Now Read This: The Vile Practices of Church Leadership: Finance & Administration
Nathaniel Berneking grew up in Herculaneum, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River about 35 minutes south of downtown St. Louis. He graduated from both the College of Arts & Sciences (’98) and Law School (’01) at Saint Louis University. As an undergraduate, he majored in history
and minored in theology.
Then, after practicing law for a few years, he went to Candler School of Theology (’07) at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. The last local church he served as pastor was Green Trails UMC in Chesterfield. He is currently the Missouri Conference Director of Finance and Administration.
Why did you write this book?
As I wrote it, I sometimes asked myself why I ever started writing it. At some level, I think I wrote it because I feel any overwhelming compulsion to write. But, I wrote a book about finance and administration specifically because I’m really passionate when it comes to providing resources to pastors and churches. I considered it part of my work as the Conference Director of Finance & Administration. I’ve long seen churches and pastors struggle when it comes to issues of finance, administration and law. I have some know-how in those areas and saw the writing as a means of providing another resource to pastors and churches, especially those in Missouri.
Who is it for/who is the audience?
The book is meant for pastors and laity who lead in local churches, though parts of it could be helpful for anyone who’s looking for a Christian approach to personal finance.
In a few words, tell me what you hope readers gain by reading your book. I want readers to walk away with two understandings: First, I want them to walk away with the conviction that good ministry must be supported by good financial and administrative health. Churches too often miss opportunities for great ministry by getting distracted with financial and administrative struggles. Good financial and administrative practices are just the cost of doing business as pastors and local churches. They don’t necessarily mean you’ll have effective ministry, but you’ll never have effective ministry without them.
Second, I want readers to walk away believing that good financial and administrative practices just require a willingness to engage other local church leaders with trust and a willingness to learn. They aren’t hard to implement, but they do require certain virtues like generosity, trust and openness to learning new things.
Tell us about your writing process. I started the book about two years ago. I finished in about six months. Abingdon Press then put it on a schedule for release in 2017. I don’t write on a schedule, but I do write almost every day. Now that I’ve finished this one, I’ve been spending a lot more time trying my hand at fiction. I’m hoping to publish a novel in the next couple years, but we’ll see. That’s a whole different publication process.
When I was working on this book, I used outlines for each chapter based on the proposal I submitted to the publisher. I centered it all around a couple central ideas: that finance and administration aren’t always fun but are critically necessary if we are to find our way to holiness as individual and communities; and second, that churches and pastors must start their financial and administrative lives with generosity. Those ideas provided a good framework, and I filled out everything from those two starting points.
I spent a few months writing the first three chapters. Then, I just decided to finish in a short amount of time. I took a retreat and wrote aggressively every day for about five days. A couple of those days I found myself producing 8,000 to 10,000 words. I completely finished a draft of the book on that retreat, then spent several weeks revising and re-writing. I’m really particular about my writing, with strong convictions about how sentences sound in someone’s head. Because of that, I finely hone every page. I also had colleagues take a look, including a handful of other Conference treasurers. They were critical to the process.
How is writing for publication different than writing a sermon?
I’m sure some of our authors would disagree, but I think they are two different practices entirely. I’ll also acknowledge that I think writing and process is really personal. Because of that, I’m not sure everyone would answer this the same way. A sermon is about taking a Scripture text, interpreting it, finding its claim on the lives of those to whom we are preaching, and then sharing that claim with a focused and compelling sermon. Everything revolves around communicating the claim of the text.
With a book, maybe you start with a claim, and the book certainly has to be focused on really a single claim or set of claims, but you aren’t confined by the need to speak effectively in 20 minutes (30 for some of us). Abingdon Press generally imposes a word limit of about 60,000 words, and that’s 30 times longer than even the longest of sermons. You can explore and dabble. You can allow yourself to be more creative. And, honestly, the way something sounds in our heads as we read can be set against the way a preacher sounds speaking a sermon. It’s just different. The rhythm of the words is different. Alliteration can work really well in a sermon, but in a book can easily sound hokey or clichéd. Speaking is just different than reading, and because of that, my whole process for writing a sermon and writing for books or articles has to be different.
What recently published book has been most influential to you, and why? How about I name an author instead of a book? Anthony Doerr. He is most known for All The Light We Cannot See, and if you’re going to read him, that’s the place to start. I think he’s influenced me because he writes with this incredible fascination with the world around him. He sees a seashell and starts to imagine something transcendent in its spiraling folds. That fascination gets played out in his fiction’s characters. In All the Light, the protagonists are fascinated by different fields of science, even as children. Doerr has short stories and even a memoir of time he spent in Rome, and all of them drive to the same place: The world is shot through with something beautiful, even divine. That sounds like religious conviction to me, and it’s one I want to foster in myself and in my daughter. I just think being fascinated with the world around us can be the most compelling personality trait we can develop. I think it’s just critical for pastors and laity, if we’re ever going to share the Good News with other people.
See more writings from Nate, buy his book and get free financial resources at www.nateberneking.com