Top 10 Ways to Help the Finance Office (part 3 of 3)

A colleague asked me how staff and lay members can help the church’s Finance Office. Here is my top ten list; yours may be different – let me know what I left out.

8. Forms are not evil

  • Most forms from the Finance Office are required by a Federal or State agency (IRS, Dept. of Labor, etc.) or by good accounting principles adopted by the Finance Committee.
  • If you don’t know how to read a form, the Finance Office staff can help you since we deal with these forms every day and you probably don’t see them very often. Please ask for help.
  • Turn in your paid time off (sick, vacation, etc.) forms regularly. Do NOT wait till the end of the year or quarter to do that.

9. Learn to read financial statements and read them regularly

  • You need to know what is being spent from your budget.
  • Some expenses are charged to your budget without your prior knowledge such as expenses for the copiers and postage meter – that’s another good reason to read financial statements.
  • Knowing the financial status of your ministry area will help you lead your lay member teams better, too.

10. Consider all payments you make to be open for others to see

  • When you spend church money, always ask yourself “Can I explain this expense to the average church member?”
  • All expenses should be for things that advance the cause and mission of the church. Anything less is poor stewardship.

A concluding note: The Finance Office does make mistakes, but we try to keep these to a minimum. Please help us by reviewing your pay stubs to ensure you’re getting paid correctly, reading your financial statements, and meticulously doing anything and everything related to finances.


Lead On!


Top 10 Ways to Help the Finance Office (part 2 of 3)

A colleague asked me how staff and lay members can help the church’s Finance Office. Here is my top ten list; yours may be different – let me know what I left out.

4. Paying speakers more than $600 in a year requires paperwork

  • If a person is paid $600 or more, the church must get his/her social security number and address so we can send him/her a 1099.
  • Because one person may be used by different departments in a year, anyone who is paid $300 or more in one check must complete a W-9 (which captures a person’s Social Security Number).
  • This is an IRS requirement. Don’t blame the Finance Office for this.

5. Account properly for any money you receive

  • NEVER keep money at your desk/office overnight. Please place it with the Finance Office for safekeeping and get it back the next day.
  • Use the deposit envelopes and fill them out completely.
  • Really, really, really look for ways to accept payments online (for registering for an event or payment for an activity or donations). Online payments are safer and you have a record of who paid what.

6. Fundraising is okay but there are steps

  • All fundraising must be pre-approved by the Finance Committee. NO exceptions.
  • This is to ensure coordination of fundraising, eliminate any timing conflicts, and avoid fundraising for activities not in keeping with our faith principles

7. Budget is a strategic exercise – and that is a good thing

  • ALWAYS be thinking about your budget for the next year in the current year. Ask questions such as what lines have too much or too little money; what lines can be consolidated or even eliminated.
  • Plan next year’s budget NOW (that means anytime during the year). Work with your lay leaders now asking them about their dreams and how they can be implemented.

Lead On!



Top 10 Ways to Help the Finance Office (part 1 of 3)

A colleague asked me how staff and lay members can help the church’s Finance Office. Here is my top ten list; yours may be different, so please let me know what I left out.      

1. Pay all bills on time

  • The church doesn’t want to be seen as a deadbeat, so get your bills/invoices to the Finance Office in a timely way so they can be paid on time.
  • The church has a Christian witness every time it pays its bills
  • If a payment is late, vendors will not want to work with the church and even tell others how poorly the church pays its bills
  • If a payment is on time or even earlier than expected, it generates good will and that is a good thing.
  1. ALWAYS attach receipts to EVERY bill to be paid. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  2. The Finance Office needs TWO weeks to process payments. This allows for sick or vacation time off in the Finance Office and for other crises that arise.
  3. The Finance Office can make emergency payments the same day, but that should be for benevolent or charity needs: medicine, housing, food, and gas for traveling to work.
  4. Fill out the payment request forms for all expenses. Make sure the following are on it:
  • Payee
  • Instructions for delivery (such as “give check to …” otherwise it will be mailed)
  • Budget account number
  • A BRIEF explanation of the expense
  • Dollar amount
  • Signature of authorizing minister

2. Using a credit card is convenient, but it has requirements

  • Every credit card expenses MUST have a receipt which is given to the Finance Office. NO exceptions.
  • Every credit card charge is posted into the financial database so that you can look back at your expenses to see what you spent money on.
  • For EVERY credit card expense, write in the budget line to which that expense should be charged.
  • Turn in all receipts as soon as you get the credit card statement.

