The One Church Leadership Mistake You Cannot Make


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I bet you and your team have annual goals or focus points. It’s always healthy to have a few things in focus as the year begins. It’s like an organizational resolution, but much easier to keep.

I recently saw Chick-fil-A’s organizational focus for 2018. One item on their list stood out — food safety. When I first saw it, I wondered why something so basic was on their big four movements list. Have they had trouble with food safety recently? Are some stores serving raw chicken?

Then I realize why. Chick-fil-A understands that focusing on new areas of the business is important, but there are some core elements that they must always keep in focus. Food safety might be at the top of that list, hence it made their annual focus list. It doesn’t take too many cases of salmonellae poisoning to destroy a food brand.

So back to us in the church. You probably have some areas of focus for this year. At Woodstock City Church, we too have some important, future thinking opportunities in focus. But, at the top of our list is still one key element: Stewardship.

Stewardship is our food safety. Why? For the same reason as Chick-fil-A. If we lose the trust of those who support our church with their time and treasure, we will immediately begin to fail. We might be able to recover from other missteps, but I doubt we would be able to recover from any breach of financial trust.

Stewardship is believing and behaving as if everything we have was given to us by attendees as an investment. Their giving is their vote of confidence. And how we manage their generosity determines how they continue to invest. In a very real way, we are money and time managers. And their return on investment is a legitimate concern we should steward wisely.

Practically, this means we must think and behave as stewards of their investment.


  1. We must realize every dollar we spend was given to us by someone else. This is significant. It means we should feel accountable for every dollar that we spend. And, we should feel comfortable explaining to our givers how we spend their investment. I realize you’ll never literally do this (or maybe you will), but it’s the mental exercise that matters.
  2. We must realize that our time is not only ours. Since our salary is paid from generosity, our time is a stewardship. How we spend our time speaks to how we value the investment of others.
  3. While we set annual budgets for every category of expense, the budget should not necessarily determine our expenses. The budget is our projection. Like a guardrail on the highway, the budget keeps us from falling into dangerous territory. In a way, our budget is our maximum expenditure, but not always our necessary expenditure. When we spend the money entrusted to us, we should consider the value of the expense more than the budgeted allotment for the expense. I love to ask this question: “In this moment, is the value of this expense worth the expected return?” It’s basic ROI, but there is nothing basic about this way of thinking.


  1. Never spend money in a way that makes you uncomfortable explaining the expense. We all realize not everyone will understand how you use resources to further your mission, but if we behave this way, we’ll get it right almost every time. I like to pretend our detailed P&L will be printed and distributed to every person in our church. That makes stewardship pretty easy.
  2. Always use resources to move the mission forward. Back to Chick-fil-A for a moment. They believe every person should either be selling chicken or directly supporting the people who are selling chicken. When it comes to our time and expense, we should only spend time and money on things that move our mission forward. Side note: R&D can move the mission forward. This doesn’t mean we only do the basics — it means we are fiscally intentional about our mission.
  3. Have value proposition conversations with your team. Budgets are objective, making them an easier standard. Value is subjective, therefore more complex, but a subjective value conversation creates a unique intentionality in our expense management. I love that our staff sees value differently. The goal isn’t value agreement, but value conversations. Just thinking this way creates new kinds of intentionality.
  4. If you spend money, you should raise money. In the past I was the only fund-raiser, but I was far from the only money spender. Today, I have asked every staff member to be a fund-raiser for our church. When they meet with volunteers or other insiders, I have encouraged them to engage in giving conversations. Obviously, this helps us create more givers, but it also helps our staff better understand stewardship, because it makes spending other’s generosity personal.
  5. Without becoming a big brother, we set an expectation that every staff member will be generous to our church. This is important because we are all being paid through generosity, we all need to have moral authority around giving conversations, and when we give personally, it’s easier to take expenses more personally. It’s our money we are investing, too.

We can have missteps and occasional mistakes, but the fastest way to destroy our mission is to mishandle the generosity of those in our church. We are protecting it with a high degree of intentionality. In doing so, I believe we are protecting the most precious thing we have: trust.