A Theology of Church Finance

I’ve worked at two churches and I have many friends who are pastors. Here’s one thing that nearly all of our churches have in common: Finances are sometimes a little too slim for comfort. Very few churches have way too much cash lying around. Instead, many churches have to follow a strict budget.

Managing church budgets is different from managing a business’s budget. A business has one goal: Make as much profit as possible. This principle doesn’t translate to church budgets, however. To manage church finances correctly, churches need a biblical theology of church finance. While this isn’t comprehensive, here are a few important things to remember as we make our church budgets for the 2019 year.

1. The church budget is a stewardship issue.

Churches rightly teach that people need to be good stewards of God’s gifts to them. At my church, we talk about the need for people to manage their time, talent, and treasures. To support this teaching, we could turn to a litany of biblical passages from across the Bible. The Bible is simply replete with the idea that God gives us good gifts which we must manage for his glory. The Bible also teaches that God will call us to account for how we manage his gifts.

Stewardship is for churches, too. While we are correct to teach individual believers that they must be good stewards of God’s gifts to them, churches have this responsibility, too. When we make church budgets, we are allocating the funds that God has given us as a church body to accomplish his work. This is clearly a stewardship issue, and we would do well to remember that God will call us to account for how we manage his gifts to our churches.

2. The church budget is a tool.

The purpose of the church is to do the ministry which God has called us to accomplish. Churches will package this in different mission statements, but the New Testament gives us one goal: to make disciples. This means that non-Christians need to be reached with the gospel and brought to a saving faith in Christ. This also means that current Christians need to be challenged to follow Jesus more closely. Properly understood, discipleship is a lifetime issue that occurs within the confines of the local church. The church budget is a tool to accomplish discipleship. God has given us the mission to make disciples and he has given us x amount of dollars. The church budget is how we allocate God’s money to accomplish God’s goals.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll forget that the church budget is only a tool to accomplish God’s mission. The church budget should account for mundane items like the power bill and insurance. However, the ultimate goal isn’t just to pay bills so that we keep our doors open. While it would be bad stewardship to allow our churches to close from lack of financial planning, it would be equally bad stewardship not to plan to accomplish God’s goals with his resources.

3. Churches don’t exist to make a profit.

I mentioned earlier that businesses exist to make money. One of their goals is to grow their budget. While churches like to see increasing budgets, our goal isn’t to make a profit. Indeed, churches are non-profit organizations for a reason. Instead of making a profit, our goal is to bring in enough money to ensure that our churches are in good financial standing and to put as much as possible into doing ministry.

With that being said, it’s a wise decision for churches to have a reserve fund. One thing that’s clear in ministry is that offering totals can be notoriously inconsistent and unpredictable. However, be careful about making having a financial cushion your church’s goal. If Jesus comes back and we have $50,000 in the bank while our neighbors don’t have food and have never heard the gospel, which servant do you think we’d be in Matthew 25:14-30’s parable of the talents?

Being financially responsible is important for churches. However, if we mismanage God’s funds in the name of financial responsibility, then our actions show just how much of the world’s view of money we’ve imbibed. Such an action would be to allow the world to define financial responsibility for us. For churches, financial responsibility simply must include being faithful to God’s mission. We are here to serve God, not make a profit.

4. Church budgets should show trust in God.

If we follow what I’ve said thus far, some of our churches would have a radical change in their budgeting practices. This is because some churches have made the budget their golden calf, have built up cash reserves to a sinful level, and have refused to pour financial resources into ministry opportunities. After all, outreach rarely brings a profit. My advice to those churches would be to save some of the money as a rainy-day fund but to pour everything else into ministry.

This radical change requires us to trust God, however. After all, if we increase the amount of money we spend on ministry, what will we do if we don’t have money for other bills? Well, the months will certainly come when will you bring in less than you spend. However, if you’re spending on ministry to the glory of God, you’ll be alright. Remember that Jesus said that he would build his church and that the very gates of hell would not overcome it.[1] It might sound scary to us, but if we’re being the church, we’ve got the greatest ally in our corner: Jesus.

Conclusion

Churches should trust God with their finances in the same way that they tell their congregation to trust God with their finances. That means that we have to believe that the money we bring in is all God’s and that we are merely its stewards. Such a change could hurt your church financially. But, Jesus never said that he’d make your church rich. However, if we use what God has given us to accomplish his goals, we can’t go wrong, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Notes & Sources

[1] Matthew 16:18.

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