Money easily becomes a focus for people’s anxiety. Our survival–personal and institutional–depends on money, so it draws our anxious attention. This ongoing chronic anxiety about survival shows up in a variety of ways in congregational life
Here are some of the ways:
- Secrecy around money.
- Denial of financial realities-thinking there isn’t enough when there is, or thinking there is enough when there isn’t.
- Overestimating or underestimating giving capacity.
- Regular “crises” around finances, real or imagined.
- Embezzlement or mismanagement (or simply unwillingness to open up the books to audit).
- Resisting necessary expenses like deferred maintenance.
- Persistent criticism of the way church leadership raises funds.
- Never talking about money, or, conversely, always talking about money.
- Blind trust in the leadership around money matters, or, conversely, extreme suspicion of leadership.
What’s a leader to do? You can’t make others be less anxious. What you can do: manage your own anxiety and be clear about what you will and won’t do (“I’m going to share with the congregation the facts about our mid-year financial report,” or, “I’m not going to ask people to make an extra gift for the third time this year.”). Let go of what you can’t control. One pastor recognized that he couldn’t make the board decide to spend funds on deferred maintenance. He said, “I strongly recommend you do this, and I know it’s your decision.” The board said no that year, but the following year, they were able to make a different decision.
Don’t tear your hair out. Many of these patterns have persisted for decades. In churches with more extreme patterns, there’s only so much you can do. Be patient, don’t be too willful, and make it a research project. Get curious about how do they do things, how long they’ve been doing it that way, and when you notice the pattern intensify or lessen. See what you can learn about yourself and how you relate to others who are anxious about money.
What do you notice about your church?