Six principles for faithfully allocating your church’s budget items.
Budgeting for a Healthy Church
By Jamie Dunlop
God’s goal for your church budget is that through your faithfulness he will get the glory. But, you might ask, what must we be faithful to do? As a church, what commands are we to obey? What promises should guide the risks we take?
The first part of this answer depends on how we define the word church. Sometimes the New Testament uses that word to describe all the individual Christians who are part of a local church, using church as a collective noun. In that sense, the church’s task is as broad as God’s calling on every person. We live out the Christian life as spouses, friends, and evangelists, in our varied roles as police officers, farmers, homemakers, or accountants, as caretakers of creation, society, and so forth. In this, we follow a general biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But that’s not the sense of “church” we’re using when we talk about a church budget. When we talk about church budgets, we use the term church in its more institutional sense. That is, the special way the Bible says Christians represent Christ when they gather together as the local church. What is the job of the church in this sense?
Fortunately, we need not stray far from Matthew 25 to find the answer. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives us his clearest teaching on who the church is and why it exists. Jesus inaugurates the church in Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” He defines the church in chapter 18 as a committed fellowship of those with a credible claim to follow Christ: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (v. 20). And then in Matthew 28:18–20 he famously commissions his church: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
To put it simply, the job of your church collectively is captured in the command of Matthew 28. You are to make, baptize and equip disciples of Jesus.
What Difference Does Faithfulness Make?
Let’s put all this together. First, God doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need your church’s money. And yet your church has the wonderful opportunity to glorify him as it spends its money. How? By investing in the command and promise of the Great Commission. That’s faithfulness. And that’s God’s goal for your church budget. That’s why God cares about your church budget, to answer the question in the title of this chapter. Yet orienting your church’s budget around God’s goal of faithfulness is not an easy task. We’re so drawn to the idea that the budget matters because of what it can accomplish. So, practically, how do we ensure that being faithful to God shapes our thinking about the budget? Consider six truths to remember:
Remember that size is secondary. Earlier I mentioned that God is not impressed with the size of your church’s budget. No matter how orthodox your theology, there’s probably something in you that counts “nickels and noses” to validate your church’s ministry. Yet these are no guarantee that you are being faithful. This doesn’t mean size is immaterial. Sometimes an unimpressive budget indicates a lack of faith. But for too many of us, the church budget (and building and attendance and baptisms) is a personal Tower of Babel, a monument to ourselves and our achievements instead of to God and his glory.
Remember that church health matters more than church size. If the budget of your church fuels church growth at the cost of self-centered consumerism, it can hardly be judged as faithful in God’s sight. Quite often, a church that struggles to reach critical mass is a sign that the ministry is not healthy. But sometimes, small is beautiful.
Remember that God often works through your limitations. How often have you complained about the limitations of your church’s budget? I certainly have. “If these people would just give an extra 20 percent, look at how much we could do.” “If the congregation would just give an extra $100,000, we wouldn’t lose our building.” Why would a sovereign God allow those limitations? Think of how often in Scripture it is the limitations that reveal the glory of God. Consider Gideon’s tiny army, David’s simple slingshot and Jesus’ clueless disciples. Faithfulness is both aggressive in the risks it takes and content with the limits God ordains.
Remember to motivate giving in the congregation based on opportunity, not need. A faithfulness mentality trusts that God will meet every need that needs meeting, and we are just fortunate to have the opportunity to come along for the ride. Yet instead, many churches ground their appeals for giving based on need. “We must do something about [name your need].” With a faithfulness mind-set, we give not because needs must be met but because God must be glorified.
Remember that God cares about how things are done. If the budget process is dominated by a tyrannical pastor or is cobbled together from the interests of competing church factions, it hardly shows off the goodness and glory of God. A faithfulness mentality recognizes the importance of how we manage the budget (how we assemble it, how we give toward it, how we use the money).
Remember to listen carefully to God’s Word. Instead of obsessing about using our money “effectively,” faithfulness obsesses about aligning our practices with the Bible’s principles—things like paying pastors and planting churches. A faithfulness mentality takes its cues heavily from Scripture rather than simply doing whatever seems best and trusts that in the long run, obedience is the most effective thing we can do.
Excerpted from Budgeting for a Healthy Church by Jamie Dunlop. Copyright © 2019 by James Dunlop. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com.