What does Easter have to do with money?

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Many of us good church people subconsciously think of money as dirty. Clergy don’t want too much to do with it. They don’t want to talk about it too often. Christians often keep their life of faith separate from their business.

Nadia Bolz-Weber suggests in her book Pastrix that after the resurrection Mary Magdalene may have thought Jesus a gardener because he still had the dirt from the tomb under his nails. She points out that all the pictures of the risen Christ look “more like a wingless angel than a gardener.” She goes on, “My experience, however, is that the God of Easter is a God with dirt under his nails.” I believe that means God is interested in every single part of our lives, including our money.

In fact, when we let Jesus mix it up with our money, and mix it up with money ourselves, we live out our calling as Christians. My Lenten reading was a book called The Holy Use of Money, by John Haughey. Haughey says that when Jesus appears, “he appears in the midst of their concerns, disparaging none of them, taking upon himself each of these, transforming all of them.” Jesus concerns himself with our money life. Easter hope can transform our everyday financial concerns and fears.

New life can come into our financial relationships in spite of our fear and our reluctance to deal with money. The disciples were huddled in the upper room, unsure what to do. Many church leaders are huddled together, anxious about how they will fund their ministries.

Individuals, too, can experience fear, shame and uncertainty in relation to money.

Pastors face challenges like:

  • Having to go part time and find supplemental work
  • Crushing student or consumer debt
  • Envying friends or family members who make so much more

Church members face similar challenges and others:

  • Wanting to integrate faith with daily work and money use, and not knowing how
  • Guilt about how much they are spending on their children and grandchildren
  • Dealing with the shame of bankruptcy, present or past

The hope Jesus offers extends to our institutional and personal finances. In John 21 the risen Jesus cooks a breakfast of fish for the disciples, after a miraculous catch of fish. He provides what they need, and he provides the spiritual and practical support we need. This includes including our money.

If the resurrection means anything, it means our daily, bodily concerns (like buying food and clothing and paying our bills) are included in Easter hope.

You can claim Easter hope for your money when you celebrate what you DO have. You can continue your Easter celebration even if money is tight at church or home.

In my own practice I’ve found it helps to focus on everyday, specific small celebrations as a way of eliminating fear and moving me toward hope.

You can celebrate that:

  • Your church’s doors were open for Easter worship.
  • Your church has windows and doors.
  • It’s spring, at last (at least in the northern hemisphere). Spring costs nothing.
  • You had enough to eat today.
  • Christ is risen!

What are the many ways you can bring your Easter celebration into your life with money?

photo credit: http://bit.ly/1hcr4FS

What does Holy Week have to do with money?

cross-211992_640This year, Holy Week and money are closely related for me. I’m on a quest for spiritual and emotional freedom in my relationship with money, freedom from fear and for possibility.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I think it’s a fundamental human challenge. Our fear about money and our fear of death are related. We are anxious about money because at a fundamental level we need it for survival. In our society, we buy food with money. We need that food to stay alive.

Today Christians observe Good Friday, when we remember Jesus’ death. Protestants rush to Easter. And the story of Easter does tell us that death is not ultimate. God has power even over the grave.

Yet we do die. We have to face that truth. Good Friday gives us time to reflect on that reality as well as on the suffering and death of Jesus.

And, of course, Christians affirm that the story does not end with Good Friday, that Easter dawns. Life comes out of death.

So: what does Holy Week have to do with money? I’m taking a nine-month course about money this year. At a recent workshop for the money course, we engaged in an exercise where we wrote down some things in our lives we wanted to be free of, and actually buried the paper in the ground.

As I began this solitary practice, I realized that I know something about funerals. I’ve presided at many. So I read some of the usual funeral texts including Psalm 23. “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows.” I’ve read this Psalm dozens if not hundreds of times, and I never truly noticed these words about God’s provision. I felt more able to claim that provision without fear.

This Holy Week I am engaged in a practice to leave my old relationship with money buried and to allow greater freedom and possibility to come to life as Easter dawns. I’m attending a 3-hour Good Friday service for the first time in years, at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church in Portland. I’ll spend the rest of Friday and all of Saturday in quiet. I’m glad I’m not preaching Easter Sunday.

I’m convinced that God wants me to be free in relation to money, that this is part of my journey toward new life in Christ. I believe God wants you to be free, too.

What are some of the ways you are finding greater freedom with regard to money in your ministry and/or your life?

6 things I learned from my father about money

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We all learn how to relate to money in the families we grow up in. They not only teach us who we are, they teach us what money means. Some of those lessons are helpful, some are less so. But I see value in celebrating what we learned from our parents about money. It helps us see the strengths in our family and in ourselves, which can help us approach our ministries more positively and powerfully.

