For most pastors, there a few times of the year with more anxiety than when “the budget” is presented to the church for adoption. Most churches have some type of open discussion time regarding the budget prior to the vote to adopt the budget. That can get interesting! At times, this is a point of great conflict in a church. For most churches, there is always an undercurrent of some dissatisfaction with the budget. Even if it isn’t openly expressed, there are always “rumblings.” This is also the time of year when budgets are presented in local associations, and state conventions. The same issues apply in those settings too. After years of being involved with budgets on all of these levels, please allow me to share what I pray are helpful thoughts about “the budget.”
1. The goal of the budget is not to please everyone. The goal of the budget is to provide unity and accountability. I have served at a church with a $75,000 budget and I have served at a church with a $7 million budget. The budget served the same role in both of those churches. There are really only two alternatives to having a budget. One alternative would be to allow one person or a handful of people to spend the money however they see fit with no accountability. Count me OUT for that one! The other alternative would be for the church to hash out and vote on EVERY single expenditure. Count me OUT for that one too! A budget is your church or organization’s statement that it wants to define its ministry spending so that everyone can see where the money goes and work together. A budget is also a statement of accountability: as the money comes in, it will be spent in this way. A budget does two things: it enhances unity and it provides accountability.
2. Accept the fact that you will not agree with everything in the budget. The Corbin household has a budget. As the husband/father/head of the household, I do not agree with everything in my own family budget. Why? Because there are other people that I love in my family. There are some things that they need/desire to spend money on that I don’t understand or see the real value in. Yet, we spend the money because it’s important to THEM and I LOVE THEM. If that is true in my own personal budget, then it will absolutely be true for my church budget, association budget, or state convention budget. We are family. Just because it’s not important to me doesn’t mean it’s not important to them. That line item is in the budget because it is/was important to someone(s).
3. Resist the temptation to believe that everyone agrees with you and your friends. How many pastors have had a conversation that starts out something like this….”Pastor, a lot of people in the church are really upset about this part of the budget….” Many times, “a lot of people in the church” is actually that person’s group of friends who discussed the issue over Sunday lunch at their favorite restaurant. Issues become divisive quickly when a group of people insist on having their way and don’t comprehend (or don’t care) that other groups of people don’t see the issue the same way. Again, we are family. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Sadly, I have seen pastors who despise being treated this way in their church turn around and act this very same way when it comes to matters with their association or state convention. Resist the temptation to believe that everyone agrees with you and your friends.
4. Resist the temptation to begin designating your money. Every pastor has had the conversation with the church member who is upset about something in the budget and states, “Well, I will stop giving to the budget and designate my money to….” The thinking is that by designating to their favorite area of the budget they get a double victory: funding what is important to them while simultaneously de funding what they don’t like. My answer to this statement is always the same: “What if everyone in our church took that approach?” The answer is clear: our church would quickly descend into tribalism, we wouldn’t have a budget for long, and EVERYTHING funded by our church budget would suffer greatly in the long run. Is that really really what you want? Designating your money over something you don’t like in the budget fosters a tribalism that, if it spreads, will ultimately destroy any church or organization. Think about it.
5. Giving is a statement of investment in the mission & ministry. When Becky and I give our tithes and offerings to our church, it isn’t a statement that we agree with everything in the budget. In fact, there are several places in our budget at Lakeside that I would change if it were only up to me. The same is true for our local association, our state convention budget, and the national SBC budget. If Greg Corbin were totally “in charge” some places in each of those budgets would look differently – or so I think! Our giving to our church’s budget isn’t a statement that we agree with every dollar our church spends. It is a statement that we are INVESTED in the church and its mission and ministry.
6. Budget changes that come over time are usually healthiest. Please DO NOT hear me saying that we should never give input to our leaders and we should just accept the budget “as is” without ever asking questions or making suggestions for the future. I can assure you that almost every single pastor and finance team sincerely wants to do what is best for their church or organization. They spend tons of time, energy, prayers, and, occasionally, tears in these efforts. They evaluate and hear from people all year long. Over the years I have seen many healthy budget changes happen through God’s people giving and receiving honest, humble input, deciding together what is best, and then fleshing that out in adjustments to the budget over time. Yes, sometimes this means that the changes aren’t as drastic or as fast as we might like. Almost always, the budget changes that come gradually over time are the healthiest because they are not the result of power plays or one group seeking to the hold the church hostage over their pet issue or project.
7. Most churches and organizations should focus more on accountability and “checks and balances” rather than fighting about lines in the budget. We fixate so much on the budget that it is easy to overlook our systems, policies, and procedures. The best budget is no match for a lack of oversight and accountability. Tragically, every year brings new headlines of churches and other organizations becoming the victims of fraud or embezzlement. How is money handled? What are the policies for distributing the money? What checks and balances are in place for everyone? What internal controls does your church or organization have? You will answer those questions sooner or later. The time to answer those questions is when you DO NOT have a problem. Be proactive. No amount of proper budgeting can make up for a lack of accountability. Tell your church or organization about these proactive steps you have taken. It will build confidence and trust – encouraging generosity.
8. Make sure you care more about Jesus and making disciples than you do about the budget. Let’s face it. If I talk to more people about the budget than I do about Jesus, than I need to take a serious look in the spiritual mirror. If I succeed in getting my favorite part of the budget changed but do not make a single disciple, then I have FAILED and I have been DISOBEDIENT to Christ’s mission.
As my friend Mike Shaw likes to say, “I will see you in church!”