Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

Jenny Rivera said she “felt stable, secure, comfortable” working as a certified public accountant for a decade and a half at the same accounting firm that she first served as a Spring Arbor University intern. Then a sermon shifted her perspective and led to her living out her calling in a new way that benefits many churches and church planters.

Set Free Movement Director Kevin Austin preached the Freedom Sunday message at The Arbor Church in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

“The message was just so clearly about the fact that we’re all called to ministry, and that looks different for everybody. It’s not that everybody’s called into full-time vocational ministry, but I just had this very clear sense from the Lord that: ‘You know what, Jenny? You need to use your accounting background and your vocational knowledge for My purposes in My ministry,’” Rivera said during a Light + Life interview. “I was in a job that I enjoyed, but I remember just saying, ‘OK, whatever that looks like, I’ll do that.’”


“The possibility of a new career felt really scary.”


Rivera considered whether her sense of calling meant the accounting firm should take on new ministry clients or whether she should change jobs. The possibility of a new career “felt really scary, but I remember saying, ‘If that’s what the Lord wants me to do, then I’m open to that idea,’” Rivera recalled.

She noted that, while seeking God’s will, “I was still working at the CPA firm, and some more opportunities for missional work did come up. I actually started working with the Southern Michigan Conference and Mission Igniter through my capacity there. They were looking for an outside source, a CPA, to prepare financial statements for both of those two entities, so I reconnected with people that I had known in college and was able to help with the financial statement preparation.”

She also began helping The Arbor Church with its accounting.

“For a long time, I was thinking, ‘Well, you know, this is really cool. I’m able to use where I am now to help missionally even without leaving my job or pursuing a full-time missionary vocation,” she said.

The Conference Call

Then a call came last summer from Assistant Superintendent Dustin Weber, her primary contact for the accounting help she was giving the Free Methodist Church’s Southern Michigan Conference. Weber said the conference wanted to create a new position and asked if she knew anyone who would be interested. She questioned him about what the position would involve, and his answers intrigued her.

“I said, ‘Dustin, you’re describing everything I would just love to do on a daily basis,’” Rivera told Light + Life.

Switching careers, however, meant a potential loss of flexibility. Since her first son was born 11 years ago, the accounting firm had allowed Rivera — now a mother of three (Josiah, 11; Liam, 9; and Breanna, 6) — to limit her work to three days a week.

“That was actually one of the things that made it most difficult to think about leaving the CPA firm, because as a CPA in public accounting, working part-time is financially equivalent to a lot of full-time jobs, so it provided that financial security that we needed as a family,” she said. “There really were not a lot of part-time opportunities that would allow me to do the same thing.”

The Southern Michigan Conference was able to offer a comparable schedule, and, in September 2021, Rivera left the accounting firm — her employer for the past 15 years — and became the conference’s director of operations.

“I still have time with my family and am able to work about 28 to 30 hours a week,” she said.

Ministry employment, however, is not as financially lucrative as working for a public accounting firm. When asked by Light + Life about whether financial sacrifices were involved in the career change, Rivera acknowledged that becoming a conference employee meant “a pay cut, and there aren’t as many opportunities for increase in wages. [At the accounting firm] we used to have substantial bonuses at year-end and then raises twice a year that you could count on.”

Rivera said that God has provided to meet her family’s financial needs, and she understands the financial pressure that conferences and congregations face.

“Part of my job now is trying to balance the budget,” she said. “Churches, across the nation or the world, are struggling financially as a result of all of the pandemic items.”

Superintendent Bruce Rhodes told Light + Life that Rivera is “an incredible asset to our team and doing incredible missional work with our conference, Mission Igniter incubator and other local churches.”

Rivera oversees the conference finances and business operations. She offers guidance when local churches face unexpected financial situations, and her support of a congregation may include helping local church leaders set up an accounting system. She said that she tries to think creatively as she considers how the conference can meet its financial obligations while helping “our churches thrive and be able to carry out our mission.”

When a ministry doesn’t thrive, a conference or congregation may make the difficult decision to close a local church.

“Property sales have, unfortunately, been something I have to do. It’s not something we want to do, but oftentimes when a church has closed, there’s a building left that we need to sell,” said Rivera, who noted that some property sales are not a sign of ministry ceasing. “We had a happy moment when two churches that were three miles apart merged together, so they were selling a property.”

Rivera’s work also allows her to be part of new ministries launching.

“I also have the privilege of serving Mission Igniter, which is our church planning incubator that was actually launched and grown out of Southern Michigan Conference, but it’s a separate entity,” she explained. “I also get to oversee their finances and assist their church planters.”

She oversees approximately 20 different funds for new ministries launching.

“Each fund represents a separate church planting initiative,” she said. “We oversee the payroll for all of them, their budgets, and helping them to track their donations.”

She added that she especially loves working with Mission Igniter because church planning “is very near and dear to my heart.”

Faith and Family

Rivera grew up in Spring Arbor Township. She came to faith in Christ early in life, and her family attended a local church in the Wesleyan denomination. She then enrolled in Spring Arbor University, a member of the Association of Free Methodist Educational Institutions.

“I majored in accounting after changing my major about every semester for the first few years, so I jokingly say that I squeezed four years of education into five because I changed my major so often,” Rivera said. “I was every major you could think of: teaching, psychology, Christian ministries, business. I finally landed on accounting because when I was a business major, the accounting course was required, and, surprisingly, I really enjoyed it, and I was really good at it. Our accounting professor reached out and said, ‘Hey, you should consider changing your major, so I made the change one last time and stuck with it.’”

During her time at the university, fellow students Dustin Weber, Thad Roller and several other classmates planted Comunidad Agua Viva, a bilingual Spanish-English church in nearby Jackson, Michigan.


“I just fell in love with the church and the people, and it was an amazing time. God was doing great things.”


“They needed a treasurer. I was an accounting major by that time, so Dustin asked if I’d be willing to serve in that capacity,” she said. “I really stepped out of my comfort zone back then, because I always joked that Spanish is not a language I will ever be able to speak. I cannot roll my Rs, and I didn’t know a single word of Spanish the first time I walked into there.”

Rivera said she felt “really out of place, but I just fell in love with the church and the people, and it was an amazing time. God was doing great things. I started learning Spanish and studying it on the side.”

Comunidad Agua Viva also included Carlos, a young immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico at age 18 and then found faith in Christ through the church plant.

“This coming December, we’ll celebrate 15 years of being married, so obviously stepping out of my comfort zone and into that role in a church plant had a huge impact on my life,” she said. “When I first met him, he actually spoke very little English. He had been in the United States for a few years at that point but still didn’t know much English. I had just started learning Spanish when we first met, and we were friends for a while before we started dating.”

The couple eventually began attending the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church (now known as The Arbor Church). She said they were drawn by the church’s “established children’s ministry” and the desire for their family to be “surrounded by that strong community” of local believers. Their early involvement included serving in the church nursery, and now they serve regularly in the children’s ministry and on the hospitality team along with her advising the church on accounting matters.

Carlos Rivera joined The Arbor Church staff in 2020 as a member of the facilities team.

“Trying to explain to our kids what we both do is interesting,” Jenny Rivera said. “They will sum it up by saying, ‘Well, dad works for our church, and mom just works for a whole bunch of churches.’”+

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.