Are you too generous at church?

matroeska-746131_1280Is it possible to be too generous? I think so. Church leaders can be too generous with their money, their time, and their forgiveness, in ways that are not good for them or the people they are being “generous” with.

1. Are you too generous with your money? Some people actually give away too much money. It’s important to be appropriately generous. Do you know how much money you give away? Sit down and figure it out as a percentage of your income. For some, an appropriate goal is to give less and save more for their own future.

You should at least know how much you give in dollars and as a percentage of your income. Then you can make a thoughtful choice about whether you may want to give less, and what to do with that money instead.

You should also know where you fall in the list of givers to your church. If you are the biggest single giver, the church may be too dependent on you. You may not choose to give less, but you can have a conversation with key leaders about this fact, and how to encourage others to give more.

2. Are you too generous with your time? You may be giving too much of your time away. When you spend large chunks of time with anyone who asks for it, you allow others to set your agenda. The people at church who repeatedly ask you to do this are usually the most unregulated. When you say yes to their constant demands for your time, you do not help them. Instead, you teach them to be dependent on you. They need someone to say no to them more often. And if you are going to keep moving toward your own ministry goals, you need to say no.

Of course, ministry does sometimes mean you set your own agenda aside to spend time with others. However, if you constantly put your goals last, you will never move forward on the initiatives that matter most to you.

3. Are you too generous with your forgiveness? What I mean by this is continually tolerating bad behavior in people who don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. We often say, “Let’s give him another chance.” This is related to item #2. Church leaders often are too accommodating to staff, volunteers and members who lack boundaries and repeatedly don’t fulfill their responsibilities. You will help them more if you expect them to carry out their commitments.

When you set limits with people like this, they will think you are mean. Just because they think you are mean, it doesn’t follow that they are right. In fact, it can be kinder to set higher expectations with someone than to continually accommodate them. You help them grow.

Of course I don’t mean we withhold forgiveness. But I do mean there need to be consequences for bad behavior. Holding people to account is good for everyone.

I believe in generosity and in encouraging ourselves to become more generous with our resources, including our time and emotional energy. But I recommend you be thoughtful as you give of yourself. Know when to draw the line with money, time and your willingness to be flexible with others. Remember, only God has infinite resources.

Where do you show too much generosity?   


Cast a ministry vision like JFK

 Kennedy_Giving_Historic_Speech_to_Congress_-_GPN-2000-001658I was in Dallas recently, and went to the Sixth Floor Museum, about John F. Kennedy and his presidency, assassination and legacy.

I read about the speech where he cast the vision to reach the moon in the decade of the 60s. The museum audio guide quoted a scientist who said that we had not even successfully sent an astronaut around the Earth. Yet Kennedy’s statement inspired him to do his part to make the vision come true. And, in 1969, they did succeed.

An impossible dream

Can you dream something that seems impossible? Are you brave enough to say it aloud? Edwin Friedman always recommended that clergy give their “I have a dream” speech: that they take the risk to stand up and speak their ministry vision to their congregation.

I’m sure some people thought Kennedy was crazy to imagine landing on the moon. Or that it was a waste of money. If you share your dream, some will think it’s crazy or impossible or unnecessary.

Leaders have a unique view

Remember, no one else shares your perspective. If you are the leader, you stand in a unique position. Leadership involves sharing what you see, even if no one else sees it.

Last month I also took part in a conference on Christian philanthropy at the Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood, Kansas, Adam Hamilton, the pastor, is a visionary leader. He imagined something that wasn’t there, and the results, 25 years later, are inspiring.

Of course, it takes more than a visionary to make a dream come true, People like that scientist need to catch the vision and do their part to make it happen.

You don’t have to be a super-visionary, an entrepreneurial pastor, or a natural dreamer. Just start asking yourself, “What do I want?” And as you get clear, share it with others. Invite them to want that dream, too.

You are not guaranteed you will reach it. But remember, Kennedy’s vision came true years after his death. You may never see it. But if you are brave enough to dream it and say it aloud, it’s far more likely to happen. And if even 25% of your dream came true, would you be happy?

What is your dream for your ministry? What can you do to get it clearer? And where can you say it out loud?

Here’s another brief post with an inspiring story about vision.

Cultivate Generosity in Your Church by Sharing the Story

Church Open

If you want people in your church to show more generosity, try telling them a story. Help them imagine what you are asking them to give to. You will communicate with them why you want them to be generous. People are motivated to give to something meaningful.

And people of all ages respond to stories. We all know that the sermons people remember are the ones with the best stories. The Bible is filled with wonderful stories for a reason.

Here are two ways to tell the story: tell the story of the past, and paint a picture of the future. Both are important.

Tell the story of the past (recent and distant). Share with the congregation the ways your church has ministered in the past and present.Here are a few ideas on how to do that.

  • Tell a brief ministry story each week or once a month before the offering.
  • In a sermon, tell a story from the more distant past that connects with what you are doing in the present.
  • Include a ministry story in the quarterly report of giving.
  • Make the annual report and meeting a story. Do more than share reports: have stories and pictures.

When people are excited about what is going on in the church, they will want to give generously to support it. (But don’t forget to ask.)

Try this: at a stewardship meeting, ask yourselves, what are 20 ways we could share the story? Think fast, generate ideas (some of them ridiculous) and pick three that sound doable and fun.

Paint a picture of the future.

Share the vision of what you want for the future, and invite people to support the vision. Visioning can be a long process, where you have a conversation with others and clarify where you want to go together. Part of the work I do is helping churches with that process.

You can begin at any time, simply by sharing something of what you want for the future with the congregation, and painting the picture. Fill in the detail, for yourself and for them. How would you know the vision was coming true? What would be happening? Think more than one year out: imagine five, ten, even twenty-five years from now. You may not be the pastor there in ten years and probably not in twenty-five. Many of them will no longer be alive. But the decisions you make now and the resources that people give now will contribute to what will happen in twenty-five years. This includes whether your church (and the wider church) will be in business or not.

Visioning like this is not a prediction, but a direction. You are inviting people to take a journey with you. The more compelling the story, the more likely they are to want to come along and support it with their resources.

Finally, it is important to bring the focus back to the coming year. What decisions and resources are needed next year to make the story come true? A narrative budget is one way to begin to put numbers with the story. Here’s a great sample guide from the United Church of Christ.

Instead of a simple line-item budget with salaries, program and building costs (which causes most people’s eyes to glaze over), you can talk about ministry areas – and again, include stories and pictures. Have the numbers available for those who really want to look at each line. But most people don’t – it’s the story they care about.

Try this: just for yourself, take two minutes and write down what you want for your church in twenty-five years.

Seven Church Finance Numbers Pastors Need to Know

005_TiberiusWe’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:

  1.  The relationship of spending to budget. Advanced: know what the spending flow is through the year. Some expenses are monthly, but many are not.
  2. 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.
  3. The number of pledges at each level of giving, even if you don’t know the names.
  4. The percentage of givers on the board. It should be 100%.
  5.  Net assets at the beginning and end of each year. You want to be able to see the trends.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


How to Pray for Your Own Spiritual Leadership in Five Minutes

repentDo 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.

How to Survive Holy Week: A Guide for Church Leaders

palm-618002_1280It’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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?!”
  5. 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.
  6. Plan a reward. You are taking Monday off, right?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


Increase generosity by addressing personal finance at church


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).

This may be even more important in encouraging generosity than my previous two ideas: being generous ourselves and asking people to give.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Preach explicitly about personal finance. Focus on grace and moving forward into the future with integrity and hope.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?


How to increase generosity in your church: ask!

file6771267335956Do 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?