The end of the financial year is upon us, focusing our minds on concepts like ‘balancing’, ‘reconciling’, ‘statements’ and ‘outcomes’. How differently these same words resonate in the context of efforts to foster the social mission of the church! Yet they are, or should be, of a piece. The budgets and balance sheets of any church organisation are in fact mission documents.
Our strategic plans might articulate espoused priorities but our budgets show where we really intend to place our resources. Our actuals tell us what we actually value. How did we use our assets this year? Which areas did we, or didn’t we, staff? Where did we invest in expertise, and where did we choose instead labour we could get for little or no cost? What did we do, or not do, and for whom, in order to earn our income? Our financial statements make a big statement.
It is commonplace to hold governments accountable for espoused priorities and policies through budget analysis, however the same process in relation to church organisations tends to provoke defensive responses. Yet the presentation of the financial statements can be approached as a communal theological reflection, feeding into shared discernment for mission.
As we prepare our personal tax returns we can also address the same kinds of mission questions to our own households. How have we balanced the different calls on our time and money this year? Did our earning and spending this year contribute to reconciling the estranged? What were the outcomes for the poor and marginalised? Are we happy with the statement that our donations make to us about where we have really placed our treasure, whether modest or extensive?
For me, preparing my annual tax return is always a challenging process of holding myself accountable to the local and global common good. Our end of year results tell us a lot about whether we – personally or organizationally – are ‘on mission’ or have lost our way. By our fruits we will be known, if only to ourselves.
Give me the budget with seven-year projections, and I’ll give you the real priorities.
© Sandie Cornish, 2010.