We’re all thinking about numbers this week since taxes are due today. Do you know your church’s numbers? Many pastors feel intimidated when reading church financial reports and having conversations about finance and stewardship.
Here are seven church finance numbers that deserve your attention:
- The relationship of spending to budget. Advanced: know what the spending flow is through the year. Some expenses are monthly, but many are not.
- Cash balance: the cash available to pay bills. And what is the trend month to month? If it’s going down, you may have a problem.
- The number of pledges at each level of giving, even if you don’t know the names.
- The percentage of givers on the board. It should be 100%.
- Net assets at the beginning and end of each year. You want to be able to see the trends.
- Giving and spending trends over the last three years. Advanced: know what the giving flow is through the year. No church receives one-twelfth of their giving each month.
- Amount of money that is unrestricted, or available to be spent on anything, versus restricted.
Many church financial reports are inadequate. In some churches finance committees and treasurers hoard the information. I heard of one treasurer who told the pastor the reports were “none of your business.” If you’re in a church like that, it may take some time to dig out these figures. Be patient, but don’t give up.
Other churches produce so many reports it can be overwhelming for the beginner. If church financial reports and conversations seem like so much noise to you, be patient with yourself. Pick one of these numbers and see what you can learn, then move on to another. Grace abounds!
Do you want to learn more? A great book is Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors, by Janet T. Jamieson and Philip T. Jamieson.
If you love church numbers, celebrate, and find a colleague to mentor in this critical area of ministry.
Want to read more? Here’s another post on 7 things pastors must do in church finance.
Do you think you pray enough? I’ve met a few clergy who do, but most say, “I should pray more…”
Here are four thoughts on prayer for clergy: 1) Prayer is crucial to sustain spiritual leadership.
2) Praying out of a sense of obligation is not life-giving.
3) Feeling guilty because you are not praying is also not life-giving.
4) Five minutes of prayer can help sustain your spiritual leadership and give you life. Is five minutes of prayer really enough? I’m not sure, but I AM sure, and say frequently, that five minutes of prayer is better than no minutes. I told a colleague last week that if every minister prayed for at least five minutes the church would be a different place. But that may get too much into obligation…
A friend told me her church had an overnight prayer vigil Maundy Thursday night. She signed up for 3 a.m., and went to the church and prayed for two hours. My first reaction was to feel inadequate. I’m not sure I’ve ever prayed consciously for two hours straight in my life.
But on reflection, I’m grateful there are people who are called to this type of prayer ministry, clergy and laity. I know I am not. But I am called to pray, for my own ministry and for others.
One model for daily prayer
Here’s what I do most days, and sometimes it takes only five minutes:
- Read a few verses of Scripture. (Currently I’m reading Opening to You, Norman Fischer’s Zen-inspired renditions of the Psalms.)
- Write down five things from the day before that I’m thankful for, and give thanks overall for the riches (literal and metaphorical) in my life.
- Reflect on the day ahead and ask God for clarity about what I want and ought to do for the day.
- Pray for those I love the most. I’ve stopped asking for specifics for them, and I mention their names to God, trusting God knows what they need more than I do.
- Pray for those in need, including a list of folks I pray for daily. In Leaders Who Last, I quoted Episcopal priest Todd Miller, who prays for five people from his church directory daily.
- Pray for those in positions of responsibility.
That’s what I do. What do you do?
Here is another post on prayer: 10 Prayer Hacks.
It’s Holy Week (no surprise to any reader of this blog). Depending on your tradition, you may have one, two, or as many as five extra services. Here are some ideas for surviving with more grace and less stress:
- Keep the end in mind. We’re heading for Easter. It’s about life, not exhaustion. What are one or two things you can do this week to give yourself life and energy?
- Do one thing at a time. Multitasking has been discredited. Focus on the task at hand and the person in front of you. Turn your phone off, or at least silence it, while you are writing your Easter sermon.
- Accept the burden. It’s a busy week, and it will be over on Sunday. When I was a pastor, I never seemed to be able to even begin my Easter sermon until Saturday. Once I accepted it, Holy Week was a lot less stressful. I never got up in the Easter pulpit empty-handed.
- Have compassion for the Easter-only crowd. Celebrate that they are there, and accept the reality you won’t see them again until next year. And ignore the person who says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had this many people every Sunday?!”
- Let go of perfection. You won’t be prepared enough. And someone, probably you, and probably someone else, too, will make a mistake that will mar the worship.
