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Financial Checks and Balances: 2 Security Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

financial checks and balances

Most pastors get a lot of training before we go into full-time ministry. We learn about theology, preaching, counseling and more.

But the one aspect of ministry that most of us get the least amount of teaching on is one that touches everything we do. Money.

Because of this, most pastors learn about church finances the hard way – by making mistakes as we go along.

In a recent article, I wrote about 4 Budgeting Lessons I Learned The Hard Way. Here are 2 more lessons I’ve learned the hard way. These are about church finances and proper security measures.

1. Trust, But Verify

I don’t want to minister in a church in which people don’t trust each other. And I refuse to work with leaders I can’t trust.

But trusting each other doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put proper financial checks and balances in place.

For instance, from the moment the offering is received until it is deposited into the bank (or into a sealed bank envelope) no one should be alone with the money.

Not only does this make theft and mishandling less likely, it also reduces the likelihood that innocent people will be accused of impropriety.

Also, if you have an in-house person do the bookkeeping, have a qualified person outside their congregation take a look at the books at least once a year. This keeps the records clean and stops potential problems from being overlooked.

And no, this doesn’t have to cost too much (or any) money. If you’re in a denomination, ask someone in their finance department to go over the books for you. If not, ask the pastor at another church in town if their treasurer or in-house bookkeeper can give your books the once-over. You might be surprised at their willingness to help out.

How I Learned the Hard Way

On two occasions, we’ve had people mishandle our church finances.

I was caught off-guard the first time and it cost us a great deal of money, because I was trusting, but not verifying.

But after putting proper financial checks and balances in place, when it happened the second time, as painful as it was to be betrayed, we caught the problems early and minimized the damage.

2. Invest in a Sturdy Safe

Then bolt it to the floor. And put the offering in it as soon as it’s collected.

How I Learned the Hard Way

Several years ago we lost an entire offering that we thought had been placed somewhere that no one knew about. But it wasn’t locked and someone found it during the service.

All the cash was lost for good. And even though we put the word out to those who wrote checks, less than half of those checks were rewritten.

What we lost on that one Sunday would have paid for several large, solid safes with changeable combinations.

Learn From the Mistakes of Others

Far too many churches – especially the smaller churches I’m blessed to work with – don’t have a lot of these basics in place. Not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because they haven’t been taught. I wasn’t.

Leaning from our mistakes is good. Learning from other people’s mistakes so we don’t have to make them ourselves? That’s even better.CLICK TO TWEET

Leaning from our mistakes is good. Learning from other people’s mistakes so we don’t have to make them ourselves?

That’s even better.


This article about financial checks and balances originally appeared here.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.