How are your staff and core volunteers doing financially? Are they stewarding their resources faithfully? Do they have the skills and the tools to manage their finances in a God-honoring way?
It’s important for your staff to be financially free – to honor God with their finances. As Jesus said, our hearts follow our treasures. Staff who have put their treasures in heaven and are managing their finances accordingly continually grow in their hearts for God. On the other hand, staff who are constantly consumed by their finances are distracted from their personal spiritual lives and from their ministries.
You likely encourage your staff in key areas of spiritual growth and disciplines, such as prayer and Bible study. You recognize that as your staff grows in their relationships with God, they become more equipped to lead your congregation into increasing levels of discipleship. How about the key area of financial stewardship? Are you equipping your staff to honor God consistently with their finances?
As in other key areas of discipleship, financial stewardship is not intuitive for everyone, especially in a culture that pulls in the opposite direction. We’re not born knowing how to connect with God in prayer or how to effectively study the Bible. Similarly, we’re not born with an instinct toward God-honoring financial management. We need to be trained.
Different starting points, Different journeys
Your staff are likely in different places financially. Let’s look at a few examples.
Youth Pastor Pete is just getting started out in ministry; your church is his first job out of seminary. He’s engaged and looking forward to starting a family, but he has some significant credit card debt and is going to be starting to pay on his school loans soon. He’s never really lived on a budget and is wondering how he will make ends meet.
Pete needs a journey toward stability. He’s going to need to make some adjustments in his lifestyle in order to get to a positive cash flow, create an emergency savings fund, and begin to retire debt. He may need to take some short-term steps to get over the hump – steps that may not be sustainable over the long run. Examples might be a second job or a shared living situation with family or a roommate for a time prior to the wedding.
Discipleship Pastor Debbie is married and in her forties. She and her husband have three children and are getting by financially. They have some debt but they’re making the minimum payments – some months even a bit more. But they’re not making any real headway. Overall their net worth is not increasing appreciably and they’re pretty much in the same place month after month.
Debbie and her husband need a journey toward clarity – clarity around how they’re spending their money and why, clarity around their need for financial freedom, clarity about their accountability before God regarding their use of resources.
Executive Pastor Elizabeth is also in her forties. Her husband is an executive at a large company and between the two of them, they make enough money to live comfortably and to set aside more than sufficient savings for retirement. They struggled financially in their early years, learned some hard lessons, and now manage their money effectively, splurging for the occasional family vacation but living well within their means.
Though it may not be obvious to the casual observer, Elizabeth and her husband also need a journey – a journey to legacy. Legacy created by how they use their resources, including giving. Legacy created by how they use their time. Legacy from intentional decisions about how much is enough and what to do with excess.
Like other areas of discipleship, financial stewardship is not a destination but a journey. And regardless of the starting point, your staff need to be on this journey – both for themselves and their families and for the sake of those they serve in ministry. And they’ll need some tools to empower their journey.
Tools for the journey – a map and a GPS
Regardless of their starting point, your staff need a couple of tools for their journeys. These tools help them get started but they don’t stop there; rather, they are the keys to the entire journey.
The first tool is a Spending Record. This is a detailed list of income and expenses, including monthly bills and variable expenses like groceries and clothes. The Spending Record will reveal to each staff member where their money is going. Likely, there will be some surprises – but this information forms the basis for the second tool.
The second tool is a Spending Plan. While a Spending Record looks back at what has been spent, a Spending Plan looks forward, planning monthly income and expenses in advance.
The two tools work together. The Spending Plan is like a map, showing us how to get to our chosen destination financially. The Spending Record is the GPS, tracking our location and letting us know if we’re on course or need to make some adjustments.
If Pete were to create a Spending Plan in a vacuum, he’d probably prioritize paying off his credit cards. And he’d devote as much money as he thought he could to getting out of debt. But the Spending Record might show him that his actual costs for food, housing and utilities, and gas are more than he realized. The Spending Plan won’t help him get to his destination if he can’t actually follow it.
