The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Jamie Dunlop’s fantastic new book, Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry (Zondervan, 2019).
To understand what really matters to a church, look past its vision statement, past its website, past its glossy brochures, and look at its budget. Follow the money. . . . A church budget is more than spreadsheets and numbers. It’s a window into the heart of a church, illuminating the values and priorities of God’s people. If you care about your church, you will care about its budget because a budget reveals, facilitates, and sometimes calcifies how a church does its work. (15)
A church budget is a spiritual tool with spiritual aims. A church budget has spiritual value when we get it right and does spiritual harm when we get it wrong. As a result, seeing a church’s budget merely, or even primarily, as a financial tool grossly underestimates what it is. (16)
Very little in this book can be put into practice without the support of your pastors. So if your pastor just handed you this book because you’re “the budget person,” you have my permission to hand it back and insist that you will only read it if he does as well. (19)
[God’s] purpose for your church’s budget is that in your church’s faithfulness—that is, in your risk-taking obedience—you show off and reveal how amazing he is. (27–28)
The decision to entrust the spiritually-fraught questions of budgeting to administratively focused committees is at the root of much budget-related dysfunction. (37–38)
I recommend that pastors give leadership to any administrative matters that have spiritual dimensions— including the budget. Pastors should identify the spiritual priorities at stake in the church budget and then lead the process of assembling a budget at whatever level of detail is necessary to address these spiritual priorities. (39)
If on the whole you can’t trust your pastors with your money, why on earth are you trusting them with your soul? (40)
The simple fact that the congregation will be doing the giving suggests that they should have an opportunity to accept or reject the budget—or at least provide feedback before it’s finalized. (41)
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: Are there items in the budget that non-Christians are interested in funding? If there are, praise God for his common grace! In general, focus your efforts on causes only Christians will get behind. (45)
A budget is full of opportunities to teach about spiritual priorities. Don’t waste that opportunity! (48)
If you’re a pastor, my hope is that you’ll make it your ambition to know the church budget as well as anyone else in the church. You might consider using it as a prayer guide. Perhaps one day each week, pray through a different line item or category of the budget and ask God to accomplish the gospel ambitions that stand behind that money. (48–49)
Since one’s main source of teaching should be their church, the church should be the main recipient of one’s giving. It’s especially important in an age of individualism to submit giving to the wisdom of the church by giving primarily to its budget. (61)
Jesus taught extensively about money, not because he wanted a handout but because he wanted our hearts. (62)
One way you can help your congregation believe that you love them more than their gifts is to insulate the pastors from the knowledge of how much each member gives. (69)
Don’t be stingy with your staff compensation. What benefit is it to you for your pastor to be distracted from ministry because of financial needs? . . . Pay them for what their work is worth, not how much you think they need. But shouldn’t people working for a church make less money? No. If the laborer deserves his wages, he deserves what his work is worth. . . . Over the long term, adjust your staff size to fit the available budget rather than asking a bloated staff to all work for less than their work is worth. (78, 79)
Sometimes it’s worth the downside to unity to fund a program that serves just a segment of your congregation. But where possible, encourage programs aimed at the whole congregation and that trade on the glory of unity rather than the comfort of similarity. (97)
Sometimes attempts to measure gospel work can damage it quite severely. (105)
If you take my advice about providing better support to fewer missionaries, you’ve concentrated your kingdom investment portfolio. That makes you more dependent on the faithfulness of their work, and as a result, you’re more likely to hold them accountable. Construct your outreach budget so that your supported workers depend on you and you depend on them. (114)
Consider how you might create space that facilitates a Word-oriented schedule. For example, having multiple services because of space constraints designs congregational life around your facility, not the priorities of God’s Word. I know this may sound crazy, but indulge me for just a paragraph. A church schedule that’s dictated by the facility seems backward to me. “We run three services on a Sunday, which means the service can’t be more than 60 minutes, which means the sermon can’t be more than 25 minutes” . . . and so forth. What an odd way to structure the most central aspect of a Word-centered church! Yes, I understand a facility sized to accommodate the whole congregation is expensive. Yes, I understand that people want multiple options in service times. And yet I’m convinced that we give up far more than we realize when we move to multiple services, which is why our Protestant forbearers would have been appalled to see our “mass-like” (in their opinion) multiservice church schedules. In our society, convenience trumps all; let’s not make it so in the church. (131)
The New Testament epistles care about giving not mainly as a means for meeting financial needs, but as an indicator of what we love and whom we trust. (138)
Special appeals for money are often worded as to assume that most people aren’t giving faithfully. For example: “If each of you would skip one latte each week for the next year, we could close our budget gap!” But embedded in that language is the assumption that Christians in your church will normally use their finances in selfish ways and that faithfulness is abnormal. Even if you have doubts about your flock’s faithfulness, do not normalize faithlessness. An appropriate appeal is not, “I know you’re all spending money on stuff you don’t need; please give it to the church instead” but “this is the year to give in ways that you won’t likely be able to repeat year after year.” Communicate an expectation that healthy Christians will be faithful with their money. (144)
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