I’ve been reading devotionally Margaret Guenther’s At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us. It’s a wonderful book, which I intend to review when I’m finished. The passage I read today, in a chapter entitled “Loving Generosity,” included a stark quote from the fourth-century bishop Basil the Great.
“What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor person there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now — and you want to wait until tomorrow? “I’m not doing any harm,” you say. “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.” You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is your own….”
Basil’s passage concludes, “You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.”
I’ve been thinking about this all day. What do you think?
This week following the Leadership in Ministry workshop, I visited my friend and colleague, Meg Hess. Her daughter, Keziah, has on the refrigerator a list of “Test Taking Tips” left over from elementary school. I love tips, and I thought these might actually apply to pastoral ministry more than you might expect.
Here they are:
Test Taking Tips
- Get a good night’s sleep. Enough said.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Likewise.
- Read and follow directions. I remember taking a class from Bob Goeser at the Lutheran seminary in Berkeley. He said: “It’s not the parts of Scripture I don’t understand that are the problem. It’s the parts I do, like ‘Love your neighbor.’”
- Your first answer is probably right. This one doesn’t always apply – if your first response is anxious, it may not be right. However, if you have an instinct about someone you want to hire, especially a twinge that they might be a problem, you are probably right.
- Use time wisely. Enough said.
- Answer fully and accurately. Generally, greater openness is better than less.
- Stay calm and focused. Enough said.
- If unsure, take an educated guess. As my grandmother said, “Do your best; angels can’t do better.”
- Make sure all answers are readable. Be as clear as you can in your communication.
- Celebrate your effort. This one may be the most important.
What do you think? Do you have any tips to add?
What are the financial facts in your congregation? For example:
- What are the trends in giving and expenses?
- What is the giving pyramid – how many givers do you have at successive giving levels?
- What is the pace of income through the year – what percentage comes in during December each year?
- What percentage of income goes to ministries outside your congregation?
Who knows what the facts are? Leaders in churches of all sizes can find it a challenge to get a handle on the facts – and to handle their own and others’ anxiety about those facts. Whether your treasurer has a shoebox of papers or uses a sophisticated system to analyze the data, you may find information elusive.
One new church treasurer found that the outgoing treasurer never had time to explain the information in his confusing records. In another church, the finance committee was in a panic from January until December 31, when the end-of-year giving took care of the perceived deficit, every single year.
Facts and anxiety are in an inverse relationship. The higher the anxiety, the more difficult it can be to get good information. And the more leaders avoid, hide or waffle about facts, the higher anxiety can go.
The antidote: as always, work on your own anxiety. Stay calm and don’t panic. Work over time to get as many facts as possible. In highly anxious churches, this can be difficult.
Here are seven tips for dealing with financial facts:
- Be as open as possible.
- Even difficult facts, calmly presented by leadership with the message, “We can handle this,” help calm people down.
- Be patient – in some churches it may take several years to get good reports.
- Present financial information in visual and/or story form. Most people fade out when pages of numbers are presented.
- Don’t try to convince people things are better than they think (the cheerleader approach). Simply state your own view.
- Don’t try to convince people things are worse than they think (the Chicken Little approach).
- Overcommunicate. Remember that anxiety is like static – it makes it hard for people to receive information. This may be especially true of financial information.
At the recent Oregon session of the Leadership in Ministry workshop, my colleague, Bob Dibble, workshop coordinator, made a fascinating suggestion: think about the birth order of everyone on your board. I asked him this week to say a little more about this.
Here’s what Bob said:
“Sibling position–yours and theirs–has the potential of raising your functional awareness of the emotional processes going on in any gathering.
“For example, I’m a first-born and would more easily relate to other first-borns (gender, however, also needs to be factored in; namely, I would more easily relate to first-born females as opposed to males). By contrast, I would be more challenged by last-borns and even middlers, whose birth order I do not share.
“It seems to me to be another helpful lens through which to examine my functioning with the many groups that comprise the local church (or any other system).”
