8 Ways to Support Your Church Treasurer
Church treasurers have specific challenges that can often go unnoticed. How should churches respond to these?
The challenges of a church treasurer
If you are a church treasurer, you have probably found a variety of challenges in the role. Every church is different, and so will be your particular challenges.
However, there are a few common issues which give the difficulties many treasurers often face a very particular ‘flavour’. I’ve seen these time and again among treasurers from churches of different sizes, denominations, and organisational structures in my capacity as a trainer of church treasurers.
The role requires technical knowledge
Most treasurers I know find themselves on a steep learning curve. Even the ones with backgrounds in accounting usually have quite a bit to learn if they don’t already specialise in charity accounting, and most treasurers I’ve met have no such professional background.
The role can be lonely
You are often the only person in your church with any real understanding of what you do, especially in smaller churches where there is no finance ‘team’. In fact, you may well get used to being well respected and often thanked within your church – maybe even publicly – from a position of almost complete ignorance of what you actually do!
Administrating a church as a charity means dealing with the world’s rules
Charities must comply with a legal and accounting framework that, at times, doesn’t always sit comfortably alongside biblical principles of running the church (even though we are, of course, commanded to honour human governments in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). Treasurers sit at the heart of this tension.
The role tests your faith in God’s provision
Another familiar tension for treasurers is that between trusting in the Lord to provide and exercising good stewardship. The two should not be seen as mutually exclusive but they often require careful discernment: when are we stepping out in faith and when are we recklessly trying to live beyond our means? It can be tempting to ignore one side of this balancing act in favour of the other and tipping too far, either way, can be damaging to our mission.
How to support your church treasurer
So how should church leaders respond to the challenge facing their church treasurer?
Again, the answers will vary from church to church, but I’ve picked up some generic pointers that usually help:
Remember that administration matters to God
It is sometimes tempting to view admin as a poor relation of the ‘real’ Christian ministries like preaching and mission.
However, Paul lists administration among other divinely appointed ministries in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (depending on your choice of Bible translation – the ESV at least translates administration!). We should therefore view it as important and not merely an undesirable bolt-on to the core ministry of the church.
Get alignment on doctrine
Managing church finances means adopting a position on how to think about money, how to communicate to your congregations about giving, and setting operational priorities that will determine what you spend.
These aren’t purely technical issues – they have doctrinal and pastoral implications and the whole leadership team should be on the same page.
Pray, pray, pray
Church finances are about more than adding up the numbers correctly. Where discernment is required, there is no substitute for asking the Lord to guide us.
Ensure that all the trustees know their responsibilities
Finances inform and are informed by the operational and strategic realities of running a church, and so cannot be managed in isolation.
All the trustees need to regard finance as their business and not just the treasurer’s job. This is not merely a practical issue, but a point of charity law as well.
Remember that anyone can sin
Many churches seem to operate on a principle of total trust that their officers would never do anything untoward, which can leave them terribly exposed to fraud.
Temptation can strike anyone – especially someone with single signatory access to a bank account and no-one else paying any attention to what they are doing. Treasurer fraud is mercifully rare but almost unheard of if basic accountability measures are in place.
Get one or two other people involved to spread the burden within the church. Tempting though it might be to carry on shouldering the burden solo, sometimes it just isn’t sustainable and the church may be in even greater trouble later on.
Also try establishing relationships with treasurers from other churches in your local area, or across the FIEC, and building relationships with external organisations that can provide practical advice and resources – such as Edward Connor, Stewardship, ACAT, or UCAN.
Don’t take competence for granted: invest the time and, where necessary, the money in training.
There is training for church treasurers available out there with ACAT, and you may even find the purchase of a couple of introductory bookkeeping textbooks is worthwhile for larger churches.
Prepare for the next one
Ray Evans recently reminded us that “every pastor is an interim pastor”, and the same is true of treasurers.
Finding new treasurers can be difficult so think about succession planning early, design your accounting and reporting processes in a way that doesn’t make teaching someone new how to use them needlessly difficult, and try to find people early on who can learn the ropes.
Being a church treasurer should certainly not be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable, nor the kind of role that you can never find a willing volunteer to take over. These pointers will hopefully help with this.
FIEC affiliated churches should also be aware that they all have the benefit of the block membership of the Association of Church Accountants and Treasurers (ACAT)..