Sometimes funds are scarce. God has created the world abundant with water, trees, blue skies and people we love. Though we have what we need, we don’t have everything. In congregations, this lack is sometimes evident regarding budgets.
The finance team would like to increase the budget for youth ministry, but the cost for the new parking lot is an unpleasant surprise. Or, pledges are down because a major employer left town. There is a widening gap between income and expenses.
Sometimes a congregation’s board does have to decrease the budget. Tough decisions are part of leadership in a faith community, just as they are in a business or a family. It is common for leaders to have difficulty deciding where to make budget cuts and for how much. The discussions about budget cuts can be as unpleasant as the cuts themselves.
Here’s an idea that might be helpful if you face decreasing income. Try creating a budget for a period less than a year. Create a provisional first quarter budget or establish a half-year budget.
By shortening the time frame of your budget, you leave room for positive, unforeseen adaptations. You also feel the pain of shortfalls incrementally. The downside to this is that your congregation could be delaying a painful decision; pushing the inevitable down the path and hoping someone else doesn’t stumble over it later. However, shortening the timeline of your budget in times of scarcity can be a way for your congregation to be more nimble, to adjust more quickly to difficulties or opportunities.
During a recession, one congregation chose to freeze salaries, but only for the first quarter. The board agreed to revisit the decision after four months. When the time arrived for further consideration, giving had increased almost ten percent. This happened, in part, because the congregants knew about the provisional decision and many members boosted their offering because they wanted to support the hard working staff. As a result, each staff member received a two percent raise.
Resources you can use
When it comes to congregational budgeting, sometimes tried and true resources are among the best. Kennon Callahan’s Effective Church Finances is a practical book for clergy and laity alike.
When money is tight, illustrate the budget situation with more than numbers. Some congregations create narrative budgets, a way to represent income and expenses with graphs, illustrations, and even stories. The article Narrative Budgets, prepared by the Anglican Church of Canada, will provide you with more information.
If you have a specific budgeting question, use our chat function or email us to begin a conversation.
We want to help you move from scarcity to possibility.
Is your congregation planning something new? If so, there are five key questions you can ask yourself and the group with which you are working. The five questions apply to almost every kind of congregational project. These key questions provide focus. Responses to these questions will provide structure for your work. You and your colleagues can meet your goals when you use these questions throughout a process.
Here are the five key questions:
Try weaving these questions into the agenda of your next meeting about a new endeavor. Listen carefully to the conversation. Observe when the energy in the room rises. Observe when the energy lags. Share this back to the group. Ask others to interpret responses to the questions. Form your work plan based on what you are hearing.
This is how your congregation learns to do new things.
Resources you can use
You can learn more about these five questions in chapter nine of How Your Congregation Learns.
As you have probably observed, asking questions is a powerful learning and leadership behavior. Two recommended resources on asking questions and congregational leadership include: The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation and Action and Encyclopedia of Positive Questions.
Congregations have long been places that nurture the care of souls. Long ago, the early church created strategies and tactics to care for widows and children. Nowadays, care in congregations involves visits to the sick, end-of-life care, support for grieving families, celebrating life transitions, encouragement for older adults, befriending those who experience loneliness and so much more.
Perhaps your congregation is looking to strengthen its care ministries. There are two ways to think about this. One way is to consider structures and operations. Who is responsible for organizing care activities? Are there ways to streamline communication? What might you do to improve the way in which care ministries are implemented?
A manual for care teams
Karen Lampe has written a useful resource titled The Caring Congregation that serves as a manual for care teams. There is much spiritual wisdom in this book. The book also addresses various practical issues. For example, the appendix contains a job description for a congregational care minister.
Listening and caring skills
Another way to enhance care ministries is to learn more about the process and practice of caring. Listening is one of the most powerful skills God has given us. John Savage’s book on listening, Listening and Caring Skills in Ministry, is an excellent volume about how to enhance caring relationships through listening. The book addresses skills such as paraphrasing, productive questions, describing behavior, truly hearing a story and so forth.
You can use the book as a guide to improving the skills of those providing care to congregants. Yes, there are two ways to address congregational care issues. You can address the structures and operations of your care ministries. And you can increase the capacity of those who are providing direct care services. Here are even more congregational care resources for you to consider.
How does your congregation use Facebook? If you are a clergyperson, do you manage Twitter or Instagram for ministry? How about Pinterest or Snapchat or YouTube?
An instrument for ministry
The congregations that make the best use of Facebook and other social media are the ones that view these tools as instruments for ministry, not just for marketing. Certainly there is a marketing component to social media. Yet, if the marketing component drives the use of social media then an opportunity for a purposeful connection with others is lost.
I know a congregation which uses Facebook for comments on the sermon scripture passage for the week. This congregation of about 150 in worship have an average of 10 comments per week regarding the sermon text.
Another congregation uses social media for people to post prayers. Facebook becomes a kind of virtual Western Wall. Instead of folded pieces of paper placed between stone crevices, electronic petitions are shared.
Click 2 Save is a helpful book about social media as an instrument for ministry. The authors, Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson, address the question, “Is there more to social media than public relations?”
Discerning your use of social media
If you are a clergyperson, you might think about how you want to use web-based, interactive tools. Clergy face this question: How do I navigate relationship boundaries between my personal life and professional life when using social medial?
I’ve learned from Pastor Monique Crain Spells. Monique is the director of recruitment at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, and she is also the pastor at Levi’s Table. At a Center-sponsored workshop, Monique described how she has chosen to be present on social media as a pastor. It is part of her ministry just as pastoral calling, teaching, and preaching are part of her work.
Choosing to use social media predominately as a professional tool for ministry may not work for everyone. But it is a choice that gives clarity regarding the purpose and use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others.
During the 1950s, a psychiatrist named Murray Bowen created a new intervention for those with family members suffering from schizophrenia. Two decades later, Rabbi Edwin Friedman used Bowen’s theory to help clergy think about congregational life. Friedman’s acclaimed book, Generation to Generation, launched the theory as a helpful leadership method for congregations.
By now, two generations of clergy have applied the Bowen theory concepts to the work of congregational leadership. These concepts include self-differentiation, anxiety, triangles, multi-generational transmission process and emotional cutoff. In addition to Edwin Friedman’s works, Peter Steinke, Arthur Paul Boers, Israel Galindo, Ronald Richardson and Roberta Gilbert, among others