By Bill Webb
If your church has not begun its annual budget planning process, it soon will. While budget planning often seems not to be a particularly spiritual endeavor, that is exactly what it is in the life of a local congregation. One of the best ways to learn about a church is to peruse its budget. That's where a church reveals what it values highly — and what it may not value very much.
A church may say it values Christian service to its community, or a congregation may say that evangelism is one of its highest priorities. A church may call itself mission-minded or heavy into the discipleship of its members or appreciative of its staff. If a congregation is telling the truth, the budget usually will confirm it.
Sometimes, a church wants to believe that something is important to it, but the budget commitment says its not. Not every church can fully fund everything it values at the level it would like. Perhaps most churches are that way.
If you have been reading Word&Way for a few years, you know where I am going here. I believe most congregations care deeply for their pastor and staff and most intend to do well by their servant-leaders. They want them to feel affirmed, motivated and adequately supported.
But one of the easiest budget line items to hold firm on is staff salaries and benefits. The utility company won't wait, and every person needs Sunday School or Bible study materials. The church property must be maintained, and it would not be wise to back away from missions and ministry commitments.
A nearby state has a professional baseball team that is jokingly accused of living by the motto "Wait 'til next year!" That sounds funny unless you happen to be a Chicago Cubs fan.
That may be the message that many churches regularly send to their pastor and staff and, incidentally, that Baptist associations send to their leaders. Many a pastor or director of missions has left a budget planning meeting thinking what most will never say: I've been wait-'til-next-yeared once again.
That's hardly the way to treat God's servants. Resolve to do what you really desire to do in matters of staff support. Here are a few suggestions:
• Have a committee or group in place and charge its members with making recommendations regarding staff adjustments and appropriate benefits. For the love of the staff and for the sake of the church's reputation, be generous. "Cheap" is not a word synonymous with "good stewardship."
• For the same reasons, help the pastor and staff begin (or continue) adequate preparation for retirement. The Baptist landscape is littered with impoverished pastors and their families. Churches can do better.
• Protect the staff member and family with appropriate levels of medical, disability and life insurance. That is an investment in the security of staff families, but also in the stability of the congregation. Most of the expenses mentioned here are more easily borne by a congregation than a minister.
• Don't call reimbursement for expenses of doing the work of the church "income." That is sheer foolishness. Requiring any one member — even the pastor — to dip into his own pocket to do the work of the congregation is patently unfair. Fully reimburse such ministry expenses.
• Finally, seek out ways to show appreciation — regularly. Don't wait for the pastor to celebrate his 25th anniversary to show your appreciation. The finest churches look for ways throughout every year to do extra, unexpected things to say, "We appreciate you," or "We love you." Paid study opportunities, book allowances, real vacations — be creative.
Don't get into the rut of waiting until next year. If necessary, be the advocate that ensures your congregation does staff support and protection right.