I spent half the afternoon yesterday pouring over church accounts, balance sheets and trying to get my head around the various pots of restricted funds we hold and how on earth we actually have any money to pay for anything outside of those particular areas of concern. I had to not only try and wrap my head around the figures, but then write a report about it too. I am left with the all too frequent feeling that it would have been great if somebody has actually taught me how to do any of this.
Nor does doing a “professional job” prepare you for it much either. In my extremely brief career as a secondary school teacher, I didn’t have to read a single balance sheet or accounting record. It just wasn’t part of my job. And as an RE and Philosophy, History & Politics teacher, the only numbers I had to recall tended to be dates stuff happened (and even they were usually written down in front of me for reference). Nothing in teaching taught in secular state comprehensives did anything to tell me how to fundraise or figure out how to manage the church accounts.
My slightly longer iteration running my own company maybe came a bit closer to being useful. But even that hardly had a complicated setup. I was working in a field where I billed people for my time on a day rate. I had no specific overheads – it was just me on my computer by and large. My accounts were as simple as it got. I did D number of days work so I charge you D time my Day Rate and then set aside 20% that will be paid as tax at some point. I invoiced people a set amount, they paid, 80% of it was then transferred to my personal account as pay the remainder being what the tax man will want later.
In many churches, the finances are only so difficult. Essentially, your members give, you pay whatever your running costs are and set aside whatever giving you want to give or funds you want to sort out and your done. In many ways, it’s a case of basic income and expenditure. You know what is coming in and you duly organise what is then to go out accordingly. Relatively straightforward.
But lots of churches – some just because they’re big and are into more stuff, some because they’re small and constantly looking for support – have more complicated setups. Funding pots are created, ringfenced and restricted funds exist, funding for particular purposes – that definitely cannot be repurposed – come in. The more of this that goes on, the more awkward and difficult the accounting becomes. And when you are a poor, innumerate bloke who studied the arts because maths ain’t your thing, or a labourer who understands invoices and expenditure but not managing 50 different pots of cash at once, these things can get complicated quickly.
And I just wonder, might Bible College serve pastors by teaching them to read a balance sheet?