What if my Church is Misusing Funds?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

I suspect my church may be making poor financial choices, how open should I expect them to be about how they spread out and spend the entire budget? 

Dear Robert,

When it comes to money, everyone has an opinion on how to spend it—especially if it is the Lord’s money! When it comes to how the church spends the Lord’s tithes and offerings we ought to be concerned. After all, we are talking about eternal things.


Before I share some Biblical thoughts regarding how a church might spend money, let me give a direct, and short, answer to your question: Every aspect of the church budget should be available for anyone in the church family to observe and study. Nothing should be hidden from view—except the salaries of the pastor and the church staff.


Some churches plan carefully, seek God’s will, open up to suggestions from the church family and invest wisely in the Kingdom. Other churches waste a lot of money on things not of eternal value. Church size has little to do with investing wisely in the Kingdom. I have observed that both large and small churches can spend wisely. On the other hand, churches of any size can quickly burn a hole in their financial pockets which allows much of the money God has entrusted to them to slip through their fingers.


The Lord Jesus has endorsed a number of places where spending money is totally legit and even commanded


Global Outreach giving to fund world-wide-missionary work is encouraged. The last words Jesus gave to his disciples are known as the Great Commission. Final words are deeply significant. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”


I think that the best way for a church to fund missionary activity is to take 10% right off the top of the offerings. This guarantees that a local church supports the Great Commission financially (Note that there is a difference between giving to world-wide Kingdom work and giving to support denominational activities.).


Looking back over thirty-five years of pastoring the same church, one of my regrets is the day we voted to fund missions activity by an annual fund drive instead of by continuing to take the first 10% of the offerings right off the top. Our annual fund drive never once reached what would have been 10% of our budget. We came close; but not close enough. I wish we had done better here. A tithe of 10% plus the annual drive would have been best for the Kingdom. We would have done just fine with 10% less income for the budget.


On the other hand, one thing I rejoice in was our decision to take 10% of the Building Fund money we raised and invest it in Global Outreach. We did nine, three-year fundraisers, in a row and sent several millions over seas. It just seemed right that when we build something for us we would do well to build something needed on the missionary field as well.


Giving to the poor is a top priority. Paul set forth this principle as the early church was laying out its theology and practices. He wrote in Galatians 2:9-10: “They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Solomon extolled the blessing of generosity in Proverb 19:17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.” Think about it, is it not an intriguing thought to have the Lord in our debt!


A certain percentage of the church budget and four annual offerings for the poor have helped to instill a generous attitude in the hearts of our church people—and brought financial help to many financially-strapped individuals.


By the way, we cannot take care of every financial need that comes to the attention of the church. Jesus said in Mark 14:7: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” One of the best ways I know to apportion money wisely is to delegate the responsibly to a carefully selected benevolence committee. Hopefully, some will have expertise in this area (or are willing to get some). For example, in order to receive funds, our committee looks much more favorably upon those people who work with us in developing a budget in order to get their spending under control, than we do on people who just want an immediate handout. Of course, many do need an immediate financial hand out; the benevolence committee assesses the needs and gives accordingly.


By the way, the pastor should never be on the benevolence committee—he or she tends to be too soft hearted.


Pastors and church staff have a God-given right to be cared for physically and financially. Paul made this concept a top church value in 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’”.


I grieve over the common church attitude that declares it good for the pastor to be poor in order to keep him humble and dependant on the Lord. This is an anti-Biblical attitude which has denied many pastors’ families the financial support they so richly deserve. Unfortunately, pastors’ children live in forced asceticism. No wonder so many grow up to hate the church!


By the way, I believe that whichever group is responsible for setting church salaries has the responsibility for keeping all salaries confidential. In the secular-work place people can be sued or fired for discussing each others’ salaries. Church members are not required to post their salaries for all to see. Pastors and church staff have the same right. After all, some will always think that the pastor makes too much, and then, there are those blessed souls who think that the pastor and staff are not paid nearly enough. In my experience, most people evaluate another’s salary in comparison to their own. This is a miserable way to set salaries.


The local church is the God-designed financial engine to fund the work of the Kingdom. The church budget must include sufficient funds to support the administrative and operational costs of Home Base. The church in Philippi was able to fund Kingdom work because it had a strong Home Base. In Philippians 4:15-16 Paul reminded them of their ministry and gifts to him: “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”


Our church badly needs new carpet in the office and administrative areas. Some say that we would do better to send the money over seas in Global Outreach. However, stained and worn out after ten years of faithful service, I say it is just time to buy some new carpet.


It may be that the most important committee in the church is the one that determines the annual budget. Just as our personal checkbooks reveal the priorities of our lives, the church budget reflects the values and priorities of the church. When the church budget follows well-planned, God-given-financial principles along with well-conceived-church priorities, you know that the church is spending well.


The pastor’s job is to lead in setting the strategic and tactical plans for the church. While we will seldom if ever be in full agreement regarding the expenditure of funds, it is possible for a church to do a great job in handling God’s money—and one day receive Jesus’ blessing and reward.


By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flame (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).


Robert, thanks for asking such a needed and timely question. I hope that my answer gives you some food for profitable thought.


Love, Roger

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