Book Excerpt: Smart Church Finances
Stewardship and Joy
In the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14–30), Jesus illustrated some clear business principles relevant to today’s church. The servants are given five, two, and one talent(s) respectively. While we no longer use the term “talent” (talantŏn in Greek) to communicate monetary value, these servants were given significant amounts of money to invest.
A talent is equal to anywhere from sixty to eighty pounds of precious metal. If it was silver, that would equal sixteen years of wages an average person would earn. If it was gold, it would equal 493 years of wages. We are talking about substantial amounts of money these three servants were put in charge of. Implied in the story is Jesus wanted the servants to conduct business. Jesus did not want the servants to sit idly by. Furthermore, the servants were rewarded by how they conducted their business.
Churches Do Business
The activities of business are so much a part of life that you cannot escape making transactions. You conduct business every time you buy groceries, put gas in your car, purchase your latte at the local coffee shop, pay your rent, download the latest phone app, or deposit your pay-check. Business in its simplest form is the exchange of money and time for goods and services. Business is about making wise choices and beneficial exchanges in your life and for the organizations you are a part of.
This is also true for your church.
Business activities are unavoidable in your church. While the visible work of your church is being done to fulfill its mission and vision, the business activities are happening “behind the scenes” to make sure the visible work of your church is accomplished. This may include:
- Paying the rent or the mortgage for the building your church meets in
- Paying the salaries of your church staff
- Buying the supplies for all of the various ministry areas
- Providing adequate insurance coverage
- Collecting the weekly offering donations
- Sending out contribution statements to donors
- Having the technology you need
- Organizing mission trips and retreats
- Providing transportation
- Feeding participants and volunteer leaders
- Having all of the correct legal documentation
- Recruiting and training the right people in the right serving positions
- Conducting your governing board meetings
- Defining workflows and procedures
* * * * * * * *
While [growth and change] is exhilarating, one local church can’t do everything, and it all takes money and resources. Plus, what happens when more than one ministry wants to use the same facility at the same time? Who decides what ministries have priority without discouraging these passionate potential leaders?
We Steward God’s Provision
We wish we could say the challenges faced in [ministries] are isolated, but we hear the same story repeated over and over in churches. Without good business practices in place, even the best pastor will struggle. There are far too many factors at play in a healthy, functioning church for the pastor and the leadership team to just wing it. Plus, as we read in the parable of the talents, we cannot waste the opportunities or resources God has provided. It is a matter of good stewardship.
The definition of stewardship . . . is the management of the resources entrusted to you by God. God made you to be a steward, to do business. When the Bible speaks of someone being a steward, the literal meaning is a person in charge of managing the house or finances of someone else. It is as if someone gives you the key to the house and asks you to look over things while he or she is away. In your case, it is the God of the universe asking you to take care of his wonderful creation as his manager. What an amazing task given to you from your Creator!
However, stewardship involves more than just money. You also steward the facilities your church meets in, the people who serve in the various ministries, and even the technology and utilities. None of these resources are limitless. Every resource you use must be stewarded wisely. You make stewardship choices every day, choices that affect your entire church. What tools do you have to make good choices?
The Case Framework
One tool we recommend for wise stewardship is a process we call the CASE Framework for Business PerformanceTM.* The CASE Framework integrates the various planning elements common to all organizations in a way that focuses on the core of operating the business of your church.
There are four stages of the framework: Communicate vision, Align strategy, Steward resources, and Evaluate performance.
Whether you know it or not, you take steps like this to plan your activities every day. The planning process of setting goals, defining the actions required to accomplish the goals, and identifying the needed resources can be generally applied to almost any situation. Of course, the complexity of planning varies from church to church. The larger your church is, the more complex this process is likely to be. But regardless of complexity, the questions answered in the planning process are the same.
But lest we get carried away with a model, let’s not forget the heart behind it. There is great joy in wise stewardship.
Joy in Stewardship
When you read the parable of the talents, listen again to the praise spoken of the master to each of the first two servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23 ESV). While we bet you have heard a sermon or Bible study at one time or another focusing on the first part of the praise (“Well done, good and faithful servant”), we sometimes forget the final part of the praise (“Enter into the joy of your master”).
That word “joy” is a feeling of inner happiness, gladness, or delight. There is joy that comes from stewarding well the things of God. And this is not a joy that only you receive. This is a joy that must be given out and is expressed in all you do in ministry. This is joy that must be shared.
Most people unfortunately consider doing planning or budgeting as just getting in the way of doing ministry. But planning and budgeting do not get in the way. Instead, planning and budgeting frees you up to do the ministry you are called to do. This is a complete mental flip from how most people think.
How is Your Church Doing?
Take the time to assess where your church and your leadership team has been (How have you grown through past challenges?) and what challenges are ahead. This would be a great conversation to have with your leadership team.
In the past three years, what challenges have captured your attention?
How did you and your leadership team respond to these challenges?
How did your church grow from the experience?
What are the current and the perceived near-future challenges facing your church?
Business—that is, resource management—is an integral part of the work of your church. You cannot stick your head in the sand and ignore the money issues, the strategic challenges, or the personnel difficulties. If any of these issues are ignored, they will bring you down with them. Business must be recognized as a reality in every church.
* The CASE Framework for Business PerformanceTM was developed by WayQuest as one of our core tools to serve churches, nonprofit organizations, and businesses in optimizing performance. More information about the CASE Framework is found at wayquest.com.
Excerpts of this article were originally published in Smart Church Finances: A Pastor’s Guide to Budgets, Spreadsheets, and Other Things You Didn’t Learn in Seminary (Lexham Press), 2020. Used by permission.
About the Contributors
George M. Hillman
Dr. George M. Hillman Jr. serves as the Vice President for Education and Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. He oversees all seminary activities related to academic affairs and student life. Before stepping into this role, Dr. Hillman served as Vice President for Student Life and Chair of the Educational Ministries and Leadership department at DTS. As department chair, he oversaw the MA in Christian Education degree and the creation of the MA in Christian Leadership degree. He is also the former Director of Internships at DTS, where he developed the seminary’s ministry residency program.
Dr. Hillman came to DTS in 2002 with years of pastoral experience in churches and parachurch organizations in Texas and Georgia. He is the author or co-author of six books and several journal articles on theological field education, church educational ministry, and pastoral leadership.
Dr. Hillman has a BS in Sociology from Texas A&M University, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has a passion for education, spiritual formation, and leadership development.
He is a rabid college football fan and loves good barbeque. He and his wife have one grown daughter pursuing a career in the arts.