Debbie might plan to put money away for retirement but be surprised at the expenses she finds for clothes, entertainment, and activities for the kids. The Spending Record gives her a realistic look at what she really has available for retirement savings. And it may lead to some adjustments in her spending habits.
Elizabeth and her husband haven’t tracked their finances closely for a while. They did that early on to help them get out of financial trouble, but these days they have more than enough each month, so tracking just doesn’t seem that important. But the Spending Record and Plan aren’t just for those who are struggling financially. They provide clarity as to how money is being spent and they enable people in any financial situation to be more intentional and priority-driven with their money.
While details of the stewardship journeys vary depending on the financial situation, the same major stewardship themes apply.
Biblical stewardship is based on three “Big Ideas”:
- We are truly free when we are faithful stewards.
- A faithful steward is both a diligent earner and a prudent spender.
- A prudent spender is a generous giver first, a wise saver, and a cautious debtor.
Let’s look a little more closely at each of these.
The faithful steward
A faithful steward recognizes that God is the owner of all things and that we have been entrusted with some of those things for a time to manage for his pleasure (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3). Faithful stewards are grateful to God because they recognize that all they have comes from him, including even the ability to earn wealth (James 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:17; Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
As in so many areas, discipling our congregations in stewardship begins with discipling our staffs. Paul charged Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Our “reliable people” are our staffs! As a leadership team, the spiritual health (including the financial health) of our staffs and core volunteers must be a primary concern, as unhealthy staffs cannot produce healthy congregations.
Equipping faithful stewards
Ironically, it’s often hard in a church setting to catalyze spiritual growth of any kind – including in the area of stewardship – among our staff. In the rush to make disciples, we tend to forget that we must first be disciples. We can’t pass on what we have not absorbed. In the area of stewardship, we must commit to beginning with our staff.
So, how do we get started? What key Biblical and practical truths lay the foundation? As we mentioned above, a faithful steward is both a diligent earner and a prudent spender. So let’s start with the diligent earner.
The Diligent Earner
God created work before the Fall to be a significant part of our lives (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). Work was made more difficult after the Fall (Genesis 3:17-19) but has always been part of God’s purpose for his people. God Himself gives us the ability to work and produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) and calls us to be diligent earners.
Diligent earners work hard, but they do more than just that. They strive to make their churches and their bosses successful. They care about the end results of their work and invest not just their labor but also their expertise. Diligent earners work “with all their heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
Diligent earners get their identity from Christ rather than from their work. As a result, they don’t depend on promotions and raises (or on ministry numbers) to validate their worth. These tend to come over time, but diligent earners respond with gratitude rather than entitlement. Additionally, diligent earners maintain a good sense of work-life balance. They may occasionally work overtime to meet an important deadline, but they place a priority on their walk with God, time with their family and involvement in the community.
The diligent earner is the balance between two extremes – the disinterested earner and the driven earner. In general, disinterested earners work only out of necessity to earn a paycheck but don’t value work as something created by God for our benefit. In a church, this most often occurs when a staff member is placed in a position that they don’t see as their ultimate goal, but rather as a step toward something else. Disinterested earners tend not to be grateful for their jobs and tend to grumble when the work environment gets difficult (which it always does!). They may work out of a sense of duty or obligation, but they’re not working with all their heart.
On the other end of the scale are the driven earners. In general, driven earners may be motivated by a compulsion to make money, or by a desire for advancing in their career, or by other pressures. On a church staff, driven earners are often a product of the church culture. Genuinely caught up in the vision of the church, they sacrifice God-given priorities like their families and their own walks with God to work longer and harder. Metrics tend to reinforce this sense of drivenness – ironically, whether they are positive or negative. Positive metrics encourage us that we’re producing results and drive us to produce more; negative metrics push us to work harder to achieve success.
Equipping Diligent Earners
The church needs its staff to be diligent earners – people who work with a sense of purpose and vision, and who see work in a context of overall discipleship. These are the people who are in the best position to disciple others and to make an impact in the congregation. The good news is, the church can empower and equip its staff in this area.
