Personal finance checklist for pastors

A Prayerful View of Your Money

file9981306993571Be honest – are you one of those pastors who is hesitant asking people to give because your own finances are not in order? I’ve talked with a lot of pastors who struggle personally with their own financial life. They can feel embarrassed, ashamed, and hesitant to lead and preach boldly about money matters.

In talking with both pastors and others, I’ve learned there’s a lot of shame about money and how it is spent, about debt, about feeling overwhelmed. It can be hard to face the reality of the financial choices we’ve made in the past and are currently making. Here’s another way to approach it: bring prayer into your life with money to help you find more freedom.

Here’s a checklist – you can pick and choose. Do what you are ready for.

  • Track your income and outgo daily. Simply start by writing everything down. You don’t even need to add it up. Then give thanks.
  • Figure out your net worth. Add up all your assets and liabilities. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet to use. (Or try Mint for an online option.) And here’s the trick: Give thanks for it all. Even if you have a negative net worth, give thanks. If you have seminary debt, celebrate all you learned in seminary.
  • Make a budget. It can be simple: Income, and a few simple categories for expenses, including giving. Just get started. I know someone who keeps a two-week budget on a 3×5 card (net income, projected expenses, disposable income). If you want, you can add categories later. Prepare it prayerfully, considering your priorities.
  • Do a monthly cash flow statement. Here’s a template. Add your own categories in. Later, take the next step: check it with your budget. Celebrate if you have increased (for example, savings or giving) or decreased (coffee? mindless shopping online or in the store?) as you intended.
  • Advanced: start on retirement planning. If your church has a pension board, check with them. Do the numbers. Even if it’s challenging news, it’s better than not knowing. Prayerfully commit your future to God.

As you take these steps one by one, you’ll find more freedom in your life. I know I have. It’s taken me years (literally) to do all of these steps, and it’s a huge relief. And it truly has been a profound spiritual practice to do them in the light of God’s love, acceptance and provision.

You’ll also find more freedom and enhance your leadership in money matters in the congregation.

And here’s another post on managing your anxiety about your personal finances.

The top four ministry resources I’m using right now

ministry resourcesHere are the top four ministry resources I’m using right now. They’re not magical, but they are helping me.

Dave Ellis, Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams.

His twelve strategies (beginning with “determine what you want”) are worth the price of the book alone. It’s not an explicitly religious book, but it’s full of wisdom that can help people of faith, and particularly leaders. When I’m anxious about a circumstance or project, I go through the twelve strategies and ask myself questions such as, “What do I want?” “How can I take responsibility here?” “How can I contribute in this situation?” It helps me step back and get more neutral so I can think creatively. Get the book in paper or pdf here or in paper from Amazon.

3×5 cards

If you’ve been to one of my workshops, you know this already. There’s no faster way to jot down an idea, especially when you are away from a traditional keyboard. I keep a supply in my purse clipped with a (brightly colored!) binder clip. They are cheap, and you can sort them easily. One more benefit: Handwriting is a complex brain activity, and I’m convinced we all need to keep doing some writing with a pen every day. I like unlined blank cards.

Insight Timer app

I’ve gone back to meditative prayer, just five minutes a day. This smartphone app gives me a gentle way to come back. You can choose which kind of bell you want. I’ve also used it with groups to bring people back from a time of meditative silence. (Free in iTunes and the Play store). If you don’t have a smartphone, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Orcas Island, WA, has a centering prayer timer on their site for five-minute and twenty-minute segments.

The Bible

Last, but not at all least. I don’t mean to be corny or obvious. I simply continue to find the Scriptures a rich resource. Even when I was preaching every week, I tried to read something daily that had nothing to do with sermon preparation. I’m reading Luke right now. I found Elizabeth’s words to Mary inspiring yet again: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) I’m a fast reader, so I’m trying to slow myself down, and read just a paragraph or so at a time, and meditate and reflect on what I’ve just read.

And here’s a post sharing some of my old favorite books.

What ministry resources (of all kinds) are you finding helpful?

How to preach like a leader

holzfigur-505646_1920If you’re like a lot of pastors, then you need to use the pulpit to strategically support your ministry leadership. However, if you are simply trying to get a sermon done each week, then it may seem overwhelming to get your head above water enough to plan your preaching ahead to support your ministry goals. I’ve been there, I know.