3. Paying staff for work is a payroll expense

  • Unless you’re reimbursing staff for a work expense, all payments to staff must go through payroll. This even includes gift cards given to staff.
  • This is an IRS requirement. Don’t blame the Finance Office for this.


Lead On!



A Most Generous Search Committee Member

Several years ago a church found a dynamic youth minister they wanted to hire. However, that minister had school and housing debt which had financially strapped him. He wanted to move to his new location with his family, but he couldn’t afford a deposit on a house and he didn’t want to move to an apartment.

Then a member of the search committee stepped in. He’s not wealthy but he did have the financial leverage to help: he bought the house the youth minister and his wife were looking at and then let the minister live there on a rent-to-own agreement. Only a handful of people even knew about the arrangement, which allowed the new minister to have his privacy and dignity.

There are several lessons in this:

  • If you are a minister, please get out of debt as soon as possible. You should have, at most, housing and car debt. Pay off your school loans, credit card debt, and other debt/loans as quickly as possible. Actually, this is true for everyone, not just ministers.
  • Churches should help young seminarians with as many scholarships as possible. They’ve committed to serve the church, and everyone knows that ministry positions don’t typically have high pay scales. Churches can establish scholarship funds and endowment funds to help people, especially 20-somethings, go to seminary with fewer financial worries.
  • Establish financial practices in your own life which will allow you to take advantage of opportunities to help others and yourself when those times arise. If this committee member had poor financial habits, he couldn’t have helped the youth minister; but because he managed his money well for years, he could step in. Do the same in your own financial house so that you can be generous when the opportunity arises (when God puts those times right in front of you!).

Lead On!


Publicly Available Financial Statements

Right outside the door to my Finance Office is a multi-tier tray in which I put several documents. This is part of my goal of complete financial transparency. Members (and non-members) can get any of these documents without having to ask for them and without being stopped or being asked why they want the information. Here is what I put in my financial information trays:

  • Latest Month’s Financial Statements

o   I always put out the most recent financial statements. While the church business meeting may only get a financial summary (in order to save paper), the document in this tray by the Finance Office is the same document which the Finance Committee gets. I put it out no later than the 15th of each subsequent month so that people can read current data.

  • Last Year’s Audit or completed financial statements

o   I’ve always had an annual audit, but some churches can’t afford an annual audit. If you have an annual audit, please put out copies of the complete audit so that people can read what an independent CPA wrote about the church’s finances. If you don’t have an annual audit, then put out the prior years’ complete financial statement (the document which has the information for all 12 months). People can look back at the prior year and compare it to the current year if they choose.

  • Other info: I also want to look forward, not just backward at financial information. To that end, I put out information which will help members be better Christians and give them ideas for being generous with their church.

o   Stewardship books: I make available two books which are free for the taking. The books are Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley and The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. These books are inexpensive, but they are powerful. I keep the rack stocked with these books and encourage people to take as many as they want.

o   Capital needs list: Every church has long-term, financially expensive needs. However, most churches do not have a way to let members know what needs to be done. I strongly encourage churches to post a list of their capital needs – ranging from relatively inexpensive items (chairs for the children’s area) to major items (new roof or A/C units). Keep your membership informed because at some point, the church will have to pay for these expenses and perhaps someone will see this list and take care of it before the church has to pay for it.

o   Other Items: You can use this to publish information about a current capital campaign, a long-term mission project, or other things that the church needs to be aware of.

Use this multi-tier tray to keep your members informed. It’s money they gave to their church, and providing transparency engenders your donors’ trust.

Lead On!



The Most Important Job in the World

Working for God is it. Whether you’re paid or not paid, working for God is a job like no other. And like other jobs, it has its own standards by which the workers are measured: what are your motives (it should be based on love) and what quality of work will you do (the answer is excellence). All too often we let paid workers off the hook and don’t expect high quality work from them, and that is wrong.

