Reconciling a budget with trust in the Lord
It seems to me that the Bible has two distinct viewpoints about money. On the one hand we are told in Luke 14:28: Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? On the other hand Jesus says in Matthew 6:34: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Churches and para-church organisations also seem to have two distinct ways in thinking about finances. Some will work on a strict budget where every project is planned for and budgeted for and never turning from the budget, neither to the left nor to the right. Others say that God will provide, praying for each need and trusting that the Lord will provide in time everything that is necessary to complete the project.
Both possibilities have their advantages and their disadvantages. I myself, being someone who is strongly focussed on detail (a 100% “C” on the DISC scale), naturally feel much more comfortable working within the strict boundaries of a budget. There’s a lot of safety in a budget. But there’s a definite downside to this way of working. When planning everything strictly according to a budget, I believe that we restrict ourselves not to be able to hear when God wants to do something new. A friend of mine came to visit me some time ago and I could just feel his frustration after their church council had approved such a strict budget. He was frustrated, because he felt that God wanted to take their church on a new road but due to a lack of trust in God’s provision, all funds not considered absolutely essential for the normal continuation of activities, were cut. I think we not only restrict ourselves but we also restrict God when we work in this way.
I have however also seen terrible things happening when missionaries (they seem to be notorious for doing this type of thing) claim that God had told them to start a new project, sometimes costing millions and eventually other people or churches have to save the project because the finances never came in. This is also wrong. But then, I have also seen and experienced myself how God does provide for unplanned things. The feeling of exhilaration when one had committed something to the Lord and then to see how He provides in every need, will seldom if ever be experienced by those only willing to work within a strict budget. The downside I’ve seen (mercifully not experienced) when always working “in faith” are peptic ulcers, stress and other psychosomatic illnesses (which I also believe is not to the glory of God.)
So what’s the solution? I think churches and para-church organisations have to implement both these methods. Draw up a budget and deviate from this only in extreme circumstances. This teaches us to be responsible in working with Kingdom finances and to plan in advance. Obviously part (a large part) of the budget should be used outside the boundaries of the congregation. This would be our mission budget. But then I believe that at least one project should be identified which is not on the budget and this is the project which the church council and the church members will have to pray for in order to get the finances to do what needs to be done.
As leaders in the church we expect our members to trust the Lord to care for them as they tithe. But then the church council needs to set the example, trusting the Lord for the finances in order to do something which falls outside the normal budget.