Pastors' Forum


Business Sense

As a pastor, I feel pretty good about most aspects of my responsibilities (spiritual, preaching, pastoral care, etc.), but I’m recognizing a deficiency in the business-side of ministry. I don’t have a business background, and I realize there’s a lot I need to know in those areas. I’d love to hear seasoned pastors share a few tips about the business lessons they’ve learned relative to their leadership in the church. Could you please share some business sense with me?


Pastor Larry Bjorklund – Joplin, MO
In my short lived 18 years of pastoring and a decade plus in business, make your banker your friend. Honor him and he will protect you and help you…

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
Fortunately, I had a business background before being a pastor. Thank God for that opportunity; it has helped me tremendously.

During my many years as a pastor, I have had the privilege of ministering to other ministers and the most common problem with young and inexperienced ministers that I see is a lack of business sense. These same people might be very gifted speakers and preachers with a very tangible anointing on their life, but they make some of the most horrible mistakes when it comes to the business side of ministry. You are way ahead of the game when you recognize that you need help in this area.

My recommendation to any young preacher is to educate yourself in the business world. Go back to school, take some college courses from a local college, and read and study as much as is possible along these lines. Next, make sure you are taking advice and counsel from someone who is qualified and has a proven background of stable, solid business practices.

Never let ignorance be your downfall, and always maintain a life of prayer. God is real smart and he is the best businessman that I know, he’ll help you when you don’t know what to do. He’ll direct your decisions!

Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
What I have done is find businessmen and women who are committed to and love the church to help in these areas. As pastors, we need to surround ourselves with people that have strengths that we do not have. For example, we added to our staff a bank manager who served for 25 years as our financial overseer.

Also, I look for people who have business experience to serve on our board of directors to help make the right business decisions. These individuals have helped put budgeting guidelines in place, etc. By doing this it has given me more time to stay in my strengths.

Pastor John Pfeffer – Seekonk, MA
I have found that there has to be a balance between the spiritual side and the business side of the ministry. Jesus recognized the balance when He told Peter to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs unto God (Matt 22:21).

While I was an attorney, I represented a number of churches and young pastors who thought that because God had called them and they felt a mandate from Him, that they were somehow exempt from business considerations. Others believed that because they were exempt from federal taxation that they were exempt from any governmental responsibilities.

Business is nothing more than proper handling of money and other resources, including people, talents, and time, towards accomplishing a goal.  The difference between business and ministry is that the purpose of business is to make money while the purpose of ministry is to fulfill the mission given us by the Lord.

The “business” side of ministry includes a number of different areas that may need attention, depending on the size of the organization.  Most important is the need to keep a proper set of accounting records and a well-managed checking account. I have found that the handling of finances is the area often most neglected and is also the one area that can cause the greatest harm if not managed properly.

Since most churches and ministries are formed as corporations, it is important to comply with your state’s corporate requirements, many of which involve annual reports.

The more employees an organization has, the more important it is to have a solid human resource advisor on such issues as benefit packages, employee handbook contents, and procedures for hiring and terminating employees, etc.

Another aspect of business that I have found very helpful is a sound organizational structure, i.e., clear lines of authority and responsibility. Without these clear lines, there is usually confusion and frustration among the staff. The size and form of the organization will depend on the size of the ministry. A small ministry may only need one level of authority, while a larger ministry may need several levels.

My best advice is to seek the help of professionals in these areas. Pastors are often reluctant to spend the money, but I have always seen this type of spending as an investment in laying a solid business foundation.

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I think influence, John Maxwell’s one word definition for leadership, is totally relevant to the business-side of leading the church. Obviously, the more you can learn about business and management, the better. However, I don’t know that the question, “How did we get here?” is nearly as important as, “Where the heck are we?” Making the prayer-filled destiny decision is the tough one. Finding the assistance to get there is secondary. Utilize people in the congregation when you can and go find the help you need, wherever you have to go to get it when it’s not readily available in the house.

There is so much information available that we don’t have any good excuses for not knowing how to achieve almost any goal. Knowing what the goals are, on the other hand, is where your true success hangs. Once you’ve determined the God-given destiny of your church, you will gain the needed insight as to which conferences/webinars/publications may offer the right solutions to most of your business needs. Other churches and ministries have probably already forged a way through the wilderness for you.

