“He placed it beside the altar…” (2 Kings 12:9)
Jehoiada, the High Priest, placed the chest by the altar. I have no way of knowing of course, but I get a sense that this was intentional. As I read through the passage two thoughts came to mind. Perhaps Jehoiada placed the collection chest close to an altar to remind the people that giving money is a spiritual act. Also, maybe Jehoiada placed the collection point so close to a point of worship to remind the people that the work to be done was spiritual. If the spiritual aspect of all of this activity was forgotten or lost, serious repercussions might follow. For instance, the work would once again not be accomplished, and the people would remain without a place of worship. It was imperative that the spiritual not be lost in the financial.
It has been my observation that it is very tempting for churches and their pastors to lose a grip on the spiritual as they grapple with the fiscal concerns of their congregations. There are a myriad of pitfalls and trap doors pastors can fall into or through. One trap is by going overboard on one of our earlier principles; paying attention to the details. When paying attention to the details, a pastor also needs to recognize that it is possible to get bogged down in them as well. He should be careful to make sure that he does not major on minor things. The pastor who does this will swiftly lose perspective and not be able to see the forest for the trees.
You may think it strange that this next pitfall is coming from an accountant. Nonetheless, spiritual matters come first, and churches sometimes put too much faith in their financial statements and not enough faith in God. The numbers may say no, but God may be saying “Go!” If that is the case, then the recommendation of this CPA is you had better go. I am not encouraging anyone to do foolish things, and some people have been pushed into risky ventures by being chided for their lack of faith. But the pastor must let God do the directing, not the accountants.
The most damaging trap though is one of attitude. Often a pastor and his leadership team fall in love with their financial methods. They rely too heavily on the management and leadership gurus currently in vogue and try much too hard to emulate corporate America. In some planning meetings I have been involved with, it has been difficult for me to determine if the discussion was about planting a new church or opening a new McDonalds! There was much talk about location, visibility and branding, but not so much about where God was leading.
Key: The lesson here is that as a minister and his church enter into financial planning they need to incorporate spiritual matters as they go. And I mean much more than simply opening up finance committee meetings with prayer. Every step of the way should be bathed in prayer and every financial decision should be quantified not solely in dollars but also in life impact. The church should not simply look at budget numbers as mathematical functions. It should never be forgotten that there are people represented behind each number on the financial statements. These numbers should not be analyzed as simply a percentage of revenue but as to how much impact on the lives of people they represent.
Key: Another suggestion is to view the budget from a spiritual perspective. In the business world a budget is simply a financial tool, something to measure how successful the company is or is not. But, a church budget, when developed from a spiritual perspective, is much more than a financial tool. It has much more meaning than being a report to compare this year with last year, or expected versus actual. A church’s budget is the church’s mission statement for the year, expressed in dollars. Keeping this in mind should result in a spiritual tone being the dominant theme of the church’s business meetings.
Finally, if giving is an act of worship, then by extension, the counting, recording and reporting must be too. The spiritual purpose of these acts must be kept in mind. As opposed to the business world, the purpose of reporting the financial results is not to measure success as the culture does, which is usually net income. The reporting of a church should be reflective of the church’s impact on the culture. If the reports are designed and used correctly, the church can measure its effectiveness by reporting who is being helped. More importantly, the church can also learn who is being missed so that appropriate changes can be made. This is a reminder that church financial decisions should not be about saving money. They should be concerned with saving lives.
Verne Hargrave is the Church and Ministry partner at PSK LLP and author of the book, Weeds in the Garden.