After serving in ministry leadership as a paid staff member for over 20 years of my life, I have observed some very disturbing practices that go on in many church offices. These are the kind of things that we dare not whisper, because they actually are quite embarrassing. Many who work in ministry, including myself, are culpable to some degree.

Sometimes, it seems our workplace ethics stink in the local church.

The average churchgoer thinks of church as what happens each Sunday morning when the songs are raised and sermons preached. But often, the overlooked business the church conducts during the week is far from ideal.

I remember working as a young twenty-something in the music and worship department at a large church. Six pianos needed tuning, including three grand pianos. So I called up my former piano teacher, a Piano Tuning Guild member with the credentials and talent to help us. I turned in the paperwork to the administrative office, and presto! We hired him.

About three months later, he called to tell me that he had never been paid. In fact, the person he talked to at the church told him, "God has not provided yet." He was confused and embarrassed, but no more than I was. Not only was he my piano teacher, but he was a non-Christian friend who had been dealt a major blow against his confidence in the Christian community.

More recently, a popular vendor in town explained to me that my church was the only one he would allow to pay him through a billing system. All the other churches in town were required to pay cash on delivery. The Christian owners and operators of this business were saddened by the poor business practice of the churches in their community, but they worried they would go out of business if they trusted churches to pay their bills.

Unfortunately, I have heard many stories like this, stories of churches not paying the schools or halls they rent in a timely manner, even treating the staff of these facilities poorly. These churches break contracts, cross boundaries, and diminish their capital of influence. Often, the people who try to do business with them are believers, and they are ashamed when they see the body of Christ operating in this way.

It is even worse when the people doing business with these churches are not believers.

And there is no excuse. Many services exist to help even the smallest church take care of their accounting. Whether we are talking about a church plant or a megachurch, pastors should not hesitate to seek the best financial advice and business help. Few pastors are experts at business, but all should be willing to submit to those who are.

Here are some indicators that your church may be using spiritual language as an excuse for poor business practices:

  • Overuse of spiritual language when things go awry financially. "God has not provided." "We are under attack … "
  • Too much talk about money, not enough about kingdom investment. "God is pleased with you when you tithe." "You have an obligation."
  • No cash reserves to operate during lean times. You can count on rainy days coming eventually!
  • Debt is high. Simply, if a church has a lot of debt it will have limitations.


  1. Who is thinking most about the church budget? Are these people good with money in their personal lives and businesses?
  2. What is the church's theology of money and budgeting? Do you pick and choose verses depending on your financial needs at the time?
  3. What systems are in place to protect the church in lean times?
  4. How often are your church books opened for scrutiny?
  5. If the community were to examine your church's financial practices, would they be a positive model for other organizations, or would they be an embarrassment?

This article first appeared on It has been adapted by permission.

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