Do You Understand Money?

As the economy wobbles toward recovery (we hope), every day there’s a new headline on the topic. We may despair of understanding the complicated economic realities that face us today. Yet it’s more important, and perhaps a bit easier, to understand the role of money in organizational life – and human relationships in general.

Problems that seem to be about money on the surface are usually symptomatic of something else. In marriage, when couples have big problems with money, it’s not really “about” the money. The challenge is in the relationship, not in the finances. Money is a natural focus for anxiety because it’s about survival – in today’s world, we need money to live. And so as anxiety rises, people naturally become more worried about money — or more inclined to be careless with it.

I’ve noticed varying responses in churches to the current economic distress. One church experienced the highest number of pledges ever for 2009, as people responded to support the ministry in spite of their own woes. Another is cutting salaries for all staff as giving goes steadily downward. It is important to recognize real financial realities. At the same time, it’s not just “about” the money, but about the resourcefulness that people bring to the situation.

Here are some questions to consider as you lead in this important area:

What is the history? The past is always present. What has been the institution’s approach to money over the years? Has it lurched from crisis to crisis, or has there been careful planning? Have leaders shared information about finances or not? How do resources figure into the founding story? You’ll be better able to assess the strength of your institution when you know more about its past.

What is your history? Our own story, especially our family’s, often determines how we lead around financial matters. What was your experience growing up? What do you know about past generations and their attitudes about money? Can you find out more? If you know your own strengths and vulnerabilities around money, you will be able to manage yourself better. For most of us, this is an area for lifetime learning and growth.

Finally, what are you responsible for, and what do you need to let go of? Many leaders are overfunctioners. The challenging task is to be a responsible leader without taking everything on. Clergy, for example, sometimes volunteer to forgo a raise or even take a pay cut to balance the budget. I’m not saying a leader should never do this, but don’t do it without thinking through the question of who’s really responsible.

Leading around money is often difficult, especially for those who are motivated to make a difference. But when we can look beyond the dollars to the larger questions — the relationship we have with our followers, their history and our own — we’ll be better able to be thoughtful and call forth the resourcefulness of others.

2 replies on “Do You Understand Money?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    This raises the very good question of how our values drive the decisions we make about dollars in ministry. We need to ask some big questions about this. If we don’t ask the questions, certain values (e.g. building maintenance) determine our decisions without our knowing it.

  • Andrew Logan

    The real question is what percentage of dollars received can be attributed to positive transformation in the lives of people. Are we as the church building/perpetuating a “golden calf” as Aaron did with little eternal kingdom impact in the lives of people. Recently one local pastor met with much resistance when he wanted to provide funds to functioning missions projects but could not in order to meet the ongoing budgetary needs of maintaining a monolithic building.

    When we stand in front of Jesus one day, I doubt He’ll be asking us about how well we maintained our church buildings. Instead, He’ll be asking about the lives whose paths crossed ours and about the opportunities we had to make an eternal difference, and the choices we ultimately made.


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