One pastor remembers hearing his mother say, every time they saw someone driving a nice car, “But are they happy?” We internalize any number of lines, from “money doesn’t grow on trees” to “You can’t take it with you.” These messages about money affect how we lead in church life. Whatever the message, some grow up and follow the same way of dealing with money; others react and do the opposite. The daughter of a free-spending mother may still have her first dime, and carefully watch the church expenditures as well as her own.
Our birth order and other circumstances in our family often have an impact on how we live out the family story. In some families there’s one person, generation after generation, designated to be the financial success, often the oldest. And there maybe someone who typically struggles financially, who may be someone further down the line, a younger daughter or a younger son.
As we learn more about the family story that has influenced our attitudes toward money, we can become more neutral about it. We can have more choices. This is not an easy process, and it is not a quick one. It’s more of a gradual shift, and the old patterns are always ready to resurface in times of high anxiety. In a church budget crisis you may want to hide in your office, the way you hid in your room when your parents fought about money.
As we get more neutral about money in our own family life, we can have greater freedom when relating to money at church. In my own pastoral ministry, I found that as I learned more about the sometimes complicated history of money in my own family over the generations, I was simply less anxious about church finance. I dreaded the budget meetings far less, and I felt freer to preach about stewardship. This made my ministry much easier, and I like to think more effective. One year I began to make my own pledge to the church public, a significant change for me and for the life of the church.
My family legacy includes high anxiety and difficulty in making financial decisions. But I also gained a lot from my family that helps me every day. I know how to live frugally, which can be freeing. I understand the value of giving. I place a high value on being financially independent and standing on my own two feet. I’m grateful for these gifts, and I have a lifetime to work on lightening up about money.
What is your family story? Here are some questions to consider as you do your own research in your family:
1. Who is the most responsible person around money? The least?
2. How do people in your family make decisions about money? What values and criteria do they use?
3. How did you learn about money growing up? How did your parents learn?
4. What is the meaning of success in your family?
5. What do you notice, if anything, about how your leadership in financial matters echoes your family patterns?