Please, No More “Faith” Budgets
The grumpy angel you want to avoid.
I used to sit on the board for a homeless family shelter. As part of our fiduciary (isn’t that the funnest word ever?) responsibilities, we were in charge of making sure there was an annual budget. Like clockwork, the finance committee would come to the board with a proposed budget. Inevitably, our expenses would exceed our income. Sometimes by a lot.
When asked how we’d make up the difference, the answer was always vague: “Don’t worry, it’ll work out.” “We can usually count on someone coming through with a big donation.” “It’s OK, just have faith.” And so we’d plow on through and approve an unbalanced budget. Guess which homeless shelter no longer exists because it couldn’t pay its bills.
My guess is that some of you may recognize this in your own congregation’s budgeting process. In fact, I have sat through many a church finance committee meeting dealing with this very thing. I have even argued for an unbalanced budget and spouted off the platitude (with a hint of holier-than-thou), “Just have some faith, everything will be fine.”
Now here’s the thing. Every now and again, it does turn out fine. At Christmastime an angel would walk into the homeless shelter and wow us with a check for $1,000. The Christmas miracle! But it only reinforced the notion that “faith” budgets were a good way to go because at least this one year, it all worked out. The problem was all the years that came and went when the angel forgot to stop by and we got further and further into debt.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Developing a balanced budget when you’ve been regularly operating at a deficit (and budgeting for it) is no piece of cake. Our church didn't have the guts to make the change until we got a tough Finance Chair who said, “If we are part of this denomination, we are paying our fair share in full to the denomination and we are going to have a balanced budget too.” There was much gnashing of teeth. Tears were shed, positions were lost, and people left the church. It was awful.
Unlike the homeless shelter, ours has a happy ending. Yes, things went south for a while but eventually, slowly but surely, we started making progress again. We learned that we could live within our means and thrive in ministry.
Maybe the best part of all was that we stopped putting Jesus in a bind. We no longer had to wonder if Jesus liked us or not – nor did we have to question the strength of our faith – because the angels failed to swoop in and miraculously make the deficit go away.
As you start your budgeting process, I will be praying that you’ll have the faith to budget wisely and prayerfully, knowing that the “great cloud of witnesses” – those real angels – are with you and cheering you on every step of the way to do the right thing.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She is still waiting for the check from her Christmas angel…always hoping that this is the year it will show up. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.