By Chad De Jager
My relationship with the church budget was as complex as a middle school romance.
The interest is natural
By God’s careful design, some things inside us wake up in adolescence. Our parents and gym teachers tell us, “It’s natural” (as if those two words satisfied all my confused questions). Similarly, when the treasurer shares the monthly statement a natural interest wakes up inside of me. I’m curious. I have questions.
“Are we on budget? How is our YTD (year to date) spending? Should these numbers cause concern/comfort?”
As pastors, we know it’s not about the money, but we also know about the monthly bills, the costs of programming and the salaries of our co-workers. The interest may be natural, but the confusion seemed unavoidable.
Confusion over a first step
Middle school romance is marked with awkwardness. It’s hard enough to understand your sixth-grade self, much less try to relate to another human being.
“I don’t want to look foolish, but I really want to meet that person. Who should take the first step?”
As a pastor I often felt similarly awkward with money talk. Am I supposed to initiate, facilitate or avoid this conversation about money? I studied divinity and ministry leadership, not accounting or business. For most of my ministry career, I was interested in our financial position, our weekly offering and our financial plan for the future, but deeply unsure of my relationship to it. On one hand, I didn’t want to over-step the limits of my role as pastor. On the other hand, I didn’t want to avoid a place where people needed a pastor to lead.
Get on the dance floor
The victors of the middle school dance are the confident and the willing. It’s not really about your ability to dance, it’s about your willingness to be on the dance floor with others. And, when the willing get on the dance floor, they almost always find themselves in the company of others.
My money-mindset transformation happened when I was willing to get past my confusion and get on the dance floor. It was on the floor that I found people with financial expertise, new friends who coached me to read financial documents with insight and the freedom to explore what could be.
I entered the Creating Congregational Cultures of Generosity (CCCG) process with significant trepidation. We were a congregation with real anxiety around money (particularly having enough of it) and I fit our mold. It was the uncomfortable encouragement of an elder (who happened to be a banker) that pushed me to look into the process.
“I believe we can do more than apologize for taking people’s money on Sundays,” he said. “I think we can teach them about the joy of giving.”
I knew he was right and that my discomfort around money was wrong. Money, like most of God’s gifts, is a gift meant to be used faithfully and joyfully as God intended. My silence added to my congregation’s confusion about money. The CCCG process gave me a theological foundation for the conversation and the courage to get on the dance floor with others.
It has been 18 months and we haven’t done much, yet much has changed. We talk about money as a gift from God. We celebrate God’s faithfulness in little and big ways. We see financial giving as an act of worship and a step of faith. And, together, we are discovering the joy of giving.
Chad De Jager is a pastor with Christ Community Church in Lemont, Illinois. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife and four children.