Sibling position is not absolute — sometimes a second born ends up acting like a first born. But it’s a way to get a little more neutral about how people on your board might be acting — and how you might get hooked by what they do.
What do you know about your board members and their birth order? What do you notice about yourself and how you lead, based on your place in the family sibling pecking order?
Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams is one of the most significant workshops I’ve ever attended (and I’ve been to many). Dave Ellis, the leader of that workshop, is coming back to Portland, Oregon, July 20-22. He has become an important mentor to me, both in the way he thinks about life and the way he works with groups. Along with Edwin Friedman’s training program, this is one of the top two learning events in my adult life. Dave is a secular teacher, yet I believe he has a valuable contribution to make to faith leaders. His approach can help you both in your own life and how you work with others in ministry. Well worth a trip to Portland, and if you live here, don’t miss it. (Clergy have to give up a Sunday, but it’s worth that, too.) There’s an $85 discount if you sign up by May 31.
Find out more here.
This 47-second video is a great one for pastors. Funny and apt. (Thanks to my colleague, Bob Dibble.)
I wrote an article after my mother died about what I’d learned from her that had benefited me in my ministry. My father turned 90 on Sunday, and I decided I’d like to think about this before he dies (though he’s seems to be going strong).
- To engage with people. My father talks to everyone. He never met a stranger. While I’m not as extraverted as he is (to say the least), I learned a lot from him about how to talk to people from all stations of life and in all circumstances.
- To give. He and my mother decided together decades ago to give a double tithe.
- To learn how to live in different places. My father moved several times when he was growing up and throughout his adult life, including his move to Portland a little over two years ago. While the moves haven’t all been easy, he is very adaptable. He taught me to appreciate the chance to meet new people and learn about a new part of the country. This has helped me in two cross-country moves.
- To do work you love. He was in sales, and loved it, most of all when he was selling a product he believed in. He taught me, and he tells my children, that it is important to love what you do. I loved my ministry in the local church, and now I love my ministry to church leaders.
- To know the value of a dollar. My father is frugal. I learned from him not to overspend, which has enabled me to have the financial freedom to take some chances in my ministry.
- To be a leader. He served on boards in the local and wider church in almost every setting he was in.
- To think about the global ministry of the church. World mission was and is important to him. The day I was born he picked up a missionary who was going to speak at our church from the train station in Seattle (and passed out candy celebrating my birth).
- To attend worship faithfully. He still goes to church almost every week. Even though I no longer preach every Sunday, so do I.
- To adapt to change. He adjusted with good grace to changes in the church they attended for 25 years, and he has faced with courage the changes in his life over the last two years, including my mother’s death. Now he’s got another change as he gives up his car.
- To be yourself. My father is an original. No one who meets him forgets him. He doesn’t second-guess what other people think of him – he is simply himself.
As I noted in the post about my mother, Edwin Friedman asked, “What gifts did your parents give you?” How might you answer that question?
Ed Bacon made some valuable remarks in my interview with him this week about his book 8 Habits of Love. A few of my favorites:
The habit of candor: “Candor has to do with whether I want a particular relationship to become more durable.”
When you are giving feedback to someone: “Make sure you are going to bring up something about the doing side, not the being side, that you have clearly sorted that out.”
The habit of community: “Community cannot happen without the balance between separateness and togetherness.”
He suggested that leaders in a do a self-inventory: “Make sure that in a particular meeting we were staying connected and we were differentiating our own thinking.”
“Getting someone to tell you their story is the shortcut to relationship.”
The habit of stillness: Bacon takes an hour at the beginning of each day to be still. “I have such an advantage coming into the day if I have done that. It is part of my hygiene, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth.”
He added that during the day if he sees he has lost perspective he will take a “time out” to recover it.
Regarding all the habits: the habits that are easier or more difficult come from our family of origin experience. Some families find candor or play easy, for example, others find them more difficult.
The recording of the teleconference is available. E-mail me at Margaret@margaretmarcuson.com, and I’ll send you the link.