It’s Complicated: Examining the Leader’s Personal Relationship to Money

Last week, I was privileged to have an article of mine appear on GiftedForLeadership.com, a resource of Christianity Today International for women called to ministry. Here is the full text, but you can also see the article via this link. (If you find it helpful, please share!)

It’s Complicated: Examining the Leader’s Personal Relationship to Money

Money complicates ministry.

Sure, there is the difficulty of talking about money in your organization – sermons and stewardship campaigns. Salaries and budget shortfalls. But that’s really the easy stuff.

What about a leader’s personal relationship with money?

I am a ministry leader and a pastor’s wife. While I earn money through my writing, teaching and leadership coaching, the bulk of our family’s income comes from my husband’s salary, paid for by our church. It has always been this way for us, nearly 17 years in full-time employment by one church or another.

I am accustomed to making our living through the church. Yet I continue to be troubled by the potential traps and trappings of this arrangement.

Sometimes I am aware that the people in our church watch what we do with our money. Most of the time, however, I don’t feel that they intentionally scrutinize. This is probably partly because we don’t live extravagantly, and partly because a certain standard of living has always been assumed in the communities where we have lived and ministered. If we don’t push the boundaries on either end of this standard, no one bats an eye.
But I continue to be aware that our family’s choices about money speak loudly to our congregation. They communicate our values, our priorities, our theology. Our lifestyle is a teaching tool. The way we use money can negate what my husband preaches on Sunday, or it can foster conversations and challenges that no stewardship sermon can match.

What does my relationship with money, and the possessions and experiences it buys, communicate to the people with whom I work and worship?

What do I communicate if my house is one of the nicest among our membership? What if it is one of the smallest? Would Jesus drive a BMW? Should I? Is a new Camry OK? What about a gas-guzzling SUV? What do I say when someone jokes about my 2002 Civic?

How do we live in our culture but not of it?

I am called to live among the people in my community. Yet I am also called to be set apart as a follower of Christ, and to not conform to the patterns of this world. Do we go along with the culture of our community and sign our kids up for all manner of lessons and camps, or do we forgo some of those experiences in order to give more to the poor and needy in our community and around the world? Should we prioritize involvement in activities with those in our community, or the needs of those we have never met? What do those decisions communicate to our friends, neighbors, and church family?

And those are just questions of lifestyle. What about how money colors my leadership?

Am I afraid to speak hard truth because the givers might leave? I’ve seen it happen too many times: church leadership becomes hesitant to go this way or that, speak this thing or that, because of how the “heavy hitters” might respond. Are my husband and I tempted to acquiesce if we ever sense this pressure?

Or do I lead differently because in the back of my mind, I know this organization pays our salary and therefore our family’s bills? On the flip side, do I experience or express entitlement regarding salary and benefits, believing that the church “owes” us something? What if money weren’t an issue and we were financially independent from the church? How might we lead or speak differently?

I’ll admit that I have many more questions than answers. My husband and I continue to pray for wisdom and direction in these areas, learning as we grow. We have chosen a smaller, simpler house and fewer possessions. Sometimes we decline opportunities for ourselves and for our children in order to give that money to other needs. We have learned to redefine needs and to distinguish between true needs and personal wants. And I dream that our family will one day be financially independent of our church, or in a position that we can “reverse tithe,” giving back to the churches that have given so much to us over the years.

Those are decisions and dreams for our family; they are descriptive, not prescriptive. I know that my answers will be different from those of anyone else. But I believe that each ministry leader, couple, and family must at least wrestle with these questions. Money complicates ministry. How does your own relationship with money hinder or further your ministry?

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