- Plan a reward. You are taking Monday off, right?
- Protect yourself from the anxiety of others. If staff or lay leaders are running around like crazy, let them. Do a little hand-holding if necessary but be clear about your own responsibilities and keep your focus on them.
- Celebrate! It’s Easter, after all. Even if the week is truly crazy and you can only really celebrate at 1:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday, do it then.
- Remember that it’s not about you. You’re the messenger. It’s about Jesus, the Resurrection, and new life for all. Let that reality not add to the pressure, but relieve it. The new life is for preachers, too.
A friend who worked in planned giving once told me that people can’t decide what to do for their charitable legacy until they decide how to leave money to their families.
I suspect this is true in year-to-year giving: People will find it hard to give generously if they haven’t figured out how to manage their family finances. Many people are drowning in debt, both credit card debt (now over $700 billion nationally) and educational debt (now up to $1.2 trillion).
It’s essential to do this in a way that helps people extend grace to themselves. The power of shame around past financial decision is enormous. I find I can remember financial mistakes I made ten, twenty or more years ago and think what I could do with that money if I had it now. I’m working hard to let go of the past and move forward with compassion for my past self and hope for the future. Helping others do the same is a huge contribution we can make.
In Money and Your Ministry, I quote Israel Galindo as saying that all too often we give people no help during the year from a faith perspective, to deal with what money represents in their lives. He says, “Then once a year we ask them for more money while they are dealing with all this anxiety about money. So if part of my pastoral responsibility is the spiritual welfare of my congregation, I cannot avoid dealing with this real, critical faith issue in the life of my members. It’s not about the budget; it’s about a Christian response to the resources you have.”
Here are some tips for addressing personal finance in congregational life
- Read a book together. One of the best is Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin. There’s a great study guide downloadable here.
- Offer a program. Many churches of all theological persuasions have benefited from Dave Ramsey’s work. A downloadable program, The Money Course, is offered free by the folks who created Alpha. It’s geared toward a British audience but looks helpful.
- Preach explicitly about personal finance. Focus on grace and moving forward into the future with integrity and hope.
- Use denominational resources. In many denominations, foundation representatives will meet with families to hep them make choices about their estate plan, including their future giving plan.
- Help families and young people think through the financial implications of their college choices. Young people (and sometimes their families) are finding themselves in bondage for years due to educational debt. I’d love to see this be an essential part of youth ministry.
What ideas do you have for helping the people of your congregation bring grace and faith into their personal financial lives?
Do you want people in your church to show more generosity? Do you want them to give more to the church and beyond? I recently wrote about starting with yourself. But it takes more than being generous to cultivate generous givers. Take another step: ask them to give.
Many pastors I speak to are hesitant to boldly ask their members to give more. They are reluctant to preach about stewardship more often than once a year. They worry that people will think the church is always asking for money. They feel conflicted because the giving they ask for helps pay their salary. And they simply feel that talking about money is somehow a distraction from their real ministry. I felt like this myself for many years.
But I learned to think differently about asking people to give. I came to believe that helping people deal with their money and become more generous is ministry. It’s a critical part of pastoral ministry to individuals, and an essential part of leading a congregation.
And I don’t think pastors need apologize because people’s giving pays their salary. Pastors’ leadership is a critical part of the work of the church. And, as Paul says, “the laborer is worthy of his [or her] wages.”
Five reasons to ask people to give
Here are five reasons to ask people to give, and to ask more than once a year:
1. Many won’t give unless you ask. They weren’t raised to give, and they are used to giving in response to an appeal by other groups.
2. Other groups, such as faith-based nonprofits, do not limit their asking to once a year.
3. Asking regularly can increase giving, which means more money for your church’s ministry and more money to give away.
4. Giving can help your people grow spiritually. Encouraging them to give is a real contribution to them.
5. Helping people let go of their money can lead to greater freedom and sense of sufficiency in other areas of their lives.
What ministry could your church do if everyone understood the gracious flow of money into and out of their lives, and supported ministry within and beyond your congregation?
Do you want people in your church to be show more generosity? Where can you start? With yourself.
Becoming a more generous person doesn’t guarantee your people will follow, but it’s much easier to lead people where you are willing to go yourself. And it helps to create a sense of sufficiency in yourself which will help you be calmer in your leadership.
Ask yourself, what are the many ways you can cultivate generosity in yourself?
I’m seeking to practice what I preach this Lent by working on generosity daily. I intend to give money away every day.
