1. Budget Basics

Chapter 1

And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee: but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

—Luke 9:59-62

Budget Basics

We often fall short of accomplishing what God wants us to do because we do not get our priorities straight.

The Lord reminds believers to “count the cost” before beginning to build a tower to make sure we have enough to finish (Luke 14:28-30). He also tells us that we need to set priorities in our life—and in our use of our resources—because all things are not of equal importance nor need to be done at the same time. The Lord did not say that what these young men who wanted to be His disciples asked to do was wrong; He just said that burying their dead and saying good-bye were not the highest priorities in their lives. He reminded them that they needed to keep their eyes on the main goal and do first things first.

The Lord has plenty of work to be done—everyone can have a job; His is a “full-employment” economy. However, we often fall short of accomplishing what God wants us to do because we do not get our priorities straight. Budgets and budgeting require us to know what we can do and what our priorities are among all of the options.

What Is a Budget?

A budget is a plan for allocating available resources.... [It] is simply a matter of setting priorities... so that the money is used for the most important things first.

A budget is a plan for allocating available resources. We usually talk about money when we refer to budgets, but we could use the same definition regarding allocation of any resource; i.e., a time budget, or space budget. Budgeting money is simply a matter of setting priorities on everything that you want to do so that the money is used for the most important things first. By doing that, no matter how much or how little money you have to spend, you will always do the most important things with your money.

One prominent misconception about budgets is that there is some magic way they help you decide how to spend your money. There is no magic. You cannot escape the task of making decisions. The budget process will help you make sure that you consider all alternatives, but you have to make the decisions about which one is funded first, second, and so on. You have to decide what is going to get done and what is not going to get done if you do not have all of the money you need to pay for everything you want to do. Budgets are not developed to exclude faith from our actions. They are the result of reasoned decisions—arrived at by faith—about what God wants you to do with the financial resources He has given you.

Budgets are the result of reasoned decisions—arrived at by faith—about what God wants you to do with the financial resources He has given you.

Since a budget is defined as a plan to allocate available resources, the need to know four things is implied:

  1. How much money will be available to spend?
  2. What needs to be done?
  3. How much will it cost to accomplish each need?
  4. What is the order of priority among the things that need to be done?

We often waste time and money because we put off making spending decisions until we are faced with an emergency, or we are trapped with no possibility for further procrastination. Decision making is hard work and requires prayer and research, prayer and reflection, and prayer and action. Budgeting requires decision making, so budgeting is hard work.

Budgeting requires decision making, so budgeting is hard work.

It is easy to get into the habit of making decisions on the spur of the moment and without adequate research or reflection. Arriving at a truly workable spending plan that the Lord can bless is much more likely if you:

  1. Do research in a timely way
  2. Reflect on the various relationships of one part of the ministry to another (one part of the budget to another)
  3. Bathe every consideration in prayer.

The budget is a “road map” to help you get from where you are to where you are going financially. It helps you stay on the road and not “get lost.”

The budget is a “road map” to help you get from where you are to where you are going financially. It helps you stay on the road and not “get lost.” If you get off course because of some financial setback, whether it be lower income than expected or an unplanned expense, your budget helps you see where you are in relation to where you want to be. This knowledge enables you to develop a plan to get back on the road to your goal.

Sometimes a church will court financial disaster by throwing out their budget when they run into difficulties instead of using it to help reach their original goals. Usually the original goals and priorities have not changed; there has just been a change in the amounts of either their income or expenses. Using the same procedures they used in developing their budget in the first place—prayer and research, prayer and reflection, and prayer and action—they can adjust for any difficulty that may arise.

Your budget should be only a “guide” and not the “master” of your fate. After all, you are the one who decided which road to take in the first place. If you made it, you can change it. Budgets should not be changed capriciously, but they can and should be changed when events, both good and bad, dictate a need for change. If you find that you must take a detour, then plan to take the shortest route around the problem and back onto your original route as soon as possible.

Not only does a budget serve as a guide; it also helps you evaluate how you are doing.

