OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week’s question is from a soon-to-be ordained pastor whose congregation is feeling some growing pains that will impact her own professional life.

Dear Matriarchs,

I serve a mid-size congregation as Director of Faith Formation. I recently became eligible for ordination and my congregation must now decide whether to call me to continue serving them in an ordained capacity (with duties much as they are now). To do this with integrity they would need to increase my compensation. We have a good thing going in our faith formation ministry, but to keep me they need to pledge more.

The Senior Pastor and I want to shepherd them through a process of discernment in which the financial piece doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought, nor does it dominate from the start. The loudest voices in the room tend to be the ones with the most financial anxiety.

My question for the Matriarchs: How have you conducted congregational discernment in a way that that links vision with stewardship considerations?

Let’s hear from our Matriarchs:

Martha Spong
You’re reached a complicated crossroads in your ministry journey; it’s never completely comfortable when something about our lives necessitates a congregational conversation.

That said, I think when done right, stewardship and vision need to be full partners in congregational discernment. For that to happen, we need to be willing to talk about money openly, but also to talk openly about our collective energy for ministry. Ideally this happens in group conversations rather than in a survey.

Try asking some open-ended questions like the ones below.

What are our collective gifts for ministry?

– include financial and material assets, talents/abilities in the congregation, even the collective temperament of the church

What do we do well together?

Where have we struggled?

What does it mean to us to be faithful in our lives and in our giving? Where do those two match up, and where do they diverge?

It’s helpful to have some kind of visual diagram of the way the church’s budget is distributed, making sure that staff is represented not as “staff” but as worship, faith formation, pastoral care, community engagement, social justice communications, and so forth, so it’s clear you’re not trying to raise a benefits package but identify the areas of the church’s life that matter to everyone the most.

Blessings as you move to the next phase of your ministry.

Dee Eisenhauer
Dear Eligible, I wish I had some experience with the kind of process you are looking for, and I can’t say I have. My central question regarding your situation is whether your congregation has the capacity to raise your salary, but is reluctant because of old habits, or sexism, or a lack of appreciation for the gifts of ordination? Or is this a really big stretch for your congregation based in financial reality, not just attitude?

You mention anxiety, which is important to pay attention to. There may be clear capacity for more giving and at the same time be deeply rooted financial anxiety that encompasses the community around your church which is affecting attitudes. The good news is that anxiety is more easily dealt with than actual lack of money—you can do various things to surface the root of the anxiety and expose it to the light of day, and let love cast it out.

I’ve just read a pretty good book titled Integrating Money and Meaning: Practices for a Heart-Centered Life by Maggie Kulyk and Liz McGeachy that has some good exercises for uncovering the emotions and history we carry around money. If you are going to take on some discernment around money in general because anxiety is freezing your congregation you might find it a helpful resource.

It seems like you are really going to have to find a way to clearly articulate the benefits of having a second pastor on staff, especially if your duties are going to stay much the same. You and your colleague will understand this better than the rest of the congregation, so you will have to help others understand how it is more than window dressing.

The pitfall to avoid if possible is to let this process devolve into a referendum on whether people like you enough to pay more for you. Keep the focus on the institutional big picture if possible. Martha Spong’s questions in her post are great.

Sharon Temple
Thank you, Martha and Dee. Your thoughtful responses deserve a second, even third, read by any pastor who is facing a similar opportunity in congregational life. To get some initial clarity, could you use their questions for your own discernment and in conversations with your senior pastor, even before congregational involvement?

I offer my encouragement for you and your congregation to receive this discernment season as a gift from God that in some life-giving way — yet undiscovered — is pointing to the future that God has for the church. Seeking the mind of Christ together can yield unexpected gifts, financial and otherwise.

Grace and peace to you in this holy adventure.

Now it’s your turn, dear readers. Have you faced a similar crossroads in ministry — your own &/or your congregation’s? What helpful words do you have for this pastor?

What new season are you facing in your life and ministry? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and receive some support and advice.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Congregational Planning with a Stewardship Emphasis

  1. I left this same comment on the Facebook page.

    I am coming at this from a spiritual director’s lens since you are asking about group discernment. What about inviting a trained spiritual director to come along side the church in this process. One who has done work in group discernment would be ideal but even if the director does one-on-one direction having those skills very well could be helpful.
    Susan Beaumont has a great chapter in her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season. Her group discernment process was distilled by Danny Morris and Charles Olson in their book, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for Churches.
    Elizabeth Liebert also has a great book about group discernment: The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions.
    You can ask around for spiritual directors or use Spiritual Director’s Find and Seek Guide.

    Liked by 1 person

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