Here are some ideas I have.
1. Give a 100% tip in a restaurant.
2. Give to my church every week instead of once a month.
3. Give my kids some extra money.
4. Give money to someone on the street who asks for it without worrying what they will do with it.
5. Turn our overflowing penny bowl into dollars and give them away.
6. Take my dad out for lunch or dinner.
7. Decide together with Karl on the international development project we’d like to support and send the money.
8. Seek out a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding project I’d like to support and donate.
9. Give extra money to one or more of the ministries I already support.
10. Give some cash to our neighbor kids.
11. Leave a big tip to the maid in the hotels I’ll be staying in.
I want to be more generous myself, as well as encourage others to do so. What other ideas do you have for me? Or for yourself?
Here’s another post on someone who inspired me by her generosity.
Are you struggling with a challenging employee? Are you looking for a new employee? Most pastors have next to no training in hiring and supervising staff. I know I didn’t. Managing staff is an essential skill for church leaders. Here are ten things I’ve learned about supervision at church.
1. Don’t hire someone just because they need a job. Here’s a great article on this topic. Hire because the person is the best for the job.
2. Don’t hire someone with the skills who you suspect has a bad attitude. Their attitude is unlikely to improve. It’s better to hire someone with a good attitude and train them.
3. Don’t hire if you can’t fire. You can hire church members, but you need to be clear about roles and expectations and be willing to let them go if it doesn’t work out. (See the excellent book When Moses Meets Aaron by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont on hiring church members and many other matters, not just for large congregations.)
4. Don’t overaccomodate difficult employees. You can be reasonably flexible with employees who do their work, but if you find yourself tiptoeing around an employee or once again making excuses to yourself or others for them, think twice. It may be time to take a stand with them.
5. Always check references. Enough said.
6. Be clear about roles, including what are the job responsibilities and who supervises. Written job descriptions and clear lines of accountability don’t solve all problems, but they help.
7. Remember you can’t always make church employees happy. Be able to tolerate their disappointment or upset.
8. Don’t complain about one employee to another. If you have a senior colleague, you may be able to think together on how to deal with staff challenges in a larger church. That’s different from complaining.
9. Learn the birth order of your staff, and think about how you mesh. If you are a younger son and your office manager is an oldest daughter (especially if she is older than you are), you may find it harder to supervise her, and vice versa. It’s still your job. Consider asking one of your odler siblings for advice.
10. Work on relationships. Find ways to connect in a light way with all of your staff individually. It will pay off.
And if being overly nice in supervision and the rest of ministry is an issue for you, here’s another post to read.
Are you struggling with an antagonist in your church? How we respond to those who seem to be threatening us can be as critical as any inherent threat in them.
Doing a New Year’s book clearout of my shelves, I came across one of my favorite children’s books, Flossie and the Fox. (This wonderful edition by Patricia C. McKissack is still in print almost 30 years later, worth getting even if you don’t have kids.) Most of my kids’ books are long gone, but this one I hold on to. I’ve written about Flossie before, but I think she’s worth a revisit.
Flossie is carrying eggs to her grandmother’s house, and the fox wants them. Rather than panicking, she teases the fox. She first suggests he might be a rabbit because he has thick fur, then a rat because he’s got a long nose, and finally a squirrel because he’s got a long fluffy tail. The fox is outraged and keeps arguing with her. By the time they finish arguing, she has gotten safely to her grandmother’s house, and the dogs are threatening the fox.
What does Flossie have to do with ministry and church antagonists? It always takes two to tango, and when we engage seriously and defensively with so-called “antagonists,” we’re hooked. We play our own part in the dance.
And when we approach them at least a little more lightly, we may find they are less dangerous than we thought, or at least we are less vulnerable.
Here are four tips for relating to the most challenging people in your congregation or parish:
- Don’t get defensive. Or at least, do your best not to respond defensively. In the story, somehow Flossie doesn’t even seem to be afraid of the fox.
- Keep your eyes on your goals, not the antagonist. Flossie never loses sight of her aim, which is to get the eggs to her grandmother’s house.
- Don’t take the antagonist too seriously. You may or may not take a teasing tone, as Flossie does. if you’re too anxious, it can turn sarcastic. But in your own mind, see them in some light-hearted way.
- Look for allies. You may not have “dogs” to call on, but other powerful leaders can help challenge the antagonist.
And remember, even powerful antagonists are not as dangerous to you as a wild animal.