September 30, 2010
One pastor shares how to best allocate church budget money.
"Pastor, we don't have a budget. We just do what the Lord leads us to do."
These words were spoken to me soon after I agreed to be the preacher at a small rural congregation, which used seminary students to fill the pulpit. When the church voted to hire me, they called me "pastor," but I did not function in that capacity. I was at the church only on weekends, and they knew I would probably leave as soon as my seminary days were over.
As an idealistic young student, I liked the thought of having no budget; it created in my mind the picture of a congregation sensitive to the Lord's leadership, without the bureaucracy associated with a budget.
After a few weeks, I mentioned to one of the leading men that I intended to introduce a new ministry in the next church business meeting, which was held at the conclusion of worship. This man asked me several questions about the ministry idea.
Then he said, "Don't bring up your idea this month. Wait at least a month, until I've visited with some of the men of the church. Your idea has merit, but it may not fit in with what some members think."
I found out later that he had called two other men, and they had talked about my idea. They had looked over the church's financial condition and decided I shouldn't broach my idea in the coming business meeting.
I realize now that these three men were not stubborn or unreasonable but practical. My idea wasn't that great, and the church was in more need of other ministries.
What I especially learned, though, was that the church did have a budget! It was in the mind of the three leaders who in conversation determined the financial priorities of the church.
A church budget is simply someone's priorities for use of church funds. These may or may not be the congregation's priorities, or even the present leadership's, but someone or some group has priorities that determine how money is allocated.
Since every church has a budget, we are wise to recognize it and consciously shape it. It may be efficient when a select two or three determine the budget, but it is not healthy.
Of course, once you open up the process to the congregation, even through their elected leaders, you've got to answer the question, "So, how much should we give to each ministry and line item?" Answering that question is not always easy, but it is what setting a budget is all about.
Here are some principles I use in helping a church settle that question.