After calculating revenue and costs for camp, we came to the conclusion that we would be making $5,000 on the event. Befuddled, I spent an hour double checking my numbers, but I kept coming to the same conclusion. I couldn’t believe it. Our executive pastor was going to be so proud! However, when he looked at my numbers he informed me that yes, I would be making $5,000 from camp— if I were the only one going. In fact, since I was taking 60 people to camp, I would just be breaking even. Needless to say, I was a bit embarrassed, especially because I have a business degree. For many of us in ministry, numbers just aren’t our forte. Even so, it’s important that as ministers of the gospel, we seek to manage our budgets in a way that honors God.
What is a budget?
Maybe you’ve been under the impression that to be a youth pastor, you just have to come up with a good lesson, plan some fun games, order some pizza, and be able to pull off an all-nighter without anybody getting hurt. If only life were that easy. There are a laundry list of skills that fall into the “they didn’t teach me this in seminary” category that we as pastors must use every day. In regard to stewarding church resources, we must create and manage budgets, calculate costs and expenses, and decide where to spend money. Even those of us not skilled in accounting must be able to steward budgets wisely.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24 help us as we consider the practical skills of money management. He tells his disciples, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” There is an element of danger surrounding money. Jesus explains that it can quickly compete for control of our lives and we can easily put money in God’s place in our hearts. Stewarding money and budgeting therefore involves putting money in its rightful place. Money is a great gift from God, but the gift cannot take the place of the Giver. If it does, we are in big trouble.
Tips for managing budgets
As we seek to become adept at managing budgets, here are some tools to improve our skills.
1. Prioritize spending
Our church runs its budget year from January 1 to December 31. We have a budget meeting every fall with our executive pastor. Before this meeting happens, I like to have the calendar pretty much set for the following year so that we know where we will need to spend money. It is a great idea to be prepared and work ahead so that you can move money around and know where you need it the most. Some years we will pour more money into discipleship if we are not doing a large camp. Other years we are spending more money on a mission trip, and this determines how we spend money in other areas. No matter how small or how large your youth ministry budget may be, we all have finite resources. So it is important to prioritize spending to maximize the work of the ministry. This means you’ll want to think carefully about your goals for each year, prioritizing opportunities for students to hear the gospel and to build community. For example, resourcing your leader team and getting away with students on a trip or retreat where they can spend time in the Word and with each other should take priority over that new gaming system you’ve been eyeing. While there’s nothing wrong with providing opportunities for fun together, be sure your budget reflects your heart for students to grow in Jesus.
2. Keep track of your own expenses
We have all probably been in the same boat when it comes to the balances in our accounts. What we thought we had in the account wasn’t reality and it caused us to go over budget unintentionally. If your church has been blessed with a financial secretary or someone who is in charge of keeping track of finances, this is a valuable asset, but it should not take the place of your own accounting. It is a great idea to not only let your financial secretary keep track of expenses, but you should keep track of them as well. That way, you know how much you have in your accounts before you go to purchase that super awesome GaGa Ball pit. Tracking what you’re spending in real time will help you to be a faithful steward.
3. Create a system for recording receipts
Early on in ministry, I had difficulty remembering if I had recorded an expenditure or not. I realized that I needed to create a system to help me keep track of expenses. I have a Google Sheets file that has three columns, the account, the beginning balance, and the ending balance. Whenever I spend something, I take the receipt and subtract it from the ending balance column so that I can compare it to the beginning balance column and know how much I have left in that account. After I record it, I write the account number on the receipt and highlight the total so that I know it has been recorded. I then file it away until expense reports come out. This is simply the system that works best for me but it alleviates much confusion. Develop a system that will help you remember and keep track of your own receipts so that you’re not left scrambling when it’s time to submit your report. Doing so will make you a blessing, not a hinderance, to the ministry.
4. Practice integrity
One of the areas in which pastors have all too often failed morally is in church finances. There are countless stories of pastors who sinned when it came to money. I know of a church in which one of the pastors was spending church money to take friends out for dinner or buying them gifts. We can look at this example and say that we would never do that, but it is a very slippery slope to fall into. What about that one-on-one meal that you bought—was it truly for ministry? Did you spend your activities budget on gear of some kind that currently sits at your home, even though it was for the teenagers? If an expense seems questionable, it probably is, so ask. Be sure to keep track of receipts so that you can prove every expense was legitimate. Be extremely transparent when it comes to money. Not doing so can cost you dearly.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to budgeting, especially if it isn’t your strong suit. In our fallenness, we will sometimes make mistakes, and we will need to repent of fiscal sin. Remember that because of Jesus we are redeemed and forgiven. Someday, we will stand before the throne of our Lord and give an account of how well we managed our ministry budgets. We pray that by the grace of God to us in Christ, we will hear, “well done, thou good and faithful servant.”