As a pastor, I will have to admit that one of my least favorite times of the year every year was the “Annual Church Budget Time” each fall. This was the time when I would watch as our dedicated but often hesitant church leadership would analyze all the prior year financial numbers, talk about how fearful they were of the economy and how we as a church needed to respond by “tightening our belt.” “After all,” I would hear repeated year after year, “who can know what the future will hold and people are hurting right now. People are giving all they can give.”
Needless to say, I found the budget time to be our least spiritually directed activity every year in ministry. Although I was not alone in my thinking, I would catch myself yearly asking myself and the church council, “Where is God in all this and what does God have in mind for our ministry in the year ahead?” Often this thought would be considered briefly, but then the focus would quickly return to dollars and savings and a budgeting effort built on fear and scarcity.
In the end, the yearly budget would be created with minimal change from the year prior, except with cuts made where possible and increases only made where necessary. Then the congregation would vote on the final budget, which always passed by a decent, but not great margin.
While the budgeting process frustrated me every year, what frustrated me the most as pastor was that I had this recurring feeling that we as a church were undertaking budgeting in order to inform God of what was possible financially in and through His church. This to me seemed so backwards to what our mission and ministry should be all about. Shouldn’t we instead be following God’s lead?
With my frustration building year after year around budgeting, you wouldn’t believe the breath of fresh air I received during a discussion I had recently with a pastor friend, Pastor David Anderson, during one of our Vibrant Faith coaching sessions. I was sharing with him about my despair about the upcoming budgeting process and he asked a simple question, “What was our church’s budgeting mission statement?”
I remember thinking to myself, “Mission statement…what mission statement?” In my mind budgeting had become a necessary evil, but suddenly with his question I saw budgeting as an opportunity for ministry in and of itself. I know that shouldn’t have been such a surprising revelation, but for me it really was.
At the next council meeting, I asked for time to share a simple request. This year could we, before we even begin the process, consider creating a mission statement for our church budgeting process? After some collective thought, the council rallied around the idea and decided this could only help us as we began the budgeting process.
In our first budgeting meeting, I as pastor took the lead and asked that we set aside all numbers and data and develop a statement that reflected who we were, what we were doing, why we were budgeting and most important of all “Where is God in this whole process?” It took almost an hour and a half of great discussion before the following mission statement was created and adopted by our budgeting team:
Budgeting Mission Statement:
All that we have is a gift from God; therefore, the mission of the Stewardship Committee is to faithfully oversee and manage the financial resources of St. Luke Lutheran. We are dedicated to discern God’s will by providing a budget, based solely on faith, for the church’s council to review and present to the congregation for approval. The vision of St. Luke Lutheran is to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the people in our church, our community and the world.
While this statement may not stand out as anything significant, it and more-so the process that created it, revolutionized our budgeting process. Now, instead of parsing each budget number based on fear, savings and scarcity, we reflected on the mission statement and asked prayerfully what God had in mind with that line’s contribution to His ministry here at St. Luke. We found ourselves talking about God and his will all throughout the budgeting process, and where we needed more time to reflect, we took it so that we felt strongly about where God was leading us. Eventually a new budget was created, which I promise you was built on far more faith than any budget ever created prior. We felt God’s challenge and a desire to worry less about what had been possible (or seemingly impossible), but rather what God was leading us to accomplish now and in the future.
Our mission statement gave us the courage to allow God to lead and for us the faith to believe that where God led, we would be able to answer, rise up and follow. It may seem like one rather insignificant action to create a mission statement for something small like a yearly budget, but the effort brought us closer to God, more encouraged in faith and eager to seek and follow God’s will.
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About the Author
Hi, I'm Pastor Andrew, an ELCA pastor with a love for sharing empowering personal stewardship for fellow church leaders. I enjoy researching the financial wisdom of the scriptures and of fellow church leaders and I hope to share my findings in a way to help clergy of all types!