Faith and Financial Management (Claus Hermansen)
A new year has just begun, and this is a great time to seek God for new goals and dreams. It is also a good time take a look at your financial situation, in your private life and family as well as in the church or organisation you lead. Many leaders, however, only do one of the two (or maybe none of them). They either set faith goals and “jump right into it blindfolded” – or they look at the finances of the organisation and lose faith immediately when considering the numbers. In my experience, churches very often fail either because of lack of faith or because of financial mismanagement.
In their planning and goal-setting, many churches have a very hard time reconciling the issues of faith and financial management. It seems to me that many leaders see the two as distinct issues, which have nothing to do with each other. Some even regard proper financial management as something you would only engage in if you lack faith. In other words: “If you worry about the money, you aren´t believing God enough ...”
Reasons for the dichotomy between financial management and faith
1) History. Many churches, especially pentecostal-charismatic ones, have a tradition for separating money issues from spiritual issues. This is also the reason for the widespread “fear” of talking about money in the church. There is a philosophy of saying: “As long as we believe God, he will provide money ...” This statement is true if understood correctly, but it is abused in that leaders use it as an excuse for not handling the financial issues in the church well. They leave it to the treasurer or bookkeeper (whatever they choose to call it) to work out the financial issues, and then they blame this person if there are financial problems. This creates the image of the “old, grumpy treasurer” – an image which is often not caused by the treasurer, but by the leader, because he is not carrying the responsibility that he should.
2) Psychology. Often, when we face financial problems or challenges, our reactions become irrational. In stead of dealing with it, we escape from it by saying that we just believe God. However, we are often not believing God. We´re trying to find an excuse for blaming God for the problem. This is because all people (not just pastors and leaders) have a natural tendency to avoid problems and conflicts if they can. A church leader must be a problem-solver rather than a problem-avoider!
3) Lack of training. Many Christian leaders lack basic training in a number of fields. One of these is financial management. Many pastors don´t have a clue when it comes to handling money. This is often seen if their private finances are investigated. I believe no church should have a pastor without basic financial management training.
Faith and budgets are good friends!
Jesus Christ encourages us to make plans and budgets: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower . Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)
Paraphrased a bit, Jesus is saying to us: “Don´t get into the ministry unless you realise what it will cost” and: “Don´t move into a faith venture (building programme, church plant, employing more staff etc.) unless you have ‘estimated the costs’”
All churches need a good, well worked-through budget. God is never pleased with a leader who just “takes is at is comes”. If you do not budget and prepare, what comes by default is chaos!
Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God includes another dimension – the faith dimension! As a spirit-filled church leader, you are capable of doing more than what would be naturally possible. To grow your church or organisation, you need to step out in faith. The question then becomes: How do I practise faith and good financial management at the same time?
Some practical steps
1) Have a financial plan and budget. Around the beginning of each year (large churches or organisations should do it more often than that), spend a good amount of time writing a detailed, realistic, measurable budget for the church or organisation you lead. Don´t get superspiritual about it! Look at the facts: How much income did we get this year? Is there good reason to expect more next year? What were our costs (salaries, buildings, advertising, administration etc.) – and will they be more or less in the year to come?
2) Add your faith goals. Add to your expected income the amount you are believing God for. For example, if the “realistic” amount you can expect is 1 million (in whatever currency you use), you might decide that you are going to believe God for a 10% increase – so you put 1.1 million in your budget – and plan accordingly. This way, you are stepping out in faith, but not by sacrificing good financial management procedures.
3) Add the costs related to your faith goals. Many leaders forget that when they believe God for growth, this will not just generate more income, but also more costs. For example, if you step out to plant a new church, this will create income from the people who will join the church – and because of the motivation and excitement you are creating among the people you already have. However, new faith ventures also increase costs. Work into your budget the additional costs related to what you are believing God for. It might be necessary to add another person on staff. It might be necessary to spend another 50,000 on advertising etc.
4) Maintain good financial management procedures. During the financial year, make sure you have a competent and loyal treasurer/bookkeeper who makes sure everything is in order. Ask for monthly reports, so you can make sure you are on track – and take action if you are not! Many pastors and leaders have no idea what the overall financial situation of the church is like, and they don’t realise the problems until they are painfully visible to everyone. Make sure you are the first to monitor, analyse and handle your finances.
Get help if needed!
If financial management – and working with numbers – is not your strongest skill, it would be wise for you to think about getting assistance from somebody with more insight in these things. There might be somebody in your church who possesses these skills. However, in most cases, it would be beneficial to get an external consultant involved, as this person will be absolutely neutral in regard to the financial decisions and priorities you have.
So move into 2007 with lots of faith, but do your homework in the financial area as well!