But when I started planning preaching ahead, my life got exponentially easier, both as a preacher and a leader. I had a way of thinking about my approach to preaching: it wasn’t just about coming up with an idea each week, but supporting where I was heading. An added bonus: much less thinking on Monday, “What am I going to preach about on Sunday?” Most weeks I already had at least a general idea.

That’s why I’ve developed this little guide for planning strategically for preaching to support your leadership.

Step 1: Clarify your own vision for your ministry.

If you’ve done this before, then you know there are several possible
ways to approach it. However, I’ve discovered that a great way to complete
this step is by simply asking yourself the question, “What do I want?” You don’t need to worry that it’s a selfish question. Simply ask it prayerfully, and trust that God will speak as you reflect.

Ask yourself, “What do I want?” What do you want for yourself in your role? What do you want in worship? What do you want in outreach and mission? What do you want in discipleship? Make your own list of questions that fit your contest.

I like using 3×5 cards, one idea per card. Then you can sort them by priority. Sort prayerfully, asking God for discernment.

But in a pinch, you can simply ask, “What would I love to do now?” Come up with a few highest-priority items that you would love to invite people to join you in. Consider this your working vision.

Step 2: Create a preaching plan, using the vision.

But before I get into the steps for creating a plan, let me add two words of warning.

First, take note that a preaching plan needs to be flexible. Events in your own community may call for a shift in your plan. Or the Holy Spirit may guide you to scrap the plan and head in a new direction. Be clear about your plan, but open to adapt it.

Second, assess where you are in your relationship with the church. Generally, the longer you’ve been there, the more leverage you have in articulating a vision. You may want to share your plan with staff and board to keep them in the loop and get some feedback.

Try this:

1. Start now gathering material. Since you know what you’ll be doing, you can do some exegesis and look for supporting material.
2. Prepare and deliver your strategic sermons. You’ll find it much easier since you have a head start.Map out three months of Sundays.

3. Pick one Sunday to give an “I have a dream” sermon.

4.Choose three or four more Sundays to highlight specific aspects of your short term vision. You can do them in a row, or spread out over the quarter.
5. Choose texts for those Sundays. If you use the lectionary, decide now which text you will focus on primarily. (In the best of all possible worlds, you’ll select texts for all the Sundays in the quarter.

6. Prepare and deliver your strategic sermons. You’ll find it much easier since you have a head start

Once you’ve put the vision out from the pulpit, then move on to Step 3, the most important step of all.

Step 3: Don’t get reactive to criticism of your vision.

This step does require some patience and self-regulation. Edwin Friedman called this “The keys to the kingdom” in leadership.

Your main task is to remember that a visionary leader upsets the balance, and people automatically react. It’s not personal. Don’t get defensive.

Don’t try to convince people that you are right.

Stay connected to the people who disagree with you. Seek them out at coffee hour, not to talk about the issues but simply to keep in relationship with them.

Congratulations – you now know how to create a plan for preaching like a leader. So take action and make your own plan. The time you invest will be well worth it. Because the sooner you do, the sooner you can avoid the Monday morning panic AND see (at least some) eyes light up as people catch the vision.

Five habits worth cultivating in ministry

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Here are five habits that can make ministry more joyful and less stressful. I’ve been cultivating these habits myself, and they have helped me make big shifts. And at the end of the article I’ll share a habit-change strategy that I’m finding helpful.

  1. Don’t complain.

This is a habit I’ve taken on this year, and I’m finding it to be a great mood-changer. When we complain about someone to someone else, we create a negative triangle. And nothing changes. When we complain about the church or church members to our families, we simply cause them to have negative feelings about the church. When we complain about the world or the news, we do nothing to create a better world. Since I’ve taken on this habit, I feel more positive about other people every day. Here’s a link to a fascinating article, “Help me stop being mean,” by someone who took this on. (Note: language warning for the question asked at the beginning. It’s well worth reading the whole, lengthy answer.)

