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.
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.