Survival Tips for Budget Season

Its budget season…. the inevitable period of time a few months before the budget is due when we’re forced to look at the cold hard facts of the “business” of doing ministry.   Resource comparisons abound, perceptions of fairness and unfairness abound.  And scrutiny over paper and ink use is common.

This is the season my mind fractures with internal arguments like these:

“of course income must equal or exceed expenses, don’t be daft!”

“My calling, and the world’s greatest need (dare I say), is Godly leadership development for those that have the least access to it.  And I don’t give a rat’s patoot how it gets paid for”

“how can we be held accountable for revenue when we have no authority over the revenue drivers”?

If it seems that my internal dialogue is contradicting, then welcome to my schizo world at 2am in the morning.  But fret not, dear friend… I’m sharing my survival tips to get us both through this season…

Offer it up:  The praise, that is…   Having a long tenure in an organization gives you the memory of other times “we’ve passed this way before” and God’s faithfulness in them.  The New Era scandal fall out of the late ‘90’s, the Post-9-11 donor fund shortages in 2002 and 2003.  We’ve been here before… ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.   I have seen first hand how God has taken our five loaves and two fish and turned them into …. well, 15 years of ministry and 3500+ alumni serving Him around the world.  Faithful is the One who calls you to it, for He shall also do it (1 Thes 5:24).

Lay it down:  The burdens, that is… lay your burdens at the foot of the cross and leave them there… no, don’t wander back in 3 hours and pick them back up again… lay them down and walk away… now!  Hey, don’t even glance back there and consider picking them back up!  Keep walking buster!  (1 Peter 5:7)

Time on your knees:   I’ve often felt that God has used the financially challenging times to keep us “on our knees” in prayer.  During the financially flush times (though I don’t remember when those have ever been)… we tend to forget the source of the blessings and maybe get a bit too self-congratulatory over ministry accomplishments.  It’s the lean years that are the good reminder that everything we have comes from God for His purposes.

Remember the birds:  Every time I have to do budgets, personal or otherwise, this verse comes to mind (absolutely no idea why)… 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  (Matthew 6:25 & 26).    So to “remember the birds” I’ve hung bird feeders all over my yard where I can watch them daily and meditate on these verses.  Granted, this act seems to contradict the verse, now that I’m buying them two bags of bird feed each week… but you get my drift.

Take snapshots:  I can get pretty bad tunnel vision with an intense project like budgets.  And when those numbers are challenging, it can become all I see.  Every day I have to remind myself to “take a mental picture” of a blessing happening, often it has something to do with dogs, nature, or dogs.  At least four times a day I hear the words in my head… “This moment of blessing is brought to you by the One from whom all blessings flow”.  Its usually James Earl Jones’ voice and if nothing else, it makes me chuckle.

Retreat… for a little while:  The challenging budget season begs the question:  are we doing the right things, are we staying Mission True (thanks Peter Greer!)?  And are we enjoying the journey?  Too much time looking at spreadsheets can make you forget the joy of the work.  Whenever Jesus had significant decisions to ponder, He took time away, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.  Off to the desert, off to a garden…or off to a farm in the middle of nowhere to go sledding if the snow agrees.  Grab your colleagues, go to lunch, go on retreat, remind yourselves of why you’re in it and get recharged for the work ahead.

Trust Him for a new thing.  There’s economic theory that posits that during times of downturn and destruction, our greatest innovations bloom.  It is during these challenging times when the call for doing more with less may be the time to really look at what we’re doing at all, is all of it towards the mission?  Is all of it essential for the fulfillment of mission?  Is there a new direction we should seek to go?  Be on the lookout, dramatic shake-ups can be something shaking us loose from inertia.

Stewardship not ownership.  I am a steward, not an owner, for such a time as this.  My theology of money is such that for any dollar of a ministry I might waste, when I get to the Gates of Glory, the first thing I will be asked is “can we have that back, please?”.  Granted, its not likely to be the FIRST question I’ll be asked… but its somewhere on the list… “were you faithful with what I entrusted to you?”.  I like this because it reminds me that though my title today is a leadership one, it’s not an ownership one…. Leadership is all about stewardship, not ownership.  I am the steward of the mission, I am the steward of its resources.  I do not own it, I do not have autonomous control.  And that’s a very, very good thing.  Stewards, not owners.

There will be more sleepless nights before this season is over, and then I am rewarded… with a summer filled with the most blessed time with the dear ones we serve.  And that is the last survival lesson…. Always keep before you the mission of what you’re doing this for… the faces, the voices of the dear ones you have been called to serve, be faithful to that service.  And the One who called you to it, will be faithful too.

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About Dr. Beth A. Birmingham

Follower of Jesus, peculiar at times, but not always in the good biblical sense of the word, professor of leadership and international development, walking with people and organizations who end poverty, fight injustice and stand with the vulnerable... a rockin' good group of people!

Posted on February 3, 2014, in Leadership and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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