  1. Answer email in batches.

Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. I’ve said this before, but when you answer email as it comes in, you are letting other people set your agenda. When you choose when to respond, you are controlling your own schedule, and you’ll find yourself being more productive. True confessions: this is a habit I am still working to develop (see below for my commitment to you). I actually stopped while writing this article and answered an email. As my father used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do…”

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I want?”

It’s not a selfish question, but a clarifying one. When I coach pastors, I frequently ask “What do you want?” and they say, “That’s a good question…I don’t know.” Then they get clear very quickly, and can decide how to take action. You can ask it about the smallest daily questions as well as the biggest life issues. It’s a good question to ask as a habit.

  1. Pray daily for at least one minute.

I know, that’s not much. But one minute is better than no minutes. Three ideas:

a. Take one minute and give thanks for five things in your life (20 seconds each).

b. Take one minute and breathe in and out, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

c. Take one minute and pray for five people you love.

  1. Every week, work on a project that isn’t due until after this Sunday.

Even if it’s just for five minutes, plan for the following week’s sermon or worship, Advent or even Lent. Or next year’s vacation. In ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the short-term, because the pressures of next Sunday, or immediate pastoral care needs, or you name it, are so relentless.

And here’s the habit change protocol I’ve been learning:

  1. Commit to it. Write it down, and tell others. (And here is my commitment to myself and to you – I intend to limit email to three times a day. No more avoiding article-writing by checking email.)
  2. Monitor it. Do it in writing. I like stars on a chart.
  3. Practice, practice, practice (without self-reproach).
  4. Joyfully acknowledge even the smallest steps toward change.

My suggestion to you: pick one of these five ministry habits, or another habit you’d like to create, and try the protocol. Let me know what your commitment is – either via email or a comment . (And for more on changing habits, see the book Falling Awake by Dave Ellis.)

Are you overwhelmed by your ministry work load?

ministry workI was talking with a pastor I’m coaching and asked, “How are you?” She said, “It’s September…” She suggested a blog post on the topic, so here goes…

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in ministry. There’s the constant pressure of preparing for Sunday, the inevitable interruptions, the evening meetings. Not to mention the email.

I just got some great tips for dealing with being overwhelmed from Lynne Twist (author of The Soul of Money). Lynne often talks about sufficiency. She suggests we do all we can to stay in a place of sufficiency – that we are enough, and we have enough time. I try to tell myself I have enough time to do everything God wants me to do. I truly believe that (even though I forget it sometimes), for myself, and for you in your ministry.

Here are some tips Lynne Twist shared. The first four come from the work of Edward Hallowell, and the fifth is one of Lynne’s, along with a few of my own remarks on each.

  1. Work on your highest priorities in your highest energy time.

You know what that is. For me, it’s morning.

  1. Refuse to rush.

I know I never do my best work when I’m rushing. Right now I’m trying to focus intently and work fast without rushing.

  1. Cultivate the “lilies” and avoid the “leeches.”

Lilies are the people, projects and priorities you love, and the leeches are the ones that drain you. I know that in church ministry you can’t always completely avoid the people leeches, but I believe you can set limits with them so they don’t drain you so much.

4. Put things in real priority order.

I think this means being honest about what we really are going to work on now, and what we’re going to set aside for later. I find myself keeping things on my list and never doing anything about them. I’m trying to set them aside for now, and pick a few key projects, rather than pretending to myself I can do more than is humanly possible.

  1. Let go of the things you’re not working on when you’re not working on them.

We spent a lot of time worrying about projects and tasks when we’re not and cannot be working on them. Then we’re not present to the people (including our families) and tasks that are right in front of us.

What are some ways you deal with that overwhelmed feeling?

And here’s a post on nine ways to simplify your ministry.

How to make church stewardship easier

church stewardshipIf you are getting ready to launch your fall church stewardship campaign, here are a few ways to make it easier. (And if you do it in the spring, save this article in a place you’ll find it then.)

  1. Write a purpose statement.

You can do this even if you are almost ready to go, based on the work you’ve done so far. It will help you execute what you’ve planned. “The purpose of our stewardship program this year is…” It could be: encourage tithing, focus on new givers, increase giving so we can add a staff person, highlight mission giving. It will be much easier to decide what to include and what to leave out. And it will be easier to evaluate after. (You are going to evaluate, right?)

