Money, Ministry, and Mistakes

This morning, I read an article by Margaret Marcuson of Luther Seminary about 10 mistakes she’s made in her ministry concerning money.  Here are some of mine, in no particular order.

  1. Not practicing what I was preaching in my personal life.  People aren’t willing to go where their leaders aren’t willing to lead, plain and simple.  Early on in my ministry, Amy and I weren’t disciplined about tithing and giving.  Thanks to some excellent teaching, God has opened our hearts in this vital area of discipleship, and I am able to lead, teach, and preach about tithing and giving with integrity and a clear conscience.
  2. Assuming that the pastor doesn’t need to be involved with the financial affairs of the church.   As a young pastor, I had it in my mind that the pastor just needs to preach, teach, and provide pastoral care, and others can handle the “business” of the church.  While that may still be true in some contexts, I have learned the hard way that many solo pastors also need all of the skills and competencies of a top-level executive of a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
  3. Not reviewing individual giving records.  This is still a big point of controversy in some churches, and I was hesitant about it early on in ministry.  But J. Clif Christopher’s book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate really convicted me and shaped my thinking about this topic.  If, as pastor, I can be trusted to maintain confidentiality and integrity with highly sensitive pastoral care issues, why can’t I be trusted to maintain confidentiality and integrity with highly sensitive financial issues?  I’ve learned through experience that sudden changes in giving patterns, whether they’re up or down, are often a “first-indicator” of a sudden change in the life of a parishioner.
  4. Not sending thank-you notes.  I was raised to send thank-you notes when people gave me gifts.  As the pastor and a leader of the church, why did I ever think it was unnecessary to send thank-you notes for gifts to the ministry that I’ve been called to lead?  A sincerely-worded hand-written thank-you note and a 46-cent stamp can often do more to increase giving than the most sophisticated well-executed campaign.
  5. Letting the income set the total budget.  As a non-profit organization, church budgeting is fairly simple: Profit = Income – Expenses.  Simply set Profit to zero and solve the equation.  However, too many years I sat by and watched the session do a fall pledge campaign, then try to shoehorn all of the expenses for ministry into the income.  That way of budgeting will never challenge the church to grow in mission or in giving.  I have learned to first develop the projected expense list (the “have-to-haves”) and then also develop the dream list (“like-to-haves”).  We then present both of those numbers to the congregation in a narrative budget (along with the detailed line-items for the four people who demand to see them), and ask the congregation to support the vision for the ministry.
  6. Preaching stewardship for five straight weeks in October.  Want a sure-fire way to decrease your worship attendance, your offering plate, and your total pledges?  Preach a five-week series on stewardship in October, using Haggai 1 and 2 as your text.  Oops.  I’ve since learned to preach directly on stewardship at least six times a year, spaced fairly evenly apart.  (If I preach 48 Sundays a year, that’s still only .125 of my sermons.)
  7. Not developing a planned-giving program.  According to all the experts, America is about to undergo the largest transfer of wealth in its history, as the Baby-Boomers begin to die and leave their estates behind.  Churches simply must start encouraging and making ways for the Boomers (and others) to remember their church in their estate plan.   Here at my church, we have a program whereby if someone remembers the church in their will for 10 percent of their estate or $25,000, whichever is less, one of our attorneys will prepare their will free of charge.
  8. Not offering resources to people for personal financial management.  Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is slave to the lender.”  I have discovered that many faithful people want to give, and to give generously and extravagantly, but they are simply not in a position to do so because of debt and other financial burdens.  I am a graduate of Texas public schools.  I have a journalism and business degree from a state university.  I have a graduate degree from an accredited seminary.  I have successful, college-educated parents.  I came of age in the church.  But I am shocked at how little sound teaching there is out there on biblical principles for handling money.  Churches have a real opportunity to make a profound impact on their congregations and their communities by offering simple plug-n-play courses like Financial Peace University and others like it.
  9. Not making demonstrated financial commitment a prerequisite for service on governing councils of the church.  This sort of goes along with number 3.  Those who have been called into leadership in the church have been entrusted with great responsibility, including making financial decisions that have the potential to have a profound impact on people’s lives.  Having leaders with no “skin in the game” doesn’t do anyone any good.
  10. Not understanding the reasons that people give in the first place.  According to the experts, people give to non-profits for three primary reasons: belief in the mission, trust in the leadership, and demonstrated accountability and transparency.  Notice what’s not included in that list?  People don’t give primarily because the non-profit is experiencing a budget deficit, and “if everyone digs just a little deeper, maybe we’ll make it to December.”  People don’t give primarily because it’s a tax write-off.  People don’t give because the pastor is a handsome, inspiring preacher.  They give because they believe in the mission, they trust the leaders, and there’s demonstrated accountability and transparency.  Simple as that.

There’s my list.  What am I missing?

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