In financial matters, ethics matter. This is especially true when it comes to church finances. For many people in ministry, this is an area of church life that, while highly important, is not something for which we’ve received training. Dr. Carl Williamson is a church planter whose proximity to Hurricane Sandy gave his church both enormous opportunities and enormous challenges. Carl has put together important concepts for how churches can optimize our financial practices through original research he completed for his Doctor of Ministry degree at the Harding School of Theology. I am pleased to be able to share his findings with you here.
- Carl’s story from his work in New Jersey is fascinating in and of itself
- Best practices for establishing accountability and tracking spending
- Motivating your congregation to give more
- Optimizing the presence of a church finance committee
- Involving people other than finance professionals in how your church thinks about money
Principles and Policies
Ethical Principles for Church Finances
These are six ethical principles explored in Carl’s dissertation.
- Sacrificial Stewardship is rooted in the Grace of God.
- The Act of Giving Builds Character.
- Faithful Stewardship involves intentions and actions.
- The Administration of Finances Involves Multiple People.
- God Provides as a Result of Careful Planning.
- Generous Practices Supply Needs and Prompt Praise.
Guiding Principles for all New Policies
Drawing on the above foundational ideas, Carl’s team adopted the following seven principles for all new policies they created or implemented.
- No one should ever write a check to himself or herself.
- Limit the amount available for a check that requires only one signature. For example, no one can write a check for more than five hundred dollars without a second signature.
- No staff or layperson should be able to request a check to himself or herself without a second signature, usually from a supervisor.
- An auditing committee should review all written checks on a monthly basis.
- The financial officer should submit a financial report that reflects how much has been spent in every major budget area and how that corresponds to the annual budget in terms of the percentage of the budget spent to date.
- Spend only monies that have been approved in the annual budget. An exception is funds approved by a designated board, group, or individual authorized by the church to make such a call. And this should be someone other than the one making the check request.
- Require receipts for all reimbursements.
Carl has provided several annotated resources for anyone wanting to refine their practices in church finances.
- Keith F. Nickle, The Collection: A Study in Paul’s Strategy ~ This is a seminal work on the church collection. His description of sincerity and fellowship are helpful for understanding how the collection brings unity in the church. He says, “Undoubtedly the function of the Jerusalem Christian community in serving as the source from which the gospel was disseminated to the rest of the Empire was worthy of higher valuation in terms of its contribution to the Body of Christ than the monetary support which the Gentile Christians were sending to Jerusalem in return.”
- Jouette M. Bassler, God & Mammon: Asking for money in the New Testament ~ This work specifically addresses the issue of individuals or churches fundraising, but deals with ethical issues in relation to asking for funds. Bassler points out that “the disciples are asked to live out this message of radical trust: God will provide. In the way they conducted their mission, the disciples were to exemplify a trust in God so profound that the most basic preparations for a journey were unnecessary. No hint of self-sufficiency was permitted, nor was it needed…”
- Verlyn Verbrugge & Keith Krell, Paul and Money: A Biblical and Theological Analysis of the Apostle’s Teachings and Practices ~ This is the best writing that I have found on the purpose of the collection for Paul the Apostle. Paul’s attempt to heal the growing rift in the church and provide unity sets out as a greater and more important goal than financial security or even best financial practices. The theological point of unity is a greater principle than always spending wisely.
- Aubrey Malphurs and Steve Stroope, Money Matters in Church: A practical guide for leaders ~ This was the guide that our financial leadership team spent time reading and considering in our process of changing the church’s processes. It is a great resource for ministers and lay church members. One of the first principles they suggest is to “develop your own theology of financial stewardship.”
- Janet & Philip Jamieson, Ministry and Money: A practical guide for Pastors ~ This is an excellent primer for accounting, reports, and budgets…but falls short of considering the ethical implications suggested in my dissertation. However, sometimes this book will be helpful tips, especially for new churches or small churches.
- John Cortines & Gregory Baumer, God and Money: How we discovered true riches at Harvard Business School ~ This is an excellent book written by a couple of wealthy Harvard students who are considering a theology of giving. “The love of money causes us to become insecure, unsatisfied, and self-absorbed. It deceives us into embracing a false system for measuring our self-worth. Conversely, being generous with our wealth eliminates its power over us.”
Here is a helpful video to accompany the book.
For a deeper dive into his research, Carl’s entire dissertation is available for downloading at the Harding School of Theology.
About Dr. Carl Williamson
Dr. Carl Williamson is an Assistant Professor of Discipleship and Church Planting at Harding University. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) in Sweden where his parents, Floyd & Isabelle Williamson planted churches. He and his wife Alicia worked with a team of 4 couples to establish the Brunswick Church of Christ in North Brunwick, NJ and the Gateway Church of Christ in Holmdel, NJ. They have two children.
He has served on the board of the North Brunswick Senior Housing Corporation which serves seniors with low-income housing. Founded the Gateway Disaster Response Team which began in response to Superstorm Sandy and was integral in providing supplies and services of over 2 million dollars to those affected by the storm. Carl helped organize a community kitchen called Spoon Full of Hope with a grant received from the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen. He has recently accepted the Distinguished Andy T. Ritchie Chair for discipleship and church planting that began the fall of 2019 at Harding University. He is unyielding in his desire to help those who are oppressed and treated unjustly by sharing with them the gospel of Jesus Christ.