Before teaching our staff about being diligent earners, we first have to make sure that we’re creating an environment that engenders diligence rather than disinterest or drivenness. Here are a few key questions to consider:
- Are our staff and key volunteers generally serving in areas of interest and giftedness?
- Are there signs of burnout?
- What is the turnover rate?
- How long is the average work week?
- Does our staff generally have healthy spiritual lives and family relationships?
- Does our staff feel sufficiently valued – both financially and otherwise – for their work?
Equipping diligent earners requires that we teach and practice a balanced, Biblical view of work as part of an overall approach to stewardship. This begins with God’s creation of work as a significant part of our purpose. This purpose goes beyond a paycheck – it’s part of who we’re made to be (note that Adam and Eve never received a check for their work!). Additionally, we need to emphasize gratitude for work as a response to God’s giving us the ability to produce wealth.
Most stewardship programs focus specifically on the spending side of the equation, and often there are significant adjustments to be made there. But in the case of folks like Youth Pastor Pete, it’s possible that he simply isn’t making enough money to make life work. Pete may need to take a second part-time job for a period of time to get him over the hump and create some working margin.
Given the demands of a family, Debbie is not likely in a position to take on a second job to earn more. In fact, she’ll probably find that she and her husband make enough; they’ll need to focus more on the spending side of the equation.
Elizabeth will likely discover that she and her husband make more than they need – possibly significantly more. They have some options as to how they will respond to this discovery, but one of them may be to dial back a bit on earning in order to spend more time with family or in volunteering. They need to avoid the pitfall of becoming driven earners.
The Prudent Spender
Earning is one side of the money equation. The other side is spending, which incorporates everything we can do with money: giving, saving, lifestyle spending, and debt retirement. Balancing all of these in a God-honoring way requires intentionality and diligence. Faithful stewards are prudent spenders.
Prudent spenders exhibit self-control (Galatians 5:23; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6). This leads them to be intentional about their spending. They recognize that “there is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including a time to spend and a time to refrain. As a result, they’re patient and able to wait for their wants to be satisfied.
Prudent spenders commit themselves to God in the way they use their resources. Whether they’re spending on lifestyle, giving, saving, or retiring debt, they see all of their finances in light of God’s provision and their own stewardship. As a result, they don’t make idols of either possessions or money.
Prudent spenders have a strong sense of priorities guiding their financial decisions. They consistently ask, “What’s the best use of this next dollar?” They have a plan and that plan guides their decisions. Supporting that plan, prudent spenders keep good financial records. They know how much they’re spending, what they’re spending it on, and how that matches up to their plan. This way, they know when the plan needs adjusting (as it inevitably will), and they make the right adjustments at the right time.
Because prudent spenders are intentional about their spending, they avoid impulse buying. They don’t tend to shop as entertainment – whether online or in stores. Instead, they shop when they’re looking for something specific that they’ve planned for. For large purchases, they weigh multiple factors as they decide on what to buy.
Finally, Prudent spenders know how much they need to live on and they live within their means. Ultimately, contentment and intentionality lead them to establish a lifestyle cap – an amount that they’ve determined that they need to live on. This lifestyle cap describes an appropriate level of spending for their situation, and frees them toward increasing generosity as their income increases.
Equipping Prudent Spenders
A staff equipped as prudent spenders brings several benefits to the church. First of all, the discipline and self-control that characterize prudent spenders will show not only in their finances but also in their spiritual lives and in their ministries. Second, prudent spenders naturally avoid the financial pressures that lead to stress for staff and their families. Finally, because prudent spenders reject the “me-first” attitude prevalent in our culture, they are quick to share God’s blessings with others. This spirit of generosity develops a community of caring and sharing, like we see in Acts 2 and 4.
