A week or so ago I was asked by a colleague in ministry who is in a new appointment to come talk to his finance committee. He was new in ministry and his church had just reconstituted a functioning finance committee and languishing for several years. They were looking for training on what they needed to do, and for some reason it was suggested that I might have something to offer. So tonight, after bible study at my church, I hopped in the car and headed down the road to meet with this group about how to organize their work, an example of what connectionalism means in the United Methodist Church. Here is a bit of what I told them (although in a bit more scattered fashion)…
The most important thing that I can tell you is that you need to get out of your mind that your job is about finance, accounting, and numbers. Your primary task is the ministry of resources, and your calling is to understand your work as facilitators of the ministry of the church. You aren’t gatekeepers. You aren’t bean counters to keep everything in order. Your job is to discern what financial resources are needed to carry out your vision and ministry of your congregation, and to help develop the means by which those resources are obtained.
The danger in focusing on accounting and numbers is that it can quickly lead to being driven by the vision of scarcity rather than the vision of abundance. Far too often our ministries are hindered by a focus on what we DON’T have rather than the amazing abundance that God has given us. The truth is that very few churches have the resources they desire to do everything that God is calling them to do. But focusing on the glass half full instead of the glass half empty only leads others to think in negative terms about the ministry of the church rather than positive terms, and no one wants to risk their money on a lame horse. Certainly, you shouldn’t be a Pollyanna about the financial realities you face, and I advocate for openness and transparency across the board. But understanding yourself as a minister of resources opens you to thinking creatively about how we can create a climate for God’s provision – and the finance committee must be first and foremost believers in God’s ability to provide in our need.
I guess what I’m suggesting is that you view your role in spiritual terms rather than administrative, something that has been lacking in the United Methodist Church for a long time. Undergird your work with prayer – not only at the beginning and ending of the meeting, but in those times where you are trying to make an important decision about financial (ministry) priorities. Is giving down this month? Pray about it. Has God dumped a great big check in your lap? Take time to give God thanks! Understand that perhaps the most important thing you can do for the financial health of your congregation is to be prayer warriors, asking God to provide wisdom and to multiply the resources you’ve been given to go farther than you ever might imagine.
There are all sorts of things I can share about policies and procedures based in my years of ministry. As I said earlier, I think transparency and clear and accurate reporting on the finances of the church is important. I believe that the committee can model stewardship by tithing on undesignated income toward mission outside the church (which might include the church apportionments). I would argue that church budgets reflect a vision of ministry, and should be used in church stewardship campaigns to offer a plan for funding that vision.
But it all comes down to understanding yourselves as ministers rather than administrators. Yes, you are called to be stewards, but stewardship isn’t about hoarding for a rainy day or living in fear that you won’t be able to pay the next bill. Stewardship comes from an Old English word styward which literally meant “the one who kept the sty” is which hogs were kept. The styward’s job was about providing for the pig’s needs, about feeding them, and keeping them clean and healthy. Stewardship is likewise about provision – making sure that the flock is nurtured and cared for.
So take you authority as ministers of resources. Understand that you are not alone, and that God is always with you. Model love, grace, kindness and gentleness in your dealings with one another and with your colleagues in ministry on other committees in the church. You have been called to this service, and God will do amazing things when you are faithful to that call.