In summary, the most important business decision you’re going to make isn’t, “how do we accomplish this task?” it’s “which task are we going to accomplish?” The rest of it will become available to you through relationships and information gathering.

Pastor Al Jennings – Ft. Wayne, IN
Personally, I like to read a variety of business books to learn strategies that I can apply to the church I pastor. In these books, I’ve picked up secrets of success from companies such as Disney, Apple, Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, and others. I’ve learned some things about what they do to service their customers. The reason that is important to me is because I believe service is what ministry is all about.

Many successful businesses serve their customers with such excellence that they keep wanting to come back to them to purchase more product. It’s not all about just the quality of their product; it’s also the level of service they provide. I believe churches should lead the way in customer service. So I read these books to learn strategies they implement to ensure that their team members serve their customers with a high degree of excellence, and I’ve used some of those strategies to train our own volunteer staff and workers.

Even though you don’t have a business background, through books you can grow in your “business sense.”

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
This is the side of ministry that won’t ‘feel’ like ministry. It doesn’t feel like what you are called to do, yet it is part of the package. Sometimes even if the business side is not your strength, you still have to do the work until you can find someone you trust to delegate the duties to. I have found that if you don’t have someone that you can fully trust with certain duties, it is better to give it your best effort rather than have someone with no skills attempt the duties and ruin what you have worked so hard to build. Go to another pastor whose skills you admire and ask for some pointers. Don’t be afraid to admit that you need help and ask God for wisdom and guidance in your endeavors.

Don’t ignore the business end. Do cast the care of it on the Lord. He is the best business partner you will ever have.

Pastor Matthew Mangan – Williamston, MI
Business deficiency can be dealt with by taking classes to bring you up to speed with your deficiency. Find someone to mentor you in these areas, or find someone who you trust and who is strong in business and let them take care of the business side of things. However, make sure that they can make clear to you what they are doing, using words and examples that you can understand! It’s like going to the doctor and him telling you what’s wrong with you. Then when you get home, your wife asks you, “what did the doctor say?” You tell her, “I’m not sure what he said.” I want a doctor who can explain to me what’s going on so I don’t have to go to medical school. You want someone who can explain the business-side to you without you having to go get a business degree. It’s still your decision on what and how to do things, but now it will be based on sound, well-explained knowledge. Hope this helps.

Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
When you first start a church, the church credit card will likely be based on the pastor’s credit status. Likewise, when it’s time to buy property, the pastor’s personal credit status will play a big role if the church applies for a loan. So church business is greatly helped or hindered by how well the pastor handles his own personal bills.

We try to be very careful in our financial record-keeping and accounting. We realized early this meant that I needed someone else for this job, and we prayed and God gave us a great church bookkeeper.

Second, we asked an accountant to be on our Board. This accountant is paid to do an annual review of our books and record-keeping at the church to help keep an eye on the bookkeeper and to make sure that we’re doing things properly with the IRS. Checks and balances like this are worth their cost!!! I’ll spend money here before many other priorities. There are good accountants, than there are good “church” accountants.  Ask other pastors who they recommend and use a good “church” accountant.

Insurance is very important. Without insurance, a mishap at the church will likely become the pastor’s personal problem. Once an usher missed a “catch” at the altar and a lady sent us a medical bill and told us the value of the time off from her work.  She didn’t sue, didn’t really threaten, but we thought it wise to pay her medical bill and for the week of work she missed. We didn’t file an insurance claim because the total cost was not too high and just slightly over our deductible, but it shows the need for insurance. Some years ago, in our previous location, we did have to file two theft claims of sound gear with our insurance company and they paid promptly.

One of the best couples we’ve ever had in our church asked to see our financial records on their second visit. We showed them our annual income/expense statement right away. They joined immediately after seeing that we were honest and above reproach and became a great blessing. This couple had left another ministry where the money had not been handled well.