Not only does a budget serve as a guide; it also helps evaluate how you are doing. Just as you like to know if you are making good progress and will get to your destination on time when you travel, you also need to know if you are making good progress toward your church's financial goals and if you can expect to reach them as planned. Your church goals are stated in terms of ministry, but you must have the financial capacity to accomplish them. Having a budget gives you a means of comparing your actual financial progress with your plan. When you are making progress as planned, you can rejoice. When you are getting behind, you can make adjustments. When you are running ahead of schedule, you can plan to take on more ministries with the excess money.

What Does a Budget Do for You?

Since your budget puts a “dollars and cents” value on every activity of the church, it reflects your priorities—you will spend money on the things you believe are important.

Your budget can be one of your most important motivational aids for securing the support for all of your church's ministries. Since a budget puts a “dollars and cents” value on every activity of the church, it reflects your priorities—you will spend money on the things you believe are most important. You will discuss each ministry of your church with your finance committee and the church as a whole as you develop the budget and secure its approval. While doing that, you will have a chance to enlist the support of the members and recruit workers for every ministry as you discuss its part in the overall budget.

After making your budget choices, you will find that they will guide your actions so that you will not be faced with daily “Should I?” or “Should I not?” spending decisions. Your daily spending activity will already be laid out for you. You will not have to worry about making those annoying little spending decisions that can eat up time that should be devoted to other activities. You not only will save time and use money more wisely, but you will enjoy the freedom you gain from having spending decisions already made.

Tithing is a good illustration of how making spending decisions in advance frees you from having to make repeated decisions. When you decided to be obedient to the Lord by tithing, you made a “budget decision.” You decided that the first tenth of your income was going to the Lord. After making that one decision, you do not have to decide every Sunday if you are going to give something—or how much—to the Lord's work. You already made the decision, so all you have to do is carry it out.

Budgets guide people, but people control budgets.

Budgets control the actions of the people who are responsible for spending church funds in the sense that budgets make the limits clear. To the extent that they are committed to working within the budget guidelines, people are controlled by the budget. You must not get carried away, however, with the idea that budgets control people—they don't. Budgets guide people, but people control budgets.

The very act of developing a budget forces you to evaluate past spending habits and to decide what you are going to do in the future. You are also forced to make decisions and establish priorities for all of the possible ministries your church may undertake during the coming year. These very acts, in themselves, not only help you develop better budgets that give you more freedom in your daily work, they also help you see God's blessings and guiding hand.

Budgets and Church Objectives

Every facet of church activity needs to be considered when developing your budget.

Every facet of church activity needs to be considered when developing your budget—the people, the buildings, the equipment, the buses, the Sunday School, the visitation program, the music program, the youth program, the fellowship activities and the spiritual activities. Everything that your church does or is planning to do should be written down and considered when developing your church budget.

Although the major part of the church budget probably originates in the pastor's heart, do not rule out the possibility that God may have given you people to minister to who also have a burning desire to minister. Do not forget that God did not call you to do the work of the church; He assigned the work of the church to the church—His people.

The people who lead or participate in some ministry of your church may have objectives for their own ministries that you would wholeheartedly support, but their needs will not get put into the church budget if you do not ask for their input. Remember, a budget indicates the priorities assigned to all of the church's ministries, not just the pastor's ministry—and you have to know about all of the potential ministries before you can set priorities.

Summary

Your church budget is your plan for how you are going to spend the money you receive during the coming year. It requires research, prayer, and decision making.

If you are going to achieve the most you can with what you have, you will have to consider all of the possible ministries for the coming year and decide which ones you can do and which ones you cannot do.

Not only will you have to decide which ministries you will include in your church program, but you must also decide about the level of activity for each. Some programs cost little in money but require a great deal of volunteer effort. Others require little in manpower but have high, recurring financial demands. Can you afford both at the level desired for each? Or must you fully fund one ministry and partially fund the other? These are the questions that you must answer when making budget decisions.

Decision making is hard work for most people. Some pastors and laymen who are responsible for managing church money are natural procrastinators and have a hard time making up their minds; they just do whatever seems to be the easiest thing at the time. Making decisions after thorough research and fervent prayer is much more likely to result in good decisions that will use the Lord's money to the greatest advantage.