The Church Stewardship Prime Directive

Here’s one finance principle that should trump all others.

When it comes to the issue of financial stewardship, there is one principle that stands high above all the others.

It’s so basic, I almost feel silly having to write it.

I call it “The Church Stewardship Prime Directive,” because I believe there is no financial principle more important for a church to observe than this:

Don’t spend more money than you bring in.

Maybe it’s because this principle is so basic and commonsense that it’s often taken for granted—and therefore ignored. And it’s always a problem when we do.

I’ve heard far too many pastors and other church leaders try to gloss over their refusal to acknowledge this principle with high-sounding words that almost sound like faith.

  • “Where God guides, he provides.”
  • “Empty yourself and the Lord will fill you back up.”
  • “A generous heart will never be left wanting.”
  • “Hey, that church has a cool, new sound system. I want one, too!”

You’ve heard them, too haven’t you? Maybe you’ve said them yourself. Because they’re true. Well, maybe not that last one …

There’s just one problem with using sayings like that when the problem is overspending. Those principles have to do with generosity (again, except for that last one).

Overspending is not the same as generosity.

Yes, it’s true that where God guides, he provides. But if we’re not being good stewards of what he provides, the (and many other Scriptures) tells us that he will stop providing.

God won’t entrust his treasure into a leaky bucket. And neither should our church members.

But that’s exactly what many of our churches are. Not intentionally. And not deceitfully.

But having the right heart won’t fix the leaky bucket.

If you want to solve your church’s financial issues, start with a smart, prayerful, honest look at your church’s budget.

Spending money you don’t have isn’t faith. It’s bad stewardship.

A Concluding Word to the Faithful, But Still Struggling

If your church is struggling financially, I do not assume it’s because you’re managing your money poorly.

Not every financial problem in every church is caused by spending more than we take in. Many of you are faithful financial stewards, but you still face significant monetary challenges.

Fixing the leaks doesn’t end every financial problem. Even a healthy bucket needs a steady income stream. But I’m stressing this principle because, if you are spending more than you’re taking in, nothing else will help you or your church until that problem is resolved.

If your bucket is leaking, you won’t solve your money problems by getting more money. The leaks must be fixed first.

If your bucket isn’t leaking, if you’re not spending more than you take in, but you’re still facing severe financial problems, I know the feeling. A lot of us have been there. And many of us are with you there right now.

Even so, please heed this simple, but essential word of advice.

Don’t spend what you don’t have.

Faithfulness starts with discipline.

This post first appeared on and is adapted with permission.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

ajax-loader-largecaret-downcloseHamburger Menuicon_amazonApple PodcastsBio Iconicon_cards_grid_caretChild Abuse Reporting Laws by State IconChurchSalary Iconicon_facebookGoogle Podcastsicon_instagramLegal Library IconLegal Library Iconicon_linkedinLock IconMegaphone IconOnline Learning IconPodcast IconRecent Legal Developments IconRecommended Reading IconRSS IconSubmiticon_select-arrowSpotify IconAlaska State MapAlabama State MapArkansas State MapArizona State MapCalifornia State MapColorado State MapConnecticut State MapWashington DC State MapDelaware State MapFederal MapFlorida State MapGeorgia State MapHawaii State MapIowa State MapIdaho State MapIllinois State MapIndiana State MapKansas State MapKentucky State MapLouisiana State MapMassachusetts State MapMaryland State MapMaine State MapMichigan State MapMinnesota State MapMissouri State MapMississippi State MapMontana State MapMulti State MapNorth Carolina State MapNorth Dakota State MapNebraska State MapNew Hampshire State MapNew Jersey State MapNew Mexico IconNevada State MapNew York State MapOhio State MapOklahoma State MapOregon State MapPennsylvania State MapRhode Island State MapSouth Carolina State MapSouth Dakota State MapTennessee State MapTexas State MapUtah State MapVirginia State MapVermont State MapWashington State MapWisconsin State MapWest Virginia State MapWyoming State IconShopping Cart IconTax Calendar Iconicon_twitteryoutubepauseplay