Family Systems Basics about Money at Church 2: Overfunctioning and Underfunctioning

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

Over- and under-functioning. There’s a reciprocal relationship between those who take too much responsibility and those who don’t take enough responsibility. How does this apply to money at church? In congregational life, there are always those who give more/worry more/spend more time on the money than others. And they always think if others gave more or were more responsible, the church wouldn’t have this problem. Yet there’s a balance between the two. It takes both the keep this dynamic going.

Typically, key church leaders carry the anxiety for church finances. Who is staying awake at night? Often, it’s the pastor. I talked recently with a church treasurer who was losing sleep over whether there would be enough money in the account to pay the bills. In this situation, the potential shortfall did not belong to the treasurer but to the church as a whole. It wasn’t his responsibility—or not his alone. Yet he was the one who was holding all the anxiety for it.

Both overfunctioning and underfunctioning are driven by anxiety. We are anxious about whether others are going to step forward and be responsible, and so we step in, either to help them or to do it ourselves. Clergy are often chronic overfunctioners. Yet some clergy underfunction in the area of money even if they overfunction in other areas. Some ministers don’t like financial matters or feel inadequate when they see a report. So they leave financial matters to the laity.

The basic rule of the overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity, as it’s called, is that underfunctioners do not step up to take responsibility until overfunctioners step down. For most of us who were born to overfunction, this is not easy. And when it’s in a high-anxiety area like money, it’s even more difficult.

Do you overfunction or underfunction in the area of money at church? What is one way you might step down – or step up – just a little?

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