Jesus said that our hearts tend to follow our treasure (Matthew 6:21), so equipping the staff as prudent spenders begins with helping them track their spending with a Spending Record. This Spending Record, together with priorities determined through prayer, then informs a Spending Plan to guide future decisions. The Spending Plan reflects priorities such as giving, saving, debt retirement, and lifestyle. Understanding where our money goes is the first step to controlling where it goes, and that control both determines and reflects where our treasure is. Heart change will tend to follow that treasure.
The Generous Giver
It comes as no surprise that the Bible speaks more about giving than about any other area of financial stewardship. Giving both directs and reflects our hearts. On the one hand, giving directs our hearts by breaking the hold that money can have on us. On the other, it reflects our hearts by showing what we value. God calls us to be generous givers.
Believers can be grudging givers, rather than generous givers. Motivated by guilt, legalism, or a “call to action” over something they’re not passionate about, they give out of compulsion, rather than cheerfully and joyfully. This is the kind of giving that God doesn’t want. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Generosity is more a function of the giver’s heart than of the size of the gift.
Giving is the area of stewardship that most directly reflects where our hearts are and whom we’re serving (Matthew 6:21-24). Contrast the reactions of two men who encountered Jesus. Zacchaeus, on encountering the Savior, joyfully and immediately revealed the transformation of his heart by giving generously to the poor and making restitution for his past unfair tax collection practices (Luke 19:1-9). But the rich young man couldn’t part with his wealth and “went away sad” (Mark 10:17-22). The difference? Zacchaeus had made Jesus his lord, while the other man’s lord was his money.
Generous givers are grateful to God for all that they have. They understand that they are stewards of God’s possessions and rejoice in opportunities to further his kingdom. They tend to be compassionate and aware of needs around them (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). They’re content with what they have, regardless of whether that is much or little (Philippians 4:12).
Generous givers make room for giving by limiting lifestyle spending. They give systematically (Proverbs 3:9) but also look for opportunities to meet specific needs (such as the collection for the church at Jerusalem). As God leads, they may give lavishly on special occasions (Matthew 26:6-13). This giving may or may not be large in amount (see Mark 12:41-44), but it represents a sacrifice on the part of the giver. The Macedonian church was characterized by this kind of giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Equipping Generous Givers
The church needs generous givers – but not primarily to meet programming budgets. Acts 2:42-47 reflects several key characteristics and habits of the early church, one of which was generosity (v. 44-45). This spirit of generosity enabled the church to fulfill two primary objectives: meeting the needs of its people (v. 45) and attracting and discipling non-believers (v. 47).
Equipping staff as generous givers is a key to ministry fruitfulness in general. This doesn’t mean that we encourage staff to disclose their generosity as an example to the congregation (in disobedience to Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:2-4). But, as we mentioned earlier, our hearts follow our treasure. If staff is putting their treasure in heaven through generous giving, they’re much more likely to be “all in” in their ministry areas. They’ll connect their work with their generosity and will work like they give – joyfully, gratefully, and sometimes sacrificially. This spirit will inevitably flow out to volunteers and participants in their ministries.
The Wise Saver
Giving requires first of all that we have something to give! That requires earning, but it also requires saving. Saving doesn’t replace faith, of course; instead, saving reflects responsible stewardship of what God has provided.
Wise savers are intentional about how they manage their finances. Because saving is an important goal, they dial back on spending in order to make a priority out of setting aside for the future. Wise Savers understand the value of delayed gratification – a very counter-cultural characteristic! They practice patience and planning.
Wise savers anticipate the future. They recognize, for example, that items like appliances and automobiles will eventually need to be replaced and they prepare by saving up replacement funds, rather than borrowing in the moment when the need arises. They also realize that unexpected events will occur and, rather than relying on credit, they prepare for these events by saving. Finally, wise savers realize that a time is likely to come when they are no longer earning enough to meet their needs, so they prepare with long-term saving for those years.
Equipping Wise Savers
By providing margin for both expected and unexpected expenses, saving brings stability to our financial picture. A church benefits when its staff are stable financially. Staff who struggle in this area are distracted from ministry and potentially dealing with a number of other issues that tend to stem from financial difficulty, such as marital and family strife. A church whose staff is living without financial margin will likely experience more conflict within the staff and may see higher turnover rates.
