The holiday season is budget-preparation season, even for most churches. It can be tempting for pastors and other elders to let their eyes glaze over as they gaze at spreadsheets and merely say, “That’s the work of the deacons.” But Jesus calls elders to exercise oversight, not under compulsion but willingly. Overseers, by definition, are responsible to see that the church uses the resources it has been given to fulfill Jesus’ purposes.
Elders should take the task of overseeing budget preparation seriously and joyfully. Leading in the allocation of resources prioritizes the work of the church so that everyone’s eyes remain fixed on the risen Christ as the budget is approved. The saying is true for churches as well as for individuals: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). The money is the ministry in the sense that the budget shows the ministry vision of a congregation for the coming year as it seeks to fulfill the Great Commission. The Lord did not leave that overarching fiscal task to deacons. The deacons fulfill the critical role of administering the details of church finances as they handle the accounting and distribution of resources.
It has been said that those who could not run a business to save their soul should not be in the business of saving souls. Obviously, that is hyperbolic in several ways, but the Lord says that an elder must be able to manage his own household because he must also care for the church of God; he is charged to care for people and the mission of the church (1 Timothy 3:5). Vision must be cast and resources must be used to maximize the ministries of prayer and the word so that the household of God grows healthy and strong. Those who labor diligently and faithfully in prayer and the word will have a sense of where Christ is leading his church and thus where the needs are greatest.
Such leadership is evident in the Old Testament. For instance, Moses led the tabernacle construction project (Exodus 35:4-36:7). David and Solomon did the same with the temple (1 Chronicles 22-26). Priests had responsibilities to collect and distribute resources for the house of God (1 Chronicles 23-26, Nehemiah 13) and, obviously, for the poor as well (Deuteronomy 14).
Consider the New Testament leaders: The twelve apostles chosen by Jesus became skilled administrators. As the church grew, people sold properties and brought the money to the apostles’ feet, from whence it was distributed to those in need (Acts 4:34-35). The twelve were competent to not only preach the gospel but also to effectively handle these other tasks as the church grew well beyond 5,000 members (Acts 4:4, 5:14, 5:42). The apostles clearly understood the responsibility to facilitate material and organizational needs as a part of the flourishing of the good news.
When the detailed work of meeting material needs broke down as recorded in Acts 6, the elders understood that they were responsible to lead the church in setting priorities. They had to remain focused on prayer and the ministry of the word. Deacons were chosen and ordained in order to effectively distribute food to poor widows. The apostles did not abdicate the responsibility of leading the church in finances. They obtained help in administrating or executing the agreed-upon tasks.
Through the rest of Acts and in the epistles, we see the elders leading the church to follow Christ in the allocation of resources, whether in missions (Acts 13:1-3), care for those who proclaim the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:8-14), or care for the needy (Romans 15:25-29, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8-9).
Paul and the other apostles recognized that finances were only a means and not an end. Elders shouldn’t make a bigger deal of the budget than it is; it simply serves the mission. But builders and kings consider their capital before building and battling (Luke 14:28-32). The Lord will require an accounting for the minas he has entrusted to us as we engage in his business (Luke 19:11-27). The budget ought to be one tool through which elders communicate vision in the congregation for the coming year.
So elders, rise to the task! May your hearts be set aflame with vision for the glory of God as you oversee the church with the help of the deacons. Prayerfully consider how the Lord would lead the congregation to consider the unique opportunities and callings of 2019 as you seek the fame of Jesus’ name in your community and beyond.