The Old and New Testaments have strong words for prophets and priests who are self-serving and who ultimately take their followers down the wrong path. There is a high standard for paid church workers and to fall short is to undermine God. God demands excellence – not perfection.

I’ve seen too many churches who hire people because they need work and they can’t get work anywhere else. The church is compassionate and wants to help. And that is good. But a church should never hire a ministry (to quote Andy Stanley). Always make the distinction between someone who needs help (financial, food, transportation, etc.) versus the needs of the church to get work done.

Church leaders (paid and lay) must always expect the best from every staff person. If someone can’t get a job anywhere, there must be a reason no one else is hiring them. The church can pay for training for him (but not on the job training), give him food and clothes or pay for rent. But do not give the person a church job. That will ultimately hurt the church and the current good employees who will think they can lower their own standards.

Churches as employers must expect great work. To be satisfied with anything less creates an unhealthy work environment and perhaps even a poor worship place. Church staff must do great work for a great God. Church employees must have a standard so high because of their ultimate boss that even corporate America is jealous. Church workers must do such amazing work that there is no question they are pursuing excellence. To do anything less is to short-sell God.


Lead On!



Checklist Faith

My wife and I taught middle school kids in Sunday School for three years. Nearly 20 years later we’re still good friends with the four core kids. For those three years we were the additional adult voice that said the same things their parents were saying, but sometimes the kids ignored their parents (imagine that!). At that time I said that I hoped when my kids grew up there was an adult who could speak truth to my kids when they chose to ignore me. It is still a constant plea from me to God.

What I wanted to do for those three years and what I want my own kids to experience is that during middle school they need to begin developing their own faith. Parents begin faith development in children as infants and it continues for about ten years. But somewhere in the tween years (11, 12, and 13) kids begin to see that as a child’s faith. Their options are to remain with a child’s faith, develop a faith of their own, or ditch faith altogether.

A checklist faith is merely a faith in which the adherent ticks things off to say they’ve done this, agreed with that, and will do whatever. It is not a personal faith – it is placating someone else; frankly, that isn’t faith.

I struggled with my faith. I screamed and cursed God when my dad died when I was a teenager. I hated him for that. I questioned everything. I read the Bible, cover to cover twice, while still in my teens to see what the “owner’s manual” says. I still wrestle and push back and ask questions. I have a deep and abiding faith in my Creator and Sustainer. It is not a checklist faith.

I hope my kids will develop their own viewpoints. I want them to read the Bible through at least once if not multiple times. I will have hard conversations with them about my faith and theirs. I want them to have a rooted belief in God – roots which they have planted and watered and nurtured.

Don’t settle for a checklist faith and get the t-shirt. Make it yours and not the faith of our fathers.


Lead On!


Unnecessarily Complicated

Relationships get complicated mostly because people can be complicated. However, work product should be as simple as possible. Over the years I’ve seen things at work made complicated because people (it always boils down to people being involved!) make things complicated so they can be the ultimate problem solvers, since they are the only ones who know how it was all put together.

I’ve seen “unnecessarily complicated” in

  • Accounting – where financial statements and chart of accounts were so complex that even CPAs couldn’t follow the figures.
  • Governance – where the decision-making process was perceived to be democratic but when analyzed, ultimate authority was in the hands of a few people.
  • Technology – where hardware and software where installed to “protect the church” but it was so much that it meant the staff could be spied on and that slowed down the computing power causing inefficiency
  • Banking – where bank accounts were created for individual funds (instead of using the accounting system) which resulted in additional bank fees and nightmares in transfers between accounts
  • Staffing – where a church won’t terminate an unproductive staff person so that person’s work ethic implodes staff morale resulting in even more personnel problems

And there are more, lots more – but you’ve got your own list.

Keep it simple and not complicated. When there is a problem, confront the problem. Gather some people who are good in this field or bring in a consultant/auditor who can cut through the personalities and get to the heart of the matter. Then, deal with the real problem – and that might involve letting some staff go or changing vendors – and then clean up the mess.

Get rid of what is unnecessarily complicated. It does nothing for the church or the Kingdom. It serves only to make some people feel good and/or support their egos. That has nothing to do with the goals and purposes of the church. Keep it simple and keep it aimed at God.


Lead On!