Dunlop, Jamie. Budgeting for a Healthy Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. 169 pp.
Finances are a barometer of one’s heart. This is why Jesus talked about them so much. Our wallet helps reveal what we worship. For Christians, the question is, “What does our use of money reveal?” That we worship Christ by using money, profaning it by giving it away for the Kingdom of God? Or, that we worship money and profane Christ by using him and his gift of money for our personal kingdoms?
The same question applies also to gathered local churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. How we collectively give and spend money in our churches speaks loudly about what we really believe concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Budgeting for a Healthy Church, Jamie Dunlop writes to help churches budget resources in ways that reflect biblical priorities of the gospel that God has revealed and that we have believed (15).
The goal of Budgeting for a Healthy Church is to get churches to ask a simple question: “Is your budget helping or hurting the health of your church” (15)? Dunlop aims to help churches see the budget as a spiritual document and not “just” a financial document (17). In the first portion of the book, Dunlop demonstrates “how a church’s budget reveals its true philosophy of ministry” (17). From there, the book looks at “how to evaluate a budget against the standard of Scripture” (17). Finally, Dunlop teaches the reader “how to use the budget as a potent tool for pastoral ministry” (17). When the principles taught in the book are applied, the desire is that churches would be able to say that their budgets help the health of the congregation.
Rooted in Matthew 25-28, Dunlop rightly drives home the point that God’s goal for your church’s money is faithfulness to the Great Commission, which demands risky obedience (26-27). The way Christians and churches use money faithfully to God is by using it in a way that makes much of God. It means we worship God and use money by generously giving it away to demonstrate that our triune God is greater than money. It means that we are to spend money on what God values in the gospel, even when the culture considers it crazy and misguided, because doing so glorifies God before the world. Dunlop is correct when he says, “Very often, we act as if the goal of a church budget lies in what it can accomplish” (27). The reality is that “your actions are valuable for much more than what they accomplish; they’re valuable because of what they proclaim about God. His glory is paramount” (27). With much or with little, faithfulness to God and to his purposes in the world in Christ is key.
A second helpful aspect of the book is Dunlop’s emphasis on budgeting as pastoral ministry. He writes, “If church budgeting were simply a matter of stewarding physical resources, a committee of administratively-minded church members would be the ideal leadership team” (37). But, “church budgeting is about faithfulness to God…As a result, a church is a spiritual institution with spiritual investment goals, and it should have Spirit-minded leadership” (37). Because pastors are the leaders “who have been chosen because they possess spiritual discernment (having met the qualifications of Titus 1:9)” and who “have been tasked specifically with caring for the spiritual well-being of the congregation (Heb. 13:17)”, pastors should lead the church budgeting process. This does not mean that administratively-minded church members cannot serve with respect to finances. It means that pastors must lead and oversee the budgeting process, often working together with administratively-gifted church members, rather than abdicating all responsibility to the “numbers” people.
Dunlop offers all kinds of wisdom nuggets related to budgeting for income, staff, programmed ministry, missions, and operations in chapters 3-7. In chapters 3 and 8, much is helpfully written about the role of the budget as a pastoral tool to be used in communicating spiritual values. “As you present the budget each year, teach about the priority of faithfulness” and how the “church’s budget simply represents a plan to be faithful should God provide as you expect” (139). “When addressing shortfalls, teach about trusting God-ordained restraints” (139). “When encouraging people to contribute toward the budget, teach why they should give”: for the glory of God and for the member’s good (Php. 4:17) (139). Talk about how to give in terms of giving regularly and giving to one’s local church where gospel instruction is received (1 Cor. 16:2; Gal. 6:6). Talk about how much to give, which necessitates generosity knowing that everything we have is from God and is to be used for his purposes (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Cor. 4:7, 10:31; 1 Pet. 4:10). Because our use of money is spiritual, pastors and teachers would do well to use giving and budgeting opportunities to communicate about eternal values associated with money usage not primarily to balance the budget, but to shape the souls in the congregation into greater Christlikeness.
Budgeting for a Healthy Church is not about the “how tos” of budgeting. The book is about the “whats” of budgeting: “what the budget says about your heart, priorities, and values” (17). This book will help churches understand the theological significance of budgeting and the Godward aims of budgeting with practical insights into how a church should think about all kinds of aspects within the budget in a faithful, gospel-centered framework. I highly commend this book to all pastors, aspiring pastors, finance leaders in the church, and all who want to think more biblically about money in the Kingdom of God.
*Note: A review copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review.