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INTERVIEW

STUART PENHALL, ACCET BOARD MEMBER

ACCET trustees represent five congregations in three Australian states...they maintain a strict focus on Scripture to determine how decisions are made.

What is ACCET, what does it do, and why was it started?

For many decades, non-denominational Churches of Christ in Australia have been reliant on the USA for both preachers and finance. Throughout this period American interest in Australia waxed and waned, producing times of growth and stability and times of decline and instability.

The last few decades of the 20th century saw a period of steep decline with most American church workers being withdrawn and financial support becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Unlike previous troughs, this decline has deepened to the extent that - by 2000 - support was difficult to find, especially long-term support.

This has resulted in a decline in the number of individuals in secure full-time work with congregations. There is also a corresponding drop in individuals seeking to be involved in full-time ministry. The impact varied from congregation to congregation; in any event, it contributed to a numerical decline or plateau overall, as well as a loss of biblical literacy and group identity. 

As a Christian movement, we need people to be trained for ministry. This means we need the means to support them – regardless whether they wish to be in full-time, part-time, or even vocational ministry. With irregular and diminishing funds coming from overseas and with the average small congregation unable to find the necessary resources, how was this to be achieved?

In the early 2000s, a group of men – most of whom were part of the Gosford congregation at the time – determined to try to do something about the problem. ACCET (originally, the Australian Churches of Christ Evangelistic Trust) was the result. It was hoped that this trust would, in time, provide funds to support Australian churches and those who worked with them.

What is ACCET's philosophy regarding finances?

To have an enduring and meaningful impact on the situation described earlier, the first task of ACCET was to build up the trust principal (ie. all donated funds) to the point where it would produce enough earned interest to help meet the support needs of congregations. 

Having achieved a reasonable principal amount some time ago, the trust has been distributing funds to congregations annually. Today, the distribution pool is usually around $20,000 annually. Over the years ACCET has given more than $240,000 in aggregate to assist congregations in outreach, support, and other worthwhile programs. 

Meanwhile, despite the often challenging financial environment, every dollar ever donated to ACCET is still being held by the trust. This ensures that we can continue to support congregations into the foreseeable future.

As to the criteria for investing the donated monies, ACCET follows a very conservative regime. ACCET keeps a significant proportion of the principal fund in cash. And we only invest in ethically sound organisations which have proven track records with sustainable returns.

How do the Scriptures inform ACCET's decision-making and attitude toward money?

ACCET is not associated with any specific congregation nor is it the work of any particular church. While initially the majority of trustees were based at Gosford that is no longer the case. Today, ACCET trustees represent five congregations in three Australian states. While not bound by any constraints associated with the functioning of a congregation, the trustees maintain a strict focus on Scripture to determine how decisions are made. For example, when it comes to considering grant applications, several criteria are used to prioritise grant requests.

These include (highest priority to lowest): 

•  Helping an existing church worker who requires extra support. 

•  Assisting with supporting a new church worker. 

•  Supporting a student in full-time Bible study or preacher training. 

•  Funding a short-term evangelistic mission, and the design and
    publication of evangelistic material and Bible study aids.

These criteria are shaped by the Scriptures because of our understanding that a key task for us is to evangelise (Matthew 28:18-20) and to facilitate evangelism. Furthermore, general biblical principles, such as those in Galatians 5:22-23, also help govern the process by which we consider each application. 

It should also be noted that because ACCET is a legally created, registered, and approved entity, it is also subject to the laws of Australia which govern trusts and trustees. It is for this reason that all grants must come from Australian churches or people in Australia, and be for Australians or Australia-focused projects. This means we’re unable to consider grant applications from overseas no matter how worthy they may be.

What does ACCET hope to do in the future?

Although ACCET has provided support to numerous congregations for a wide variety of evangelistically focused activities throughout Australia, we’re under no illusions as to the adequacy of this support. Put simply, $20,000 a year doesn’t come close to meeting the requests we receive and in no way makes up for the financial support lost from overseas. 

For example, in 2019 we had grant applications exceeding $60,000 in total. Our hope for the future is to be able to grant every request which complies with Scripture and with the ACCET criteria – not just up to $60,000, but up to whatever the figure may be. 

To do this our hope is that more than the present handful of individuals will consider giving regularly to ACCET. At present less than a dozen people give regularly. This means that growth is slow and often frustrating.  Our hope is that individuals and congregations will consider our track record and give generously so that ACCET can continue to try to help with the task of reaching the lost. 

Stuart Penhall is a trustee of ACCET and an elder with the Gosford Church of Christ, NSW.     stupen@optusnet.com.au    Stuart was interviewed by Christian Bargholz.

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