What’s a leader to do about money at church?

November 19, 2010

Leadership at its best is about being present with
those we lead and being less reactive to the inevitable ups and downs
of church life – including the inevitable financial ups and downs. One
important leadership task is to pay appropriate attention to the content
– the bills do in fact have to be paid – without being too distracted
from the process: how people relate to each other and make decisions. In
dealing with church finance, it can be easy to miss the deeper
processes at work because we are so focused on solving the financial
challenges.

Here are two examples: Two churches of similar sizes may face
similar significant budget deficits. In one church, the president of the
congregation gets up and lays the facts out for the congregation. A
small group develops some creative ideas for increasing giving, which
the leadership then implements. The pastor makes a clear case for the
ministry of the church. People are anxious about the financial
situation, but it doesn’t keep them from making appropriate decisions
which are in everyone’s best interest.

In another congregation, whispers about the deficit begin
immediately after the board meeting. The pastor can’t bring himself to
address it from the pulpit. At the congregational meeting, accusations
of mismanagement are made. The treasurer walks out. E-mails are
exchanged frantically after the meeting. The congregation is unable to
bridge the gap, and the youth pastor is laid off.

These congregations could deal with other challenges in the same way
and come up with similar results. One is resilient, calm and creative.
The other is anxious, reactive, and rigid in its response. Whether the
matter is money, building use, worship patterns or carpet color, the
response will be similar. The functioning of the institution and its
leader is not “about” the money at all.

You may ask, “I’m in congregation B: what should I do?” The first
job is always to manage your own anxiety. This is your highest priority –
you can’t do the rest of your job if you are too anxious. Recognize two
things: first, the reactivity of this congregation has a long history
which you cannot change. Second, you play your own part in it, and that
part you can change. You may need to make a clear statement from the
pulpit or at a board or congregational meeting. The purpose is not to
accuse others, or to tell them what they should do or how they should
be. But you can say something like, “Here’s what’s important to me in
our ministry, and why I think we all need to support it.” Resist the
idea of solving the problem for them or trying to calm them down
(although if you stay calm, it will help others stay calm).

The best leaders relate to others in a way that is clear about their
own position and invites others to participate, but doesn’t willfully
pressure them to change or to follow. This kind of leadership has to do
with personal maturity: our ability to be clear within ourselves and to
relate to others out of that clarity. Edwin Friedman called this
“leadership through self-differentiation.”

Here are some questions to ask to keep yourself thinking about leadership and money.

1. Who is the most anxious about money in the church? Who is the most calm?
2. Do I need to define myself or take a stand on an issue (”here’s how I see it”)?
3. Who is overfunctioning around money? Am I? Who is underfunctioning?
4. What is the church’s history around money? Can I see similarities
between how the church makes decisions about money and other decisions
we make?
5. Where might I take a little less responsibility? Where do I need to step up and take more leadership?

Originally posted at Marcuson's Church Leadership Blog.