth, and the fruit of the Spirit. The board is then responsible for documenting these conversations in its minutes.

In 2021 the ECFA removed Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM)'s status after sexual misconduct allegations came out after Zacharias' death. 

"A leader’s relationship with God, with themselves, their neighbours—it has a massive impact on how they do their work," says Scott Rodin, a senior consultant and chief strategy officer with The FOCUS Group. "Fuzzy ethical edges turn into cliffs really quickly."

The previous seven standards set forth by the ECFA include doctrinal integrity, governance, financial oversight, legal compliance, financial transparency, compensation and third-party transactions, and stewarding financial gifts.

Roughly 70 per cent of lawyer Frank Sommerville's clients are ministries or faith-based. While he shares his appreciation for the new integrity standard set by the ECFA, he has reservations about them being properly implemented. 

"I applaud the effort of ECFA to address the issue of leadership integrity," says Sommerville. "I have seen in my 30-plus years that the lack of integrity in the senior leader can harm or destroy an organization. [However], is it the job of the board to hold a leader accountable for non-work, non-job performance activities? Is that the best use of the board’s time? You don’t need a board that serves the vision of the leader; you need a board that ensures the leader is implementing the vision of the organization."

The new standard will be implemented fully in the fall later this year.