Lastly, using good common sense is the key to having good business sense. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Have a savings account. Give 10% of your income or more. Keep salaries and building expenses in proper proportion to your gross church income. Take advantage of the “housing allowance” in the tax laws. Review your advertising budget—does it pay for itself, or is there a better way to attract and keep new visitors? Work with people you trust and who have your best interest at heart and you’ll make better decisions. Watch out for people who want to try to control you by controlling the money. Remember, Judas had the money bag. Plan for your own personal retirement expenses. Life insurance is a necessity if you have kids and is one of the better ways to pass on wealth to your heirs (it’s not taxed).

Pastor David Emigh – Sand Springs, OK
I have sensed the same frustration and lack of confidence in my life. I did not have a business background when I entered the ministry. So one of the first things I began to do was to read good books from the corporate world of business and began to learn and put to practice the things I learned.

The next thing I did was attend a secular business seminar in my city every year. You can find some really good information for a good price if you look. If you live in a small town you might have to spend the night in a larger neighboring city but this really helped me.

I also had a very successful businessman join my church and I spent time with him learning all I could from him. I would take him to lunch and ask questions that helped me immensely. I think these things benefited me a lot and would help any pastor or minister to grow in the area of business expertise.

Pastor Matt Beemer – United Kingdom & North Africa
Jesus said, “…And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.” Though the Bible is full of examples of great business practices and principals, it seems that as spirit-filled church leaders, if it’s not spur-of-the-moment, unplanned and unintentional, then it must not be God.

The Bible admonishes us with all sorts of parables and instructions to employ what the world calls ‘good business sense.’ In fact, we probably should just call it good Bible Sense. For example, the bible tells us to ‘count the cost, before we build’ and make sure we can complete a project before we start it. We are admonished to plan for the future by watching how insects and animals save for the cold-harsh winter.  It tells us do not promise something we are not willing to fulfill, and do not act as a co-signer for others unless we are willing to loose everything. The Bible is literally chucked full of guidance that, if followed, will guarantee success in any enterprise.

There are so many great books, resources, and seminars that will help a person develop good business practice, but the starting place is to realize that God is very intentional, incredibly long-term in his planning, and purposeful in His stewardship. As one of His under-shepherds, it is not only okay for us to do the same, but we must do the same in order to see success. So embracing good, bible-based business practice is vital to the success of our leadership.

Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
One of the greatest experiences I had, as a young pastor, was to spend about two hours with T. L. Osborn. He shared some very practical business principles and diplomatic ways to get things done. As an example, he defined diplomacy as, “getting the job done but keeping peace in the family (congregation).” Building relationships with the local congregation and ministering with diplomatic skills are great secrets to the success of pastoral ministry. Learning from other successful pastors and business people is the quickest way to acquire new skills.

I mention this experience with Brother Osborn because there are many successful pastors and also business people who would be glad to share some practical business principles with a pastor. It would also be good if a pastor would take some college courses in business principles. This could be done in night classes as a part of continuing education, which should be a part of the life of every pastor.

Another suggestion is to consult with trusted business people in your congregation for advice when the need arises. These advisors should understand that their suggestions may not always be used because the pastor must consider all of the various factors involved in decisions. As an example, sometimes a hard-nosed business decision may save some money but not give the quality product which the church is in need of. Also, some decisions may be okay for a local business, but could disturb the “peace of the church” and/or cause people to leave the church.

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Glendora, CA
An important “business sense” lesson I learned was that I needed to take care of myself financially. Paul said, “Take heed to yourself, and to all the flock…” Well, I was doing just the opposite. I was taking care of the flock and everybody else and neglecting my own family financially. For the first ten years or so that I pastored, as the church was growing and finances increased, I would buy new equipment for the church, rent more space, hire somebody, etc., all to the neglect of my own family. We had no health insurance, we were living in a rental, and were underpaid. I guess I felt guilty or something. When a successful businessman joined our church board, he encouraged me to make some changes in this area. I learned that people in business don’t feel guilty for prospering. Paul said not to “muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain, and the laborer is worthy of his wages.” I was muzzling myself. All of us leaders understand personal sacrifice is necessary. We’ve all made them or we wouldn’t be in leadership. We understand that we lead by example. However, looking back on those years, I think I was making sacrifices that the Lord never asked me to make.