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Resilient Financial Practices for the Local Church

Mikayla Gainor

At the 2022 annual PRM Conference, Dr. Michelle McFeaters gave a talk about resilient financial practices for the church, and there were several pastors who expressed that her discussion significantly reshaped the way they now think about finances in ministry. “I appreciated how she integrated the spiritual side into finances, instead of seeing them as something just to be delegated,” Matt Wolfe commented. “Dr. McFeaters delivered a wake up call and reframed my understanding of the importance and the role of budgeting and finances in relationship to the spiritual health and life of the church,” Mike Haddox shared.

What is resiliency?

Consistent with the theme of the conference, Dr. McFeaters began by discussing what resiliency is and why it is important when considering finances in ministry. “We might think of resiliency as a companion to flourishing,” she explained, “and that in order to flourish in this chaotic world, we must be resilient.” She acknowledged, however, that being resilient can also be really exhausting. In contrast to the world’s understanding of resiliency, which often views it as the ability to be flexible and turn crises into opportunities, Dr. McFeaters offered a biblical perspective that grounds resiliency in Christ. “True resilience, peace, rest, and flourishing come from abiding in Christ the Vine (John 15:5-8) and being nourished and sustained by him,” she said. He is the everlasting source of life and resiliency that never runs out and that ultimately “redeems our stress and trauma for a better purpose.” Thus, rather than just surviving year to year and hoping for the best when it comes to finances, a resilient church is one that abides in Christ and lives into their unique calling for stewarding their resources.   

How should we think about finances?

Dr. McFeaters asked the audience to consider if they had ever thought about finances as one of the following: a chore, a grind, just dollars and cents, something that math-minded people take care of. She explained that if so, finances have probably led to frustration for them and others. On the flip side, she asked if they had thought about church finances in this light: “Do you think about church finances as a way to serve Christ? As a way to show your love for Christ? As a resource that will fund your ministry which is tied to your missional purpose? As a tool to spur on conversations that tie you together as you discern your congregational calling into ministry?” She encouraged pastors to recognize the necessity of financial conversations, and to not view them as simply “a necessary evil.”

Budgeting is Tied to Vision

Since we are joining Christ in his work, Dr. McFeaters argued, our planning must be tied to the mission and vision of the congregation, as it is developed through prayerful discernment. It is clear from Matthew 28:19-20 what the church’s mission is: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The vision of the congregation, however, and how that big-picture mission is going to be lived out, is tied to your specific congregational life as a community. This is where the budget comes in as “a key part of the planning process to move into your vision.”

Dr.McFeaters defined budget as “a chief planning tool. It is a tool to foster communication around a common goal.” She emphasized that the important part here is the communication aspect – not the budget itself – because it is the communication that is tied to the relationships in the church and the community. As a pastor, you may have wonderful financial committees, but “budgeting cannot be delegated to ‘just’ the financial people because budgets cannot be developed without the communication, and the budget will just be a bunch of numbers if it’s not tied to the vision.” Rather, “the budgeting process is a time for both the leaders and the congregation to come together to discuss ministry vision, priorities, and necessary resources.” Furthermore, it is an important job of the pastor to help lead the discernment of that vision. That means there is a great deal of input pastors should have in this process. “Budgeting is a dynamic process. It can actually be really life-giving to your congregation” she encouraged.

Budgets Tell a Story

When deciding her career, Dr. McFeaters explained that she ended up in accounting because she was drawn to the way that numbers capture a story. Since then, one of her goals has been to take away the “weird nerdiness” around financial topics and make them a bit more “lively and real.”

“Our checkbook leaves a footprint, and it tells a story,” she stated. “Our expenditures tell stories of our missional priorities, the story of the way we’re engaging with the gospel, the story of the way we’re engaging with the great Commission, the story of our congregational life and relationships with each other.” By examining previous expenses, we can pinpoint what we value most. Observe which categories in your budget get the most of your financial resources and consider what this says about your ministry priorities. Ask yourself whether or not this aligns with your church’s mission and vision.

“I would encourage you to start thinking about those people in your congregations who are younger than you who are gifted in these ways of finances....Think about passing the baton and helping mentor those that come behind you to step into roles that help with financial ministries.”

Dr. Michelle Mcfeaters

In order to harness this story so that it does in fact mirror your vision, look at last year’s expenses as a starting point and determine if your resources are being put toward the appropriate categories. Dr. McFeaters outlined three main budget categories: operational, capital, and special ministry. An operational budget is key for the everyday life of the congregation. A capital budget is for things like construction projects or buying a church van. A special ministry budget supports things like missions, kids’ programs, or the youth group.

These are typical starting points, but each church should decide if they have a need to add or remove categories. If there are resources being put towards anything that hinders the vision or towards anything that is stagnant and unnecessary, it may be time to reallocate those funds. Dr. McFeaters advised that your expenses be tied to “vibrant, living ministries that are part of your congregation and help you move into the future which Christ is calling you to.” Allow the budgeting process to help clarify your vision and “provide a roadmap for the future.”

Passing the Baton

While it is important for pastors and leaders to understand finances, there are some people who are specifically called into financial ministry. This is an integral part of ministry in the church, and those who are invested in it are the ones who genuinely care deeply about the budgeting and forecasting process. They are also the ones who end up pulling together the practical aspects like spreadsheets! If we recognize the value of this ministry, we will understand the importance of helping it thrive from generation to generation. “I would encourage you to start thinking about those people in your congregations who are younger than you who are gifted in these ways of finances,” Dr. McFeaters shared. “Think about passing the baton and helping mentor those that come behind you to step into roles that help with financial ministries.”

Finances as an Integral Ministry in the Church, but not the Only Important One

Although the thought of finances may have elicited a groan from you in the past, understanding how this ministry is instrumental for developing community in your congregational life, according to your specific vision, may lead you to eager anticipation for budgeting conversations in the future. When we view finances as a blessing through which we can better serve Christ, we will be better able to engage in financial conversations that exemplify our church’s vision.

However, while we want to consider finances as an important resource, we also want to recognize that it is not the only resource. We also have “prayer warriors, abundant love, and the faith and devotion of congregants” just to name a few. “These are the intangible resources that matter too,” Dr. McFeaters expressed. Appreciate how finances can unite our life together as a congregation but remember that faithful church members and their unique giftings are significant too.

Mikayla is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior majoring in Psychology and Biblical and Religious Studies. She is from the Chicago area.