Friday, August 8, 2014

Money Troubles: Sensitive Yet Frank Conversations Await

A few years ago, I participated in two sessions of training for intentional interim ministry.  As part of the experiential learning component, we were asked to pair up with another pastor and answer a series of questions about a topic.

The topic was "Money".

The first question:  "Share a positive experience you've had with money."  The conversation was lively and animated among the group members sharing back and forth.

The second question:  "Share a negative experience you've had with money."  The conversation was dramatically different: people speaking in low, near funereal tones about debt, paychecks from church treasurers being chronically late (or in some cases, practically needing to beg).  Stories of personal financial hardship or times of pastoral care for those who suddenly found themselves deeply in debt or in arrears on their mortgage abounded.

The facilitators had the group reform, and they discussed what they had observed as we spoke about money.  The positive experiences sparked easy going, free wheeling conversation.  The negative experience discussions cut the "noise" of twenty people talking at once to a much more low-key level.

The point of the exercise is to get people talking about money, realizing that all of us have our struggles and challenges and our giddy moments (all too brief!) about cash flow, raises at work, unexpected windfalls and bills to pay.  

In turn, the facilitators asked us to think about the role of pastors in congregations.  How does this exercise inform our approach to stewardship, church budgets and mission giving?   The facilitators suggested that without understanding the subjective issues around money for our congregants, clergy and church leaders miss out on opportunities to build safe spaces for churches to talk about money and have earnest conversations about our priorities, so our church's ministry and mission can flourish, aware of the profit and loss issues and wise investment and endowment use, yet not held back by our fears and anxietiesa that come with us to every church meeting where money is on the agenda (or worse, discussed only in the parking lot with less wisdom and more ire in the mix).

Everybody has an experience around money that is quite memorable.  Whether it is a good or bad experience, such events in our lives help shape our outlook.   I suggest that everybody in the board room or congregational meeting (or the parking lot afterwards) has three things in common: 

1)   We have experiences (good or bad) with money that inform us.
2)   Congregations are 100% comprised of people with good or bad experiences about money.
3)   Congregations who wish to have more of the "good" type of experiences really need to talk about their personal and congregational values, beliefs and priorities with open hearts and open minds and open hands. 

(On the latter count, open hands are less likely to grasp a chair and fling it across the room....)

For readers involved with the ministries of the American Baptist Churches of New York State, I encourage your church to consider attending the Church Finance Conference, to be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, at the St Paul's Baptist Church in downtown Utica.  This event precedes the 2014 Biennial beginning later that night at Tabernacle Baptist, and it has a separate registration process.  You can come for the Conference and stay for the Biennial, or you can just come to one or the other.

To register,   Online registration and downloadable "mail it in" registration available via this link above or by contacting the ABCNYS Region Office!

Send your Trustees, Treasurers, Financial Secretaries, Clergy, Pastoral Relations Committees, and any other congregational lay leader who is concerned about money, property and budget challenges and all other "fun" things that tend to consume an inordinate amount of time and frustration in the administrative life of the Church.

Want to become a good, creative and healthy congregation?  Talk about money--early and often! 

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