In my years as a pastor, I found that I became anxious about money more quickly than almost any other aspect of church life. I tossed and turned over the difficult financial conversations, including the ones about my salary, more than anything else. And I wasn’t the only one in the congregation who worried about the money – lay leaders were happy to join right in, too.
Why is money such a focus for anxiety? In talking with church leaders around the country, I find it’s like a lightning rod in many congregations, and in our denominational lives, too. I think it’s because money is about survival, our own and our institution’s. So the fight or flight mechanism is easily activated when we are having conversations and making decisions about money. It can be challenging to think clearly and to see options when questions about money are on the table. So people can make bad choices – sometimes putting off hard but necessary decisions, or making a quick decision without taking time to consider all the facts.
How can you cultivate the kind of response that can make a difference when anxiety is high? You can’t control the response of others, but you can work on your own thoughtfulness and self-regulation. In my own life and ministry, I have found over time I have become more thoughtful than I used to be. For example, in my personal life I used to avoid having conversations with my husband, Karl, about money. Now we sit down regularly to talk about our current finances and future financial goals. This is not an overnight success story, but I know that ongoing spiritual practice and attention to my own family story around money have helped me lighten up over the years and be less anxious about money.
Here are some qualities of someone who is sane or mature around money, who has the resources that can help navigate almost any challenge or crisis, especially a financial one:
* Not too attached to the outcome
* Not too attached to what people think of him or her
* Able to take a stand for themselves around salary and other financial matters
* Can challenge others to give (without apology)
* Can tolerate others being angry with him or her
* Not too anxious about the ups and downs in his or her financial life
* Takes responsibility for personal finances – can make decisions and manage him/herself around money
* Has a bit of a lighthearted approach to money – doesn’t take money too seriously
Some people have a natural ability in these areas. Most of us do not. Any one of us, however, can develop ourselves in the direction of more flexibility, more clarity, and lowered anxiety. It takes time, and it requires real persistence. But the payoff (emotional as much as financial) is real and valuable, for ourselves and for our congregations – not to mention our families. Leadership around finances is not easy, but it can be easier for ourselves and other key leaders around us. We don’t have to let either the ongoing anxiety or the panic of a crisis govern our behavior. We don’t have to allow our responses be determined by the actions of others. There are always options.