Out-of-the-Box Accounting Methods

A serious church management issue presented itself when I became pastor in Costa Mesa, Calif. All the financial records were stored in a shoebox in a closet at the treasurer’s house. The record keeping was not even close to being up-to-date, and the board received no reliable financial reports. Although it took awhile, we got the finances out of the shoebox and into the church office, and we began putting together regular accounting reports.

With bookkeeping in such a mess, the church had never had a budget either. I was no accountant, but I knew any church needs a budget. We had to have a way to report financials, so I created a simple system using Roman numerals I and II. These represented the church’s two basic areas of expenditure: ministry to our community and ministry to our world. Community ministry included the three Ps—personnel, physical facilities and programs. Our ministry to our world consisted of the money we gave for missions.

Our budget plan may never have passed a CPA’s scrutiny as an accounting system, but it met our needs. About five years into this, though, a retired steel company executive was elected to our board, and the board selected him as treasurer. After a few weeks, he asked me, “Pastor, would you mind if I put together a budget that looks more like a budget should? The budget you’re using looks like one of your sermon outlines” (which is exactly what it was). I told him it was the best I could do since I lacked prior financial experience, and I welcomed him to set up more proper financial accounting practices. He whipped that budget into shape, and it became a powerful tool for the board and for me.

Keep money in its place. All Christians are called to serve God, not money, but that’s nowhere more critical than in the pastorate. So the first rightful place for money is to have a healthy perspective that prevents you from being dominated by financial concerns. To limit unnecessary worries, money should also be kept literally in the right place. Make sure someone has a firm grasp on church finances and keeps you and other leaders well informed on how the church books are doing.

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