Ed Stetzer Talks With Warren Smith on MinistryWatch, Accountability, and the Need for Christian Journalism

Today I am glad to welcome Warren Smith to The Exchange. Warren is president of MinistryWatch. Here we talk about the ministry and why it is needed today.

Ed: What is MinistryWatch?

Warren: MinistryWatch is an independent advocate for donors to Christian charity. We’re 20 years old and maintain a database of financial statements and analysis of the 500 largest Christian ministries in the country. We use this analysis to rate ministries on a 1- to 5-scale based on financial efficiency.

So, for example, ministries that spend more on administrative and fundraising activities will see their ratings lowered. Ministries that have large endowments will also likely see their ratings affected negatively. The rating system rewards ministries that use donor money directly for ministry activities.

We also issue “Donor Alerts” when ministries engage in bad behavior, or when we think donors need to beware or ask additional questions. We do not issue donor alerts often, usually a couple of times a year to warn donors (and focus media attention) on bad actors or questionable activities.

An equally vital part of our work has been to raise the profile of lesser-known ministries doing great work. We call these ministries “Shining Lights,” after Matthew 5:16, which encourages us to “let your light so shine before men that they would see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

Ed: I’ve used the ministry to look up certain charities. Can you explain to people who might not be familiar why that matters?

Warren: The financial analysis is unique to MinistryWatch. Ministries and other non-profits are required by law to disclose publicly certain financial information. However, most people are not trained to read financial statements.

Our analysis, and especially the ratings, help donors decide how to share the resources God has entrusted to them. We also hope that the ratings will be a service to ministry leaders who want to deploy financial resources more effectively and efficiently.

Ed: You’ve always been passionate about investigative reporting. Why do you think that matters?

Warren: America’s Founding Fathers wisely codified a free press in the First Amendment to the Constitution. They knew that a free and independent press was a guard against tyranny. That’s why journalism is often called the “Fourth Estate,” helping to ensure (along with the separation of powers in the three branches of government) that power will not be concentrated in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.

Further, we often hear the expression (attributed to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis) that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” These ideas point to one conclusion: transparency and accountability are vital for a free and flourishing culture, and that’s true of a church culture as well as the secular culture.

It’s important to remember that these are biblical ideas. The Bible tells us to be “children of the light” (I Thess. 5:5). At MinistryWatch, we take especially to heart Ezekiel 33:6, a verse which exhorts the watchman to blow his trumpet at the sign of trouble. Investigative journalists can be the “watchmen on the wall” who shine light into dark places.

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Source: Christianity Today