How to Preserve Your Pastor (Part 5): Failure to Understand Basic Business and Finance Issues

This is Part 5 of a seven part series interacting with Dr. Thom Rainer’s research reported in his article The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors. Today’s focus is on the problems of the church being in the world—specifically, that a pastor is to be wise about worldly matters (business and finance, etc.) but cannot be consumed by such. His call is to be the spiritual leader and model, an example of holiness in the midst of a culture obsessed with the concerns of the material and visible. But, as Scripture warns, pastors are sent out “like sheep among wolves,” therefore, they must be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Since a pastor must be one who maintains credibility with his fellow church leaders and all church members, he should be generally aware of how basic business interests will affect the running of the church. He should also be able to ask the best questions about the budget and financial dealings of the church because this reflects the stewardship commitment needed to manage the affairs of the church in a God-glorifying manner. The Bible speaks about money repeatedly and if the church and its leaders aren’t appropriately and consistently dealing with the resources of God’s people entrusted to the church in a way that the Scriptures direct an individual member to handle their own finances, the message of wise biblical stewardship is compromised. Many members of the church live day to day earning a living as experts in business and finance so if they are not careful, such people will use that worldly expertise to dominate the church’s agenda. The pastor and other church leaders must help such people recognize that the church is not a business but a holy endeavor focused on a heavenly agenda (not on a worldly one) even though the church exists in the culture of the world.

The senior pastor I first served when called as an elder and then as a pastoral staff member was very wise in business and finance. Before attending seminary and entering the ministry he had been a CPA and very successful partner of a large accounting firm. He held a graduate degree in finance from a prestigious Ivy League school. But he wisely knew how to practice restraint as our pastor, our spiritual leader. He knew his role was not to be the one who knew more than anyone else about such matters and he would defer to lay elders and other staff members encouraging them to exercise their gifts of leadership in these areas. He knew more about budgets and business than almost anyone … yet he invited others to handle these matters. In many churches, the concerns of members over how their tithes and offerings are being used trumps concerns for spiritual growth so it behooves the pastor to not become embroiled in such matters so he can focus on the eternal.

At the same time, pastors need to be conversant in and relatively educated about financial and business matters. Without even a basic understanding of such administrative matters, pastors will find themselves agreeing with the regret one pastor made in Dr. Ranier’s article:

“I really felt stupid in so many of the discussions about budget or other church business issues.”

No pastor should feel stupid in the pastorate, but this may happen if members and lay leaders expect him to be an expert in every area of life. Wise pastors admit where they lack knowledge or experience and they are quick to draw on the gifts of others to fulfill the needs of the church. And wise congregations and lay-leaders appreciate the gifts of their pastors while intentionally working to undergird him in areas that are not as strong. Only pride prevents the humble willingness to accept help. We must all remember the principle set forth in Ephesians 4:11-13:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (emphasis added).

We all have different roles to play in the church. If you are a person gifted in business and financial matters, then please serve your church and pastor by being willing to assist in this area of the life of the church. Help your pastor understand such matters so he can be wise but not consumed by such things. Pastors? Be shrewd, but don’t put expectations on yourself that are inconsistent with biblical revelation. When you accepted your pastorate, you listened to God’s call to shepherd you sheep. Do not try to be the accountant, financial advisor, or business expert too.

And every church member? Please: do not allow criticism of your pastor to undermine his spiritual role among you—especially criticism because he doesn’t have vast business or financial expertise. Don’t criticize him—help him. When we all use our gifts in our appropriate roles, we will build up the body of Christ on earth. His church will become more complete and whole and we will reach unity and become mature in Christ, our Head.

In the Lamb,
Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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