Family Systems Basics about Money at Church 1: Anxiety

How do you get more reflective about your experiences with money at church? This is the first of a series of posts briefly looking at some basic systems ideas in relation to church and money.

Anxiety. As one pastor said, “It always seems to have an exclamation point when money is involved.” Money easily becomes a focus for people’s anxiety. Edwin Friedman used to say that the issue is never the issue. In other words, we think the argument is about money. But instead, people simply focus their anxiety on the matter at hand, and money is often the issue at hand, Money has to do with survival – personal and institutional – so it easily draws our anxious attention. This ongoing chronic anxiety around survival shows up in a variety of forms in church life. Here are some of the ways:

• Secrecy around money.
• Denial around financial realities – thinking there isn’t enough when there is or thinking there is enough when there isn’t.
• Overestimating or underestimating giving capacity.
• Regular “crises” around finances, real or imagined.
• Embezzlement/mismanagement.
• Resisting necessary expenses like deferred maintenance.
• Overfunctioning/underfunctioning – a few members give a lot, or one person rescues the congregation or makes a special gift. Clergy or other key leaders carry most of the anxiety for financial challenges. Clergy give up salary to balance the budget (See below for more on overfunctioning.)
• High reactivity around the way church leadership raises funds.
• Never talking about money or, conversely, always talking about money.
• Blind trust in the leadership around money matters, or, conversely, extreme suspicion of leadership.

What do you notice in your own church? And how might you manage your own anxiety about money in congregational life?

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