Here are five things I learned from my father about money that I am grateful for in my ministry and in my life. And I’m grateful he’s still living to keep teaching me. He turns 91 on April 28, and we’re celebrating tomorrow. (The picture above is from his birthday last year.) He is amazing.

  1. Don’t spend it. Like many family lessons this is a mixed bag, but the value in being able to regulate my spending has given me a lot of freedom in my life.
  2. If you do spend, buy quality (especially big items). He always bought new cars. My parents bought furniture which is still in great shape 50 years later, and I now happily own it.
  3. Find ways to get what you need other than spending money. We had a conversation this week in which he said, “I never fixed anything.” Dad doesn’t have that gift. But he was a genius at charming neighbor men into helping him out – at no cost.
  4. Learning is worth spending money on. Dad paid for years of music lessons and paid for my college without complaint.
  5. Say yes to opportunities. Dad came “from nothing,” as he says and through hard work and frugality achieved far more than he could have imagined. He said “yes” to the GI bill and got a college degree that he says was a much about having a life as making a living. He said yes to a business opportunity across the country when he was in his late 50s. I admire his courage, and like him have made cross-country moves.
  6. Do give. My dad gave me allowance starting when I was five years old, and made it clear I was to give. I can’t remember how I tithed a nickel, but I know I gave to the offering out of my allowance. He tells a story of having lunch with a missionary couple who said they gave a double tithe. After lunch, my mom and dad looked at each other and thought, if they can do it, so can we. And they did, for decades.

What did you learn from your family about money: earning, spending, and giving to the church and to others? How do those lessons benefit you today?

7 things pastors must not do in church finance

AbacasHere are seven things pastors must not do if they want to enhance their leadership in church money matters and overall. (See here for seven things they must do.)

  1. Do too much. Some pastors, especially in smaller churches, take on far too much responsibility for their church’s finances. Some tasks are better not done than to have the pastor do it. You are not the treasurer.
  2. Do too little. Other pastors want to do as little as possible. Even in larger churches, some clergy think it’s not their job to deal with the money (and some lay leaders are happy to have them stay out of it). In a well-functioning church, the pastor thoughtfully considers what his or her job is in relation to finances, and does it.
  3. Handle cash. Don’t put yourself in a position where accusations about mishandling money can be made.
  4. Talk about money only once a year. Instead, make money a year-round topic. You’ll get used to it, and so will they.
  5. Complain about poorly performing treasurers, administrators or bookkeepers. Complaining about staff or volunteers rarely yields results. It’s an unproductive triangle. If changes need to be made, you will need allies, and a thoughtful conversation with key leaders will be necessary. That’s different from complaining.
  6. Be afraid of financial matters. Talk about the money, share your perspective, and to ask questions if you need to learn more. If your fear about money comes from your family story (likely), get some coaching to work on it. Any cost will likely come back to you in real dollars as you get a handle on your own anxiety.
  7. Take money decisions personally. Churches have their own processes for making these decisions, some of which go back to their founding. Chances are it’s not about you (even if the decision is about your salary).

What would you add to this list?

photo Viktor Hanacek

7 things pastors must do in church finance

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Love dealing with money or hate it? It’s a vital part of the job for any pastor, no matter the size of your church. Here are seven things pastors must do to enhance their leadership in church money matters and overall.

  1. Pay attention to the finances. Even if you are not a money person, your role requires some basic skill and time. One idea: find a friend outside the church who can coach you if you need help making sense of the numbers.
  2. Stay connected to the money people. Work on your relationship with the treasurer and finance people. Find ways to connect with them that don’t have anything to do with the budget. Relationships are critical in church life, and perhaps nowhere more than in finances.
  3. Talk about money from the pulpit. Try scheduling a quarterly sermon where you talk about money at a time when you are not asking people for it.  There is no shortage of biblical texts to choose from.
  4. Give to the church. Sure, your giving helps support your own salary. But you can’t ask people to do what you are not willing to do yourself.
  5. Remember, it’s never about the money. Money challenges reflect emotional process in congregational life. In conflict “about” money, look deeper and longer.
  6. Take a look at the past. Look back at your church’s history to see what you can learn about what they do in relation to money. It can help you take the challenges less personally. “Oh – they had this fight with their first pastor!”
  7. Let go. You can’t control the decisions other people make about their own money, or the decisions the governing body makes. Give your input, and then let them do their own work.

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Why I’m Having Fun with Money for Lent

file0001764062159As my Lenten practice this year, I’m having fun with money every day.

Fun and Lent seem mutually exclusive. Lent has traditionally been about giving something up. But last year for Lent, I had fun every day. For a responsible oldest daughter, this counterintuitive practice was liberating. I’m experimenting further this year, in the realm of money, where God is continuing to challenge me to grow toward freedom.

I have given things up for Lent: coffee, chocolate, ice cream, even genre fiction (the biggest sacrifice so far). I’ve found these practices valuable.

