Relationships matter in every area of ministry, but they are particularly important in a high-anxiety area like finances. Stay connected to the money people. Even if you are not the senior pastor, it pays to keep in touch. Budget conversations will go more smoothly if you have ongoing relationships.
If you are the pastor, stay in touch with the lay leaders and staff who are close to the money. The relationships will help carry you through tough times. You don’t have to talk about money every time you talk, of course; in fact, it’s better if you don’t. Developing these relationships is like money in the bank (maybe literally at times) that will enhance your leadership. You’ll have more credibility with them and others.
One key idea in family systems theory is the idea of emotional triangles. Triangles are one of the ways that relationships commonly play out in financial (and other) matters.
Here are the basic rules of triangles:
- You can’t change (for more than a week) a relationship you don’t belong to.
- If you try to change the relationship on other side of a triangle, the situation often gets worse.
- When you try to change someone else’s relationships, you carry the stress that belongs to the other two.
- You can change a relationship you belong to because you are part of it. If you change, the relationship changes.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Pastor/treasurer/board chair
If the treasurer and the board chair start having difficulties, say, the reports are late or not adequate, the president may complain to the pastor. The president feels better, the pastor feels worse. That’s the nature of triangles. The pastor may feel a responsibility to sort out the troubled relationship–and straighten out the reporting problem, too.
In this case, you as pastor might coach the president to talk to the treasurer directly, rather than trying to fix the problem yourself. You could also work to let go of carrying the responsibility for the relationship. It’s not your responsibility, because only they can manage their relationship.
- Another triangle could be pastor-board-congregation, where the board wants the pastor to preach so people give more, so the budget pressure on the board isn’t so intense.
What you might do instead: Acknowledge your real responsibility to lead in stewardship, but keep pushing the responsibility for the budget back to the board. You might even say, “I’m committed to preaching boldly about giving. But…I’m not sure what we’re going to do about the budget this year.” The purpose is not to be truly helpless or to abdicate leadership, but to be sure the anxiety lands where it belongs—with the board, not solely with you.
None of these are quick fixes, but paying attention to triangles can help lower your stress and get clear about where your real responsibility lies. I recommend drawing them out on paper. Often there are multiple triangles, and they interlock with one another, increasing the intensity. Sometimes getting a coach to help you sort out the triangles when it’s really intense can help a lot. I do this in my coaching with clergy–and I get coaching myself to help see the triangles in my work.
What do you notice about the triangles around money at your church?
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