  1. Don’t waste energy wishing you’d started earlier.

Sure, earlier planning is better, but regret doesn’t get you any closer to your goals, and it takes a lot of energy. Just do what you can now, and mark your calendar for next year.

  1. Don’t be defensive.

You don’t need to apologize (even in attitude) for asking people to support God’s work in the world. Ask your most generous givers – they know the joy of giving. If you can free yourself from that sense of apology, you’ll find the whole process easier. I’ve said it before: asking people to give is a ministry to them.

  1. Let go of the outcome.

Of course, having a clear goal is important, both for dollars and for households. And it’s exciting to reach a goal and disappointing to fall short. However, people make giving decisions for a whole range of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with you and your team. Do all you can, and leave the rest up to God.

5. Pray

This is a variation on #4. And a corollary is: ask your prayerful folks to pray for the campaign. View this as a spiritual process, get spiritual support, and you’ll find it easier.

And here’s another post on what you can celebrate about stewardship.

Here’s a little-known way to improve your leadership at church

church leadership

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong

To improve your leadership at church: focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Most church leaders spend a lot of time and energy trying to do the impossible: change others and control the future. Here’s a better use of your time:

Focus on yourself, your own clear thinking and your functioning in your role.

I spent my recent vacation reading about Hong Kong – I recently met a number of colleagues from Hong Kong, and we have a young friend who is teaching there, so it caught my interest.

One book I read was East and West, by Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong. I was impressed by his clarity about his purpose during his five years as governor. He was clear he wanted to do all he could do to bring as much democracy as possible to Hong Kong before handover to the Chinese. He wished his predecessors had done more, but he knew that was out of his control. He knew he couldn’t control what the Chinese did after the handover. But he worked as hard as he could with as much openness as he could about his purpose, to achieve that. He didn’t get as far as he wanted, but he got a lot farther than others thought he could.

Patten said he had never thought harder about what he believed about political and economic freedom. In that sense, a terrifically hard job was a great opportunity for him. He also had to deal with criticism from all sides without letting that get him off track. The criticism and the international spotlight, in fact, forced him to get even clearer.

Here are three questions to consider about your leadership at church:

  1. How clear are you about your own principles?
  2. What is your short-term and long-term purpose?
  3. If things are hot for you at church, can you use that as an opportunity to refine your thinking, rather than simply react to criticism?

Note: I didn’t intend to read about Hong Kong to engage my thinking about leadership. I just thought it would be fun. I recommend reading outside of church and theology, especially on vacation!

 

Photo credit: By James Yuanxin Li (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pastors: help your people see money in the light of faith

church moneyDo you wish you could help people make the faith connection with their money?

The most faithful of church people are bombarded with ads many times a day, more each year. Businesses ask them for their money constantly. Few are able to create space to reflect on what it might mean to bring their faith into these decisions. Helping people do this reflection is an important ministry need.

Here are four ways to work on it in your own ministry:

1. Focus on your own growth in this area.

It’s hard–even impossible—to teach what you don’t know. You, too, are receiving the same flood of messages. You, too, may be thoughtlessly spending money, without reflecting on your values. It’s easy to do. Try this: write down everything you spend for a day. Then review the list in prayer. What do you notice?

2. Invite your congregation into some new practices.

Without criticizing them or denouncing our materialistic culture, simply ask them to consider their everyday money practices in the light of their beliefs and values. Try this: have someone who does this already share for a moment or two before the offering. Ask them to talk briefly about their own practice in relation to their money—not necessarily about giving, but about their spending practices.

3. Talk about faith and money when you are not asking them to give.

Think of it as pastoral support and encouragement, not stewardship. Separate it from stewardship. Simply offer a sermon on this topic, months apart from stewardship season.

4. Start them out young.

Incorporate some kind of money awareness into your programming for children and youth. It’s easier to create new habits when you are young than change them when you are older.

5. Create some structure.

Use the church calendar to encourage some more focused practices. Try this: this Advent, create some opportunity to reflect on their holiday spending. This is also a great way to work on #4, as families can bring their children and teenagers into the conversation. Check out http://www.adventconspiracy.org/ for some resources. And next month I’ll be releasing a new resource to help you do this in your church

What ideas do you have to help people live a faithful life in relation to their resources?