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The Top 10 Mistakes I’ve Made with Money in Ministry - Part 1

I’m all too aware that seminary professors can become disconnected from the day in, day out, affairs of ministry. While there’s probably something helpful to some notion of an academic “ivory tower,” a place set apart for faculty to think new thoughts, we mustn’t get stuck there. In this week’s newsletter we hear from a pastor who has learned much about stewardship not from faculty in the seminary classroom, but the actual tough work of congregational ministry. It’s sage advice. Plus, I’m always a sucker for a Top Ten list!

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Director, Center for Stewardship Leaders

The Top 10 Mistakes I’ve Made with Money in Ministry - Part 1

Rev. Ryan Baer

“You’re not ready,” she said. There was no condemnation in her voice, only honesty mixed with a tinge of sadness as she spoke to her students. “You think you’re ready to serve the church, but you’re not.”

I remember feeling insulted and even a bit angry. I had passed all of my seminary courses with (mostly) flying colors, and in just a few short weeks, I would be a Master of Divinity! I could parse Greek participles like nobody’s business! How could a professor dare to say to a room full of seminary seniors that we weren’t ready to serve the church?

A few months later, I was serving as a solo pastor in my first call, and I knew she was right. My theological education provided a firm foundation for ministry, but there was so much more to learn, particularly in the area of money and stewardship. Unfortunately, most of what I have learned about this vitally important subject has come through the “School of Hard Knocks.” As I look back on nearly a decade of service to the local church, here are five of the top ten mistakes I’ve made with money in ministry:

10 - Preaching stewardship for five straight weeks in October. Want a sure-fire way to decrease your worship attendance, your offering plate, and your total pledges? Preach a five-week series on stewardship in October, using Haggai as your text for all five weeks. Oops! I’ve since learned to preach directly on stewardship at least six times a year, spaced fairly evenly apart.

9 - Assuming that the pastor doesn’t need to be involved with the financial affairs of the church. As a young pastor, I had it in my mind that the pastor just needs to preach, teach, and provide pastoral care, and let others handle the “business” of the church. While that may still be true in some contexts, I have learned the hard way that many solo pastors also need all of the skills and competencies of a top-level executive of a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

8 - Letting the income set the total budget. As a non-profit organization, church budgeting is fairly simple: Profit = Income – Expenses. Simply set Profit to zero and solve the equation. However, too many years I sat by and watched the board do a fall pledge campaign, then try to shoehorn all of the expenses for ministry into the income. That way of budgeting will never challenge the church to grow in mission or in giving.

7 - Not reviewing individual giving records. This is still a big point of controversy in some churches, and I was hesitant about it early on in ministry. But J. Clif Christopher’s book Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate really convicted me and shaped my thinking about this topic. As a pastor, if I can be trusted to maintain confidentiality and integrity with highly sensitive pastoral care issues, why can’t I be trusted to maintain confidentiality and integrity with highly sensitive financial issues?

6 - Not sending thank you notes. I was raised to send thank you notes when people gave me gifts. As the pastor and a leader of the church, why did I think it was unnecessary to send thank you notes for gifts to the ministry that I’ve been called to lead? A sincerely-worded handwritten thank you note can often do more to increase giving than the most sophisticated well-executed campaign.

Next week, we’ll look at mistakes 1-5.

More Information

Rev. Ryan Baer is Pastor and Head of Staff of the Ridglea Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

Stewardship Speaker Series: Join us on campus this summer (June 16, July 21, August 18) for breakfast as we hear from groundbreaking stewardship leaders practicing distinctive, top-notch stewardship. Come to one ever -- or all three! All events are free and open to the public. For more information, and to register, visit

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

money image by 401(K) 2012; Creative Commons Image on Flickr. 

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