Do you shy away from leading in the financial area of ministry? If so, you are not alone. Many ministers begin their work without the necessary skills for attending to the business of spiritual community. Here are three things to remember about ministry and money.
First, Money Is Part of Your Job.
The truth is that in most cases, no one teaches you this. We may start our ministries having some idea how to teach and care for people and for the world at large, yet know almost nothing about how to lead in the financial arena. In my training I had one small course on church administration, and money was only part of it. However, attending to money matters is a key part of the job of ministry. The good news: even if you feel uncomfortable with this area of ministry, you can get better at it.
Early in my ministry I always wanted to get through the task of asking people to give so I could get back to “real ministry.” I realized over time that helping people in their relationship with money is real ministry. This gave me far more confidence, and more energy, for this part of the work. I came to embrace it and even enjoy it.
If you are not confident leading in money matters, there are plenty of resources. Rev Donna Lind, recently retired from Unity Chapel, Hemet, Calif., recommends regular reading and attending conferences. She made this a key part of her own learning plan and developed a library of resources for herself. You can also find a mentor inside or (perhaps better) outside the church to help you learn how to make sense of financial statements and talk with people who understand money better than you do.
It is not just about the money, of course. You want money for the sake of the vision—and attracting money requires vision. It’s up to you to begin the conversation about vision, to articulate where you want to go. Rabbi Edwin Friedman, author of Generation to Generation, recommended ministers give their own “I have a dream” speech.
Rev Victoria Etchemendy, founding minister of The Unity Center, West Linn, Oregon, tells the story of slowly gathering like-minded people for her new ministry. Etchemendy says that as important as her own vision was, it wasn’t simply about her: “The part I love is other people brought pieces of the vision I didn’t even have yet.” It became a collaborative process. Their mutual clarity helped them be ready for the money to come—and it did.
A compelling vision will help keep you going. Victoria Etchemendy says when things were difficult or frightening, “My faith in the vision was bigger than the fear.” If you articulate a compelling vision, over time you will draw people who share the same vision. She adds, “If the vision is compelling and connects with the heart of the community, they will give.”
This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to articulate a vision that is consistent with the life of an existing community. Israel Galindo, author of The Hidden Lives of Congregations, suggests that it takes five years to understand the congregation enough and to be connected with it. Take the long view.
Secondly, Money Is Not Your Job Alone.
While some ministers avoid money matters as much as possible, others carry the burden alone. This does not help you or your spiritual community do the work you need to do together. Etchemendy says, “Working with a board as a team is essential. We are co-creators in making the big decisions.” Insist that board members share the responsibility with you—and support the ministry financially themselves.
You can get also support beyond the board. Donna Lind in one congregation had a group of people who got involved in the financial part of the ministry and did personal prayer work around this. She even had a team who prayed over the money before they counted it each week.
In addition, keep the congregation informed along the way. When you are open about how the money is being used, people are more likely to give. There are two pieces to involving the congregation. First, keep the vision to the forefront. You are inviting people to give to the vision, not to keep the lights on (although the lights are part of it, of course).
Second, they do need to know the facts about where the congregation is financially. Challenging people to step up to meet a shortfall is one way of asking them to help carry the responsibility for the community life that you all share together. Likewise, when things are going well, you can celebrate together what you have achieved.
Of course, it’s much easier to get people to give to a project or a capital campaign than the ongoing support of the ministry. Victoria Etchemendy recommends tying them together, for example: “We built this building for the youth, then you tell the story about the youth who grew up here, whose life has been changed, whose mother was in prison, and now is teaching Sunday school and wants to be a part of changing other kids’ lives.”
Third, Remember that Faith and Money Go Together.
The minister himself or herself has to bring confidence and a prosperity consciousness into their own leadership in money matters. That can be a challenge if you know there’s not quite enough in the checking account to pay the bills. Your own active faith can help sustain you through tough times.
Donna Lind says, “I have a strong faith that things are always going to come out as it should. When my husband and I first came here 15 years ago, we were going to have to tear down the building because it was not earthquake safe. We needed $400,000, and we had 35 people at that point. I knew somehow it was going to work if we just put one foot in front of the other.” She did, and it did.
You are calling others to view their money in the light of their faith, to live out of that consciousness, and to be generous out of their own prosperity.
Remember: to invite people to give to something they are excited about and truly believe in is not an imposition; it’s a gift.
Our people desperately need an alternative view of their finances, to view money as not ultimate, not security, but a divine resource that can flow into their lives and through them into the ministry, to make a vision real.