Leadership

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.

budget.jpg

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.

Follow the Leader?

andrew-ruiz-57233-unsplash.jpg

by Scott Regener

            The children are working their way through the Old Testament in Sunday School, and just this month we came upon the famous story of the golden calf. If you recall, Moses went up on a mountain and was hidden from the view of the Israelite camp by a cloud for forty days while God delivered the first tablet, just a few thousand years before Apple delivered theirs. Before long, the Israelites turned on Aaron and demanded that he make them a god to worship. If Eve’s explanation of the serpent’s deception stands out as funny, how much more Aaron’s explanation of what happened when Moses asked what happened: “’So they gave [their gold] to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

            Marshall McLuhan famously said that the medium is the message. What he meant is that the way a message is communicated changes how it is received. Television distanced the viewer from what was shown, encouraging a certain dispassionate stance where the viewer could serve as judge and jury based solely on what they were able to see on the screen. Daytime television exploited this judgment tendency to perfection. And now Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media take this one step further, including buttons for us to judge someone’s ideas without even needing to take a moment to ponder. Popularity is measured by likes, subscriptions, or even LOLs. It is tempting to open up our Bibles and click “Like” on Moses and give a big thumbs-up to Jesus, and then frown upon the Israelites for their many failings.

            The truth, however, is that the Israelites in the Old Testament show us just how far we will go from God if given even half a chance.  Consider how recently the Israelites had seen how mighty God was – delivering them from Egypt, leading them across a barren land, all the while providing them food and water when they needed it. Yet hide their human leader from their view for just a moment, and they looked around and saw where how bleak their surroundings and decided they needed gods to deliver them. In truth, they idolized Moses and worshipped and served him rather than the God who saved them.

            Before we move on from those Israelites and their failures, though, we need to take a moment and look at our own hearts and those who lead us today. Megachurches rise and fall on the abilities of their leaders. Dozens of preachers can be heard every single day on radio and television, some of whom number their listeners in the millions. When we cannot see God’s hand in front of us, how quickly do we turn aside and ask these human leaders to provide us the answers we seek? When we think about our own lives and realize just how far short we fall, how quickly do we look to the men who lead our church and expect that they will do their job to perfection, rather than seeing them as sinners in need of grace like us all? When we cannot see God, do we look for someone with the answers we need?

            That Moses guy the Israelites followed? He was a murderer. He married someone outside the Israelite nation, a Midianite. And when God asked him to lead the people, he said, “Oh my Lord! Please send someone else!” His patience with the people of Israel would eventually run out and, in a moment, he threw away his chance of going to the promised land. The man whose face literally shone from the glory of God was not perfect, and even he forgot the God with whom he met. Let us resolve not to worship men or idols or anything but the God of the Bible. Let us remind ourselves and each other every day that no one should ever take his place in our hearts.

Why another church in Rochester?

One of the most common questions we are asked is: "Why does Rochester need another church?"

That is a really good question that every church planter (and existing church pastor) needs to ask himself. There are over 200 congregations in Rochester, MN, why can't we just help one of them become stronger and grow?

The answer to this question has many good answers. For us it comes down to reach, theology, and relationships.

Reach

First, Rochester, MN is a quickly growing city. Currently it is the third largest city in the state but investors are pouring billions of dollars into the city to grow its medical facilities, business and education opportunities, and improve its infrastructure. Rochester is just over 100,000 people (not counting the additional 50,000 in the outlying towns), but could easily become a city of 200,000 people in our lifetime if it continues to have such a worldwide reach.

200 churches in a city of 100,000 people means that if every citizen were to attend a church each congregation would need to contain 500 members. That is a lot of big churches and very unlikely. If Rochester grows to 200,000 people each church would need to have 1,000 members! The average church in America is less than 100 people. To reach even half of a population of 200,000 people we would need 1,000 churches. A more modest goal of reaching 25% of that population means 500 churches. We, the corporate church, have a long way to go to reach this city with the gospel of Christ.

Additionally, every church has a different flavor mixed from ingredients of different kinds of people. Some churches are going to reach different kinds of people than other churches. It is a team effort to serve and teach children, parents, retirees, doctors, teachers, chefs, artists, laborers, homemakers, rich, poor, black, brown, and white. Some might be really good at reaching college students while others are really good at connecting with suburbanites.

Statistically, new churches have shown to be better at reaching non-Christians. They offer a fresh perspective not yet controlled by history and tradition ("the way we've always done it"). They attract people through a vision of what Christ will do instead of hanging onto what he has done in recent history. They are excited and motivated people willing and able to take more risks and try new things than an established church may be willing or able to. We believe that the corporate church in Rochester should always be planting new churches to keep our eyes forward and challenge others to take risks so that God can show off his fierce love for his people.

 

Theology

The second reason we are planting a new church in Rochester is because of theology. Currently, of the approximately 200 Christian congregations in Rochester, MN maybe 50 are conservative evangelical churches that have some true gospel witness (50 may be generous). Sadly, a country that was founded on  many Christian principles has gotten comfortable with some of the principles, forgotten others, and completely abandoned the Person those principles point to. Those 50 churches represent about 20,000 people in Rochester giving a true Christian testimony (assuming that their membership reporting accurately represents 400 people per congregation who are all faithful followers of Jesus).

In addition, there are now no churches in Rochester that are explicitly Baptistic in polity and Reformed in soteriology. We know many good pastors in the city with Reformed theological leanings, but would not teach such doctrines publicly (for various reasons). We know many people in Rochester who feel out of place at a baptistic church that is uncomfortable with Reformed theology or at a Presbyterian church that differs on baptism and church government. Some have expressed to us that there is no place for a Reformed Baptist to be free to express their views and know that every week they will grow more in love for Christ through the teaching and preaching of his Doctrines of Grace.

We desire to plant a church that is unashamedly Reformed and Baptist. We joyfully proclaim God's sovereign work in this world to save his people from every nation, people, and language. And we diligently work to build a church that reflects the pure bride of Christ through meaningful membership, independent congregational authority, a plurality of elder leadership, and entrance into the covenant community through believer's baptism.

 

Relationships

This culture is growing more isolated. People huddle into groups that affirm their own perspectives. They interact with the world mediated through the sterilized world of their devices yet are left unfulfilled relationally. Part of being made in the "image of God" is reflecting the relational nature of God's very nature in Father, Son, and Spirit. We were made to be with others. Redemption City Church wants to be a people that expresses its identity in the world, not in a building on Sunday mornings. We show hospitality in our homes by sharing meals with neighbors and providing lodging for the traveler. We encourage each other through life not just with an inspirational message on Sunday morning, but by living, working, and playing together throughout the week. We encourage interaction with people who are different, people who believe other things, and people who look different.

We don't want to plant a church that is in competition with other churches but is a partner to other churches.  We need each other and our unity over essentials is a testimony to God's work in us. Yes, secondary issues will require us to work on the details in different ways, but we want to come together regularly with other congregations to serve the needs of the community and display the mighty love of God for all kinds of people.

 

Tim Keller explains further why we need to be busy planting more churches. In summary: 

  1. Planting is the pattern we see in the Bible.
  2. Planting is effective evangelism.
    1. Plants reach different groups of people.
    2. Plants are more effective at reaching non-Christians.
  3. Planting is good for the corporate church.
    1. Plants bring new ideas and perspectives.
    2. Plants empower new leaders.
    3. Plants challenge existing churches to self-examination.
    4. Plants help fill other churches.
  4. Planting promotes an outreach mindset in existing churches