But the purpose of Lenten practice is not the giving up in itself. It’s the freedom from attachment and compulsion that is at the heart of the spiritual life. For many, including me, money is one of the greatest areas of unfreedom.

I’m freer about money than I used to be. But I’m not all the way there. My current goal is to love everything about dealing with money: making it, saving it, giving it, managing it, spending it and asking people to give their money away.

So my practice this Lent is to have fun with money in some way: to give it when someone asks, to, yes, spend some on myself, to enjoy keeping track of it. Last week I read an article by George Hobica suggesting one way to be nice to flight attendants was to buy treats for them. “Perfect,” I thought, and I found some Trader Joe’s Kona truffles to take on my flight to Dallas.

When I gave them to the flight attendant, she asked, “Why would you do that?” I told her about the article and that it was part of my Lenten practice. I bought some chocolate-covered caramels for the flight home. The same flight attendant was working again. She said, “I hope you don’t travel much – you’re going to go broke.”

I said, “It’s only a few dollars!” The whole crew was thrilled – but for me, it was as much fun as any flight I have ever taken.

I believe God wants all of us to be free. “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7, NRSV) The purpose of my practice is to help me become more free.

What are some ways you can move toward greater freedom in your own relationship with money?

photo by Matthew Hull

4 things ordinary church leaders can learn from the Pope

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The pope is hot. When he makes the cover of Rolling Stone, you know something has changed. Clearly Francis is an unusual leader. But here are four things we can all learn from the way he has taken on the role of pope in the last year.

  1. Pray daily. Francis has spent two hours every day in prayer for years. No doubt he needs it now more than ever.
  2. Claim the strength of your family story. Francis’ grandmother was instrumental in his formation. His Italian descent helps him navigate the Vatican. I’m not sure another non-European pope could have done so well.
  3. Be tough. Paul Vallella in his excellent biography Pope Francis: Untying the Knotscalls the pope: “an enabler with an authoritarian streak, a self-confident man in constant need of forgiveness, and a churchman who combines religious humility and political wiles.” The press loves Francis’ openness and charm, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Yet you can’t lead a church institution without having a backbone. Francis clearly has one. Reforming the Vatican Bank is not for sissies.
  4. Be yourself. I never expected Francis to get away with as much as he has: refusing to live in the papal apartments, washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday, the language of openness. I’m quite sure Francis is a traditionalist at heart, but his tone has changed the conversation. Finding a way to be yourself when people have high expectations of the role is not easy. But it’s much easier to keep going over time when you aren’t pretending. And as Rabbi Edwin Friedman said, “A self is more attractive than a no-self.” People are drawn to the real.

The pope’s job makes other ministries look easy. Thank God, pray for him and learn from him (even if you’re Protestant.)

photo source

7 bad reasons to give to your church

There are lots of good reasons to give to your church. (My last post gave seven). Here are seven not-so-good reasons.

  1. To “give your fair share.” It’s a mistake to think people should give equally. We’re called to give in proportion to our resources, as a response to what we have received. If you’re not sure how much to give, figure out what a tithe (10% would be). If you’re not ready to tithe, start with a smaller percentage and work up.
  2. To make up the difference. I know of one church with a giver who asks at the end of the year, “How much do we need to finish in the black?” and writes a check. There is nothing wrong with an end-of-year appeal to the congregation. But when one giver makes up the difference, especially every year, that’s overfunctioning. Shared responsibility is better for everyone.
  3. To get the leadership to do what you want. Givers rightly expect leaders to be responsible stewards. And there’s a time for a principled statement of what you will and won’t do with your giving. Yet I have known givers to say (straight out or by implication), if you don’t do what I want, I will withdraw my giving. This is not helpful, for the giver or for the church. Leaders who give in to blackmail are not good leaders, and those who blackmail are not good followers or mature Christians.
  4. Because you ought to. “The Lord loves a cheerful giver” is one of the first Bible verses I learned as a child. Grim giving out of duty does not contribute to vital stewardship.
  5. To get into heaven. Christian faith is all about grace. Giving comes as a response to God’s grace and generosity, not as a condition of it.
  6. Because you like the pastor. Christian stewardship is not about personality. Of course, effective pastors provide leadership and articulate a vision for ministry. That vision helps motivate givers, as does the pastor’s relationship with the people. But mature givers know that simply liking the pastor is not their primary motive for giving.
  7. In response to an emotional appeal. Giving at its best is a thoughtful and principled decision. Leaders develop a vision and make the case for it, and members prayerfully consider their response. Special appeals have their place, but are best presented thoughtfully. Our emotions naturally play a part in our giving decisions. But rather than giving to the latest disaster that tugs your heart strings, prayerfully consider how to apportion your giving, and when you should give above and beyond.

Why do you give?