Book Reviews

Book Review: Budgeting for a Healthy Church

By Jamie Dunlop

A Christian book on making a church budget? That isn’t going to land on any best-seller lists, but is an eternally valuable book nonetheless. Putting together a budget seems like a necessary evil in the administration of earthly processes. Yet, Jamie Dunlop writes in his book Budgeting for a Healthy Church, “What a church treasures—how it spends money—reveals its heart, its values, and its priorities” (15).

A budget is necessary to pay the bills wisely, but it is more than simply an earthly necessity, it is part of shaping the spiritual identity of the church. “This is not a book about money…It’s a book about value. Ultimately it’s a book about the value of Jesus Christ. It’s about how his extraordinary kindness, mercy, justice, beauty, goodness, and power have captivated and transformed our hearts through his death and resurrection so that we spend our lives proclaiming who he is…So while your church budget is written in the language of money, it’s not ultimately about money. It’s about the glory of our Savior” (21).

That’s a strong statement for a book about handling money. But the gospel redeems all things so “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [handle church finances], do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The goal of Budgeting for a Healthy Church is to help the church do that very thing.

Dunlop’s driving text throughout the book is the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:15–30. The goal of being given this stewardship isn’t simply to protect the gifts we’ve been given (that is actually wickedness!), but to faithfully invest the gifts for a spiritual return. A church’s budget should reflect a risk-taking faith that is willing to give up worldly pursues to gain something heavenly. “When obedience means risking what this world loves, it becomes a bold statement about the goodness and trustworthiness of the Master…Risk-taking obedience reveals the goodness and glory of God…” (27)

The book provides the spiritual vision for healthy-church budgeting and then follows with helpful principles to guide budget discussions. First among those principles is that the entire process should be guided by the spiritual leaders of the church: the pastors. “A church is a spiritual institution with spiritual investment goals, and it should have Spirit-minded leadership. [Therefore] the church budgeting process should be led by the church’s pastors and elders. Why? Because these are the leaders who have been chosen because they possess spiritual discernment…, and they have been tasked specifically with caring for the spiritual well-being of the congregation (Heb. 13:17)” (37).

That’s not to say that the pastors do it without accountability, but they are ultimately responsible for the spiritual vision and direction of the church. The budget is simply a reflection of the priorities set forth by the pastors. Because all things are to have a spiritual focus, it doesn’t make sense to compartmentalize the finances apart from the spiritual leadership of the elders.  Healthy leadership will take into account the data kept by the finance team, the needs of the ministry leaders, and feedback from the congregation. But the pastors must winsomely cast a vision for the direction of the church using the budget as one of their primary tools.

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The bulk of Budgeting for a Healthy Church is then guidance for pastors on common budget items: staff, programs, missions, and operations. Using wise Scriptural principles, Dunlop reminds us that the budget should not just be about funding ministries, but people who do ministry. We aren’t just trying to prop up an organization, but a family of servants who are called to be a witness to the world. Our budget should “[m]ake it clear that you love your people more than you love your budget” (66). It should reflect our love for each other and how we intend to love one another as we go on mission together.

There are wonderfully helpful tips throughout the book. Dunlop explains how we shouldn’t feel bad that a significant portion of the budget goes to staff, because that is our primary way we fund the Great Commission. He reminds us that we are not being faithful with God’s money if we are funding programs and missions that aren’t faithfully making Jesus known. He gives helpful tips on budgeting well for obtaining and maintaining buildings.

Dunlop wraps up the book with an emphasis on communicating the budget. Pastors should use the budget as a tool to teach and explain the gospel mission of the church. “Your congregation’s use of money matters mainly as a window into the well-being of their souls. That makes the budget more significant as a pastoral tool than a financial tool” (139). Budget talks provide opportunities to discuss faithful giving, reveal areas of faithlessness among the congregation, and cast a vision for the mission every member is to be on.

The budget is more than simply managing funds. Though a church and a secular business may both have budgets, that is where the similarity ends. “God’s job description for church operations is a world away from the job description for a business.” (123) It is an opportunity to prayerfully consider what God has given us to invest, seek his wisdom on where to invest it, and faithfully take risks to trust that he will provide powerfully for his mission. The budget isn’t a plan on exactly how every dollar will be spent, but, “Your church’s budget simply represents a plan to be faithful should God provide as you expect” (139).

Though not every church member needs to read this book, those involved in ministry (whether finance team or otherwise) and who desire to understand how your pastors are striving to lead the church should check it out. It is a short book (154 pages) with helpful anecdotes and very practical tools to help all in church leadership faithfully craft and communicate a budget for wise eternal investment.

Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key

In seminary our wives met together once a month with older mentors rotating through each other’s homes in order to learn how to be hospitable with whatever we had. Some nights the ladies gathered together in the comfort of a couple near retirement who had plenty of space for everyone. Other evenings 20 women would pack in a one-bedroom apartment barely large enough for the couple that made it their home. The goal was to remind us that what matters is our willingness to open our homes, not that it is perfect for entertaining many guests.

In her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, Rosaria Butterfield says, “Sometimes Christians tell me that they don’t practice hospitality because they don’t have enough space, dishes, or food…This is a false fear that no one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that’s all. It’s not entertainment. It’s not supposed to be” (216–217).

We are a world that is connected in greater ways than ever in history yet more disconnected from real relationships. We have a thousand friends on Instagram and yet can go through a week without having meaningful conversation with anyone outside our own family. It has created a culture that is more concerned about image than relationships and we fall prey to it fearful that our homes aren’t good enough to have people over. But “People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup” (111).

Hospitality is an often overlooked aspect of the church, especially of her leaders. Elders must show a pattern of hospitality in their lives (1 Timothy 3:2). We are to love one another as the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15; Galatians 6:10). We must be hospitable because God was for us in Christ. We are orphans, wanderers, foreigners, homeless and he makes us into a family and gives us a home (John 14:1–4). Our witness of his hospitality toward us is hospitality toward others.

But what is Christian hospitality? There are many counterfeits. There is the feeling of welcome you get at the local coffee shop or the camaraderie you build at the CrossFit box. You might even know someone who has an extra room in their home and makes it available on Airbnb. But this isn’t what God did for us. He made us part of his family. He extended a welcome at his table to those who were rebels, thieves.

Hospitality in the bible comes from the Greek word meaning, stranger-love. But it means so much more than being cordial with a person you don’t know on the sidewalk downtown. It was a word commonly used to refer to having someone in your home as part of the family for a time. It could refer to a stranger passing through or a fellow citizen who fell on hard times. It’s not so much the time or the type of person in your home, but how that person is treated inside. It sees the gift of a home as a tool to display the work of God. “Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom” (11).

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That could mean a myriad of different things for different homes, but to Butterfield it boils down to this: “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God…When our Christian homes are open, we make transparent to a watching world what Christ is doing with our bodies, our families, and our world” (31). The world already distrusts us. They think we are crazy. They think we oppose them, hate them, are disgusted by them. We say we aren’t. We follow with pithy bible quotes that justify our position. But hospitality puts hands and feet to our words about truth and love. It creates a dissonance in the minds of many when they don’t like our words, but they see what the words from Christ produce in our homes.

It is important to realize that this isn’t an individual endeavor tacked onto an already busy life with other worldly priorities. It is part of the fabric of our corporate Christian identity. “Radically ordinary Christian hospitality must be rooted and steeped in grace: church membership, private prayer and fasting, solitude, repentance, Bible reading, Scripture memory, and worshipful singing” (36) We do this together with the tools God has given to the saints for two-thousand years. This simple work is the means by which he rescues the perishing. “Radically ordinary hospitality means this: God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and he intends to use your house as living proof” (37).

The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a much needed book for the church. We have forgotten what our witness is. When we hear “evangelism” we are filled with fear believing it means we are called to preach on the street, hand out gospel tracts, engage in apologetic debates with skilled arguers, or confront blatant sin in someone’s life. Some of these things might need to happen, but we fear evangelism so greatly because we’ve disconnected our witness from our ordinary lives. Hospitality is the connection between ordinary people and an extraordinary witness. “Radically ordinary, daily Christianity is not PhD Christianity. The gospel coming with a house key is ABC Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living.” (220)

Instead of worrying about sharing the gospel with a complete stranger, let’s first take the step of welcoming a neighbor or co-worker into our home. It is through building these relationships of trust that spiritual conversations flourish and the gospel has a real person to it instead of a cold, social-media hit. Jake and I often joke that we are going to write a one-page book called, Eat Food and Talk about Jesus. It’s a book that simplifies evangelism and discipleship. Food has a way of breaking down barriers.

Rosaria Butterfield’s book does far better. With both inspirational stories and solid bible teaching, she casts a vision of a church on mission through ordinary life in the home.


We have purchased a copy of this book for each of our Community Groups. Reach out to your CG leaders to get a copy of it for yourself.