An often-used rule of thumb for allocating income between giving, savings, and spending is the 10-10-80 plan. 10% of gross income for giving, 10% for savings, and 80% for everything else (including taxes). Younger staff may have difficulty building up savings early on due to student debt, etc. (more on this later); older staff may actually need to begin saving more than 10% in order to meet retirement goals.
The church can come alongside staff members in a couple of ways when it comes to saving. Offering a 401(k) program with a certain amount of matching can encourage retirement savings. Tuition assistance (especially in the case of seminary) can help relieve the burden of college education. And offering the assistance of a certified financial planner can help staff to set long-term saving goals based on their retirement needs.
All of this highlights the need for a realistic Spending Plan. Saving is the one area that – even more than giving – will tend to be neglected because it’s not thought of as being urgent. A Spending Plan that includes saving as part of its financial priorities can help staff stay on track and create the margin they need.
The Cautious Debtor
When saving isn’t a priority, debt tends to result. Appliances or cars break down, or an unanticipated medical need arises. The believer who hasn’t established sufficient savings will go into debt to meet these needs.
Scripture envisions debt as a consequence of poverty (see, for example, Deuteronomy 15:1-11). In the modern Western world, however, debt often results not from poverty but from materialism and easy availability of credit. While there are some valid reasons and uses for debt, much debt is simply the result of satisfying desires without having saved in advance. And while Scripture does not forbid debt, God warns us consistently of the dangers of debt.
Cautious debtors are patient, content, and intentional. They’re not given to impulse buying (which is the direct cause of so much consumer debt). Their decisions are driven not by culture, marketing, or materialism but rather by a holistic understanding and practice of stewardship.
Cautious debtors are careful and balanced about incurring debt. They make every effort to avoid debt on depreciating assets but consider carefully loans on appreciating items (such as a house). They avoid debt that requires a change in circumstances in order to pay it off (for example, a hoped-for raise or bonus). At the same time, they look for opportunities to leverage debt to create positive results (such as a business or education loan).
Cautious debtors tend to also be wise savers. Because they are patient and content, they’re able to wait to purchase items until they’ve saved for them. And because they place a high value on saving, they’re prepared for circumstances and events that occur. They meet these needs with savings, rather than going into debt.
Equipping Cautious Debtors
Churches need their staff to be cautious debtors for several reasons. First, consumer debt fosters envy, greed, and selfishness; these are not the characteristics of a growing disciple of Jesus. Second, debt limits the resources available for generosity and for saving. Third, consumer debt is a major trigger of financial hardship, creating bondage and stress. Staff members in this position are rarely able to prioritize spiritual growth and kingdom impact. Debt becomes an obstacle both to being disciples and making disciples, and a distraction from ministry priorities.
Debt repayment is actually a form of savings, as both have the result of increasing one’s net worth. As a result, debt repayment should be considered along with saving when creating the Spending Plan. Staff members with significant debt should consider allocating more than 10% to debt/saving and dialing back on spending until the debt is managed.
Youth Pastor Pete is a good case study here. He has significant debt and isn’t sure he can make ends meet. Here’s a recommended outline for Pete to follow:
- Pay off enough debt to create some margin in the Spending Plan. This may take some time, but creating this margin is the key to getting started.
- Simultaneously, begin an Emergency Savings fund. It may not be possible to contribute significantly to this until some margin has been achieved (in the first step above), but establishing the discipline of saving is important.
- Fund Emergency Savings to 2% of annual gross income. This will be enough to cover most crises (eg, appliance breaks down or car needs repairs) without going into additional debt.
- Once a bit of margin is established through paying down consumer debt, prioritize retirement saving if an employer match is provided. The dual benefit of reduced taxes and employer funding makes this a wise move even while continuing to retire consumer debt. Prioritize this saving up to the maximum employer match.
- Pay off remaining consumer debt while continuing to build the Emergency Savings Fund up to at least 3 months’ income. The exact balance here will depend on individual circumstances, but generally a higher priority should be placed on retiring consumer debt.
