If your theological training went anything like mine did, church finances were not on the radar. Maybe you eagerly accepted a call to a full-time pastor position, only to quickly find yourself responsible for the church’s less-than-stellar finances on top of your own student loans. Or maybe you’ve struggled to find a pastor position that would allow you to take care of your own finances while continuing to give faithfully to the church. Maybe you’re one of hundreds of pastors dealing with declining attendance and declining giving, while the needs in your community continue to grow.
You know who else found themselves woefully unprepared and under-resourced when it came to feeding Jesus’ followers? How about the disciples and the 5,000? The disciples looked at their need. Then they looked at some fish and some loaves of bread. The logical conclusion: impossible, not enough. But Jesus tells them, you have something, begin sharing it and trust in God to provide. And we know how that story ends. Everyone ate to satisfaction … and there were leftovers!
I was financially clueless when I started out as a pastor, and I’ve experienced many challenges common to pastors along the way. But at each step—while planting new churches, leading mergers between struggling churches, and currently as I serve as executive pastor of new church development—God has taught me how to trustfully turn to what’s at hand to continue His mission.
In my upcoming book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes, I discuss some of the strategies God has shown me for outreach in lean times.
The following are a few steps pastors can take immediately to begin steering their churches to financial health and abundant outreach.
Get help: Right now, there are trusted servants in your church who are called and equipped to teach you and guide decisions about the church’s space, systems, structures, and money. Find these people and invite them to help you learn.
Minor in business: I don’t mean in your formal education (although, if you are still in that early phase of your training, taking a few general business classes could be extremely helpful). Avail yourself of the vast array of resources that teach the basics of the business world, from economic trends to church financing models being tried elsewhere to the role of social media in business.
Seek and preach a holistic theology of money: Your church is not in business for financial profit, but rather “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Nonetheless, scripture has much to teach about financial stewardship, and this includes operating a church with the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and transparency.
Practice stewardship: As a pastor, one of the most impactful things you can do for the financial well-being of your church is to commit yourself to tithing, even if you need to do so while becoming debt-free. While you do this, be transparent with your congregation about your commitment and the paths you took or are taking to financial freedom while continuing to faithfully give to your church.
Teach stewardship: In a country that carries massive personal debt as a way of life, many in our congregations need training and support in personal finances. If our congregations are not financially healthy, we will not be able to expect financial health for our churches. Excellent courses and training programs exist to help people achieve financial health. Invite members of the church who are called and who are already practicing responsible financial stewardship to facilitate a class at your church. http://christianstewardshipnetwork.com/resources/
Consider Bi-Vocation: Pastors who work in a bivocational role are often able to reach a wider range of people while saddling their churches with less financial burden and freeing the church to invest more into outreach. If you have a sense of calling by God to do ministry in this way, a sense of community for accountability and belonging, a sense of being blessed by your role in spite of potential financial challenges and the demand on your time, and a passion for ministry and people, bivocational ministry may open you and your church to greater levels of outreach.
Strive for innovation and flexibility: Churches across the country are struggling financially for a whole host of reasons. If we are to continue in our mission of reaching people for Jesus, we need to proactively seek ways to stay on top of or ahead of current trends in both economics and the way we do outreach.
What other ways has your church experienced financial health and abundant outreach?