What Financial Competencies Are Essential in a Changing Economy?

by Jac La Tour, ECCU Communications Manager
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

As the economy keeps changing, pollsters keep trying to find out how ministries are doing. I know some seasoned executive pastors, so I decided to conduct my own informal one-question survey**. Here it is:

What are the essential financial competencies for executive pastors today?

My assumption was that the economy has underscored the need for certain competencies. People come to the executive pastorate by different routes. Some held another pastoral role, which likely didn’t prepare them for the business side of ministry. Others came from the marketplace, which may not have prepared them to manage business from a ministry perspective. Has the economy made clear that one route provides better preparation than another?

Paul Utnage, executive pastor at Montgomery Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, says the answer is no…and yes. After explaining (convincingly) why there is no obvious list of specific financial competencies for executive pastors, he listed seven general competencies that are essential for anyone in this role.

One of the seven is that “an executive pastor should share some values for financial stability, strategic focus, and risky faith with the church’s key leaders.” Financial stability and strategic focus seem like essential shared values. In fact, alignment with mission strategies was a key learning from the Financial Forum for Ministries that ECCU presented last fall and is offering again this year.

But how about that third shared value—risky faith? Does that surprise you? This veteran of more than 30 years in church ministry says it’s essential for the people who manage the money today to look both at the numbers and way beyond them.

“Risky faith” may be a hard competency to embrace for those who manage ministry finances and are committed to financial stability and strategic focus. This is understandable when you’ve tried so hard to carefully manage your ministry’s financial resources precisely because you’re receiving less of them.

What I hear Paul saying is that especially in a changing economy, executive pastors must lean into the tension between risky faith and financial stability if their churches are going to maintain a strategic focus. This is exactly what Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois, did a few years ago, even before the economy got so bad.

This church needed to expand and was taking the relatively “unrisky” route of building a new facility on the outskirts of town. While pursuing that option, they had what Heartland’s Directional Leader Mark Bankord called “the crazy idea” to buy and renovate a downtown mall instead. Suddenly their commitment to financial stability collided with risky faith in pursuit of strategic focus. Imagine how differently you’d have to approach the budgeting process if “facilities” meant an entire mall rather than a single building.

So, is it essential for executive pastors to share certain values with their key leaders, even if doing so creates uncomfortable tension? From Rockford, Illinois, to Ventura County California, ministry challenges and the changing economy are prompting church leaders to say yes and embrace the tension between financial stability and risky faith. And today, more than ever, that seems to be essential.

  • Look for a full story on this survey in this October 2009 resource article.
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