Family Systems Basics about Money at Church 4: Balance

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

A church system develops over time a certain balance, or homeostasis, in its relationships in regard to money. Finances are handled in a particular way: Someone always rescues the budget at the end of the year. Or, in a financial crisis, everyone pitches in to handle the problem. Or, pastor after pastor, no clergy leader is comfortable talking about money. Or, the church always responds creatively to fund the budget — money isn’t really a big issue, even through the Great Depression and many recessions. When leaders seek to change the balance, congregations responds with some kind of “change back” message. It’s not personal: it’s an automatic systemic response, although it can be framed personally. “Father, we’ve never had a stewardship campaign around here, and we don’t need one now.” “Pastor, the minister has never come to the finance meetings – you don’t need to bother.” You never really get away with leadership: when you begin to initiate change, it upsets the balance, which results in a scramble to regain the balance. People are not deliberate or even conscious in this process; they are responding to the upset in the entire system. You might take a stand around money and find something popping up elsewhere in the congregation: a problem in the youth group or a conflict in the women’s ministry. Again, don’t take it personally.

When leaders take a stand, people react automatically. But over time chances are most will come along, if the leader calmly stays on course while nurturing relationships with the congregation. This doesn’t mean leaders always get what they want. But it does mean when people react to our positions we shouldn’t overreact in response. We stand up and chart a direction, and then we are surprised when people don’t automatically cheer and get in line. We have to expect the reaction, not get thrown by it, and stay on track with our goals. The principle of balance tells us that any system will work to restore the status quo. But a consistent, calm effort even in the face of reactivity can begin to make a difference for a congregation’s financial life.

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