Minnesota Conference assistant communication director Savannah Carlson interviews Rebekah Daum, associate treasurer for the Minnesota Conference and property, liability and workers comp insurance administrator since June 2016.
Rebekah, what do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy seeing growth, whether in dollars, number of churches or new members. However, right now planning and budgeting for growth in the future is sometimes a challenge as we see some numbers going up and some numbers going down.
At the time of this interview, conferences are in the process of closing the books for 2020. How has the church in Minnesota been impacted by the pandemic, both corporately and at the local level?
We’ve had to learn much patience and flexibility. Many ways of doing things have changed to enable us to continue working. Our committees meet virtually, which presents its own set of challenges. If we can’t meet virtually, the meetings most likely get postponed.
The local churches are also being flexible and coming up with new ways to evangelize. New members are still being baptized and we’re thankful for the extra work the churches have done to make this happen in 2020.
How have local churches been affected financially by the pandemic?
In Minnesota we have seen a significant decrease in local church offerings, particularly the local church budget. These affect the ability of the local church to pay its normal monthly bills. Utilities, rent and mortgage payments must all be made even if members are not meeting in the church. When the offering appeal for church budget cannot be made, and we cannot pass the offering plate, the offerings go down.
Last year we saw the effects of church closure on the local offerings almost immediately. Within four weeks of the initial shutdown, there were churches struggling to pay their monthly bills. There was a rush to get all churches connected to online giving so members can give easily and securely. This increase in online giving has helped.
The Bible tells us that the world will be full of tumult in end times. In light of the current economic environment, is there anything we could have done to plan for this financial deficit at the local level?
We never know when a crisis will come, and we never know exactly how it will impact the giving at church. But we do know crises will happen and because we know, we should be planning.
Most financial advisors say that everyone should maintain at least 3-6 months’ worth of savings in a separate bank account for emergencies. Most people would agree this is a good principle to live by, even if it is difficult to save up that much.
However, we struggle with that concept when it comes to church finances. Should the church save up and hold on to some reserves? In the Bible there are many verses reminding us to trust in God and His faithfulness, to “give and it shall be given to you” (Luke 6:38).
I also believe there are other principles in the Bible not contradictory to these verses that show we should have some funds in reserves. In Genesis 41, we find a whole story focused on the need to store up and plan for the future after God gave Pharaoh a dream to let him know what was coming on the earth. Joseph planned, worked and stored up so much grain for a future famine that he “left numbering; for it was without number” (Gen 41:50).
In this instance, there was a known number of years that they needed to plan for. We do not usually get such detailed instructions from the Lord. However, Luke 14:28 reminds us that if we intend to build (or do any project), we should first sit down and count the cost and make sure we have sufficient resources to finish it.
According to Matthew 6, we should not store up treasure on earth. We do not want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the sake of saving. This would be unwise stewardship of the offerings given to support the spread of the gospel. On the other hand, if we cannot pay our bills, we damage our reputation and our effectiveness in ministry.
I believe a good compromise between planning and hoarding is to set a specific amount aside for reserves and then no more. This can be a certain percentage of your annual budget; it can be a dollar amount based on known expenses per month. Whatever the amount, it should be agreed upon by the church, then worked toward until the goal is reached. Having some money in reserves should give peace of mind to the church members as well.
Tell us more about the process of receiving tithe money from the local church level.
All tithe envelopes and online giving are processed at the local church by the local treasurer first. The local treasurer keeps track of donors, sends tithe and mission offerings over to the conference, pays local bills and sends out year-end receipts. A large portion of my responsibilities are directly dependent on the local treasurers. I try to work with them very closely and provide support and help when needed. A church cannot function without its treasurer, which is sometimes not recognized until they lose their treasurer.
Just as importantly, the world church is also impacted by the local treasurer. Without the local treasurer keeping track and sending tithes and offerings over to the conference—where a portion is then sent over to the union and then the General Conference—the mission of the church could not go forward all around the world. It always amazes me to think how my tithes and offerings can affect the mission on the other side of the world.
In recent years there has been a shift to bring younger generations into leadership roles. What are some of the challenges and opportunities of having newer leaders and more experienced leaders working together?
I have always admired and looked up to the leaders of the church for their experience. At the same time, an attitude of willingness to learn, develop, grow and change can give someone much valuable experience. The important thing is to learn to work with everyone. Certainly no one single generation has all the answers. The challenge is recognizing our need for opinions different from our own. Younger leaders as well as more experienced leaders are both needed.
What advice do you have for young people, especially young women, looking to work in some area of church ministry?
You need to be willing. The ministry is always in need of workers. Be willing to work for a “sacrificial” wage, ie. less than you could make in the corporate world but still definitely livable. And be willing to start out at the bottom of the ladder, so to speak. A college degree does not guarantee you know what you’re doing. Be willing to gain experience. Strive for excellence in whatever responsibilities you’re given. It is rewarding work!
Is there anything you want to leave us with today?
While we work and plan the best we can, we are unable to anticipate every challenge or opportunity that presents itself to the church. But we can take comfort from the promises in the Bible that God will never leave or forsake us. We can stand firm, knowing that God will see us through.