As Pete follows the above steps, he’ll begin to establish some margin and make progress on debt repayment. The key, though, is a Spending Plan that prioritizes debt retirement and saving over lifestyle spending. A heart of contentment will enable Pete to pursue these priorities.
These stewardship “Big Ideas” apply to all financial situations. And faithful stewards use the Spending Record and Spending Plan to guide them on a stewardship journey that incorporates all of these elements.
When Youth Pastor Pete creates his first Spending Plan, it’s not likely to work. Not only is he just managing to make ends meet now, but he’s facing additional expenses when he starts paying off his school loans. When Pete begins tracking his spending, he’ll gain some key insight that will help him in all the areas of stewardship.
First, Pete may discover that given his current debt and upcoming student loan payments, he simply doesn’t make enough money to make ends meet. This discovery may lead him to take a part-time job for a time to increase his earning. Or it may lead him to rethink his living situation and consider some less expensive options, such as taking a roommate or living with parents for a time. And he’ll certainly need to make his wedding plans with his financial state squarely in mind.
Pete is probably not where he wants to be with giving. Most likely, he wants to tithe, but just can’t see a way to get there. The thing is, he’ll never see a way to get there without a prioritized Spending Plan based on solid information from his Spending Record. He probably needs to start small but systematically, incorporating giving into his Spending Plan and looking for opportunities to increase this over time.
Similarly, saving is the furthest thing from Pete’s mind. After all, he has a mountain of debt! And he needs to make all the adjustments – to earning and to spending – required to get to a positive cash flow before he can realistically begin saving. But establishing an Emergency Saving fund is a key early goal for Pete. He needs the margin – especially in his situation – to cover unexpected expenses without going further into debt.
A realistic Spending Plan, based on an accurate Spending Record, can guide Pete toward financial stability. Without the map of a Spending Plan, he has no idea how to get to his desired financial destination. And without the GPS of a Spending Record, he won’t know if he’s actually following the map.
Debbie and her husband will likely find some surprises when they start tracking their income and expenses. They may discover that they’re spending more on children’s activities than they realized, and this is impacting their ability to save and to give. Or they may find that their entertainment cost, including vacations, is a more significant part of their spending than they thought. Their Spending Record may reveal occasional costs – like vacations, children’s sports teams, or Christmas expenses – that they didn’t consider when creating their monthly Spending Plan.
By tracking their expenses carefully with a Spending Record, Debbie and her husband will gain clarity about their spending. They may find that some of their spending is really medicating an unmet emotional need. They may discover that they’re wasting money on subscriptions and memberships they don’t use. They’ll learn where their money is going and why they’re not making more headway financially.
As they bring these expenses under control with a Spending Plan, they’ll begin to prioritize key areas of stewardship such as giving and saving. They’ll gain the clarity they need to make spending decisions based on their priorities. And they’ll develop appreciation for all that God is providing.
Elizabeth and her husband will probably find some things they already knew – they’re saving well and they’re giving at or above the tithe. As they gain an understanding of their surplus, God may lead them into areas of greater generosity with a specific kingdom vision or maybe a Generosity Fund. Or he may lead them to leverage cautious debt to start a business and provide needed jobs. Perhaps he will direct them to dial back on earning in order to spend more time with family or volunteering. They’ll have some options – but without a Plan based on accurate information, they won’t recognize and avail themselves of these options.
The Discipleship model
Recall the words of Paul to Timothy that we mentioned earlier: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) This follows the model that Jesus set up by training the apostles and then sending them out to share the good news.
Training your staff in Biblical stewardship can be the first step toward discipling your entire congregation in this key area. A staff that is honoring God with their finances empowers and encourages the entire congregation to do the same.
Are you looking for a stewardship program that can train your staff and ultimately your congregation, regardless of their starting point financially? Check out the FreedUp app! Packed with videos, exercises, Scripture, and practical tools, this is the one app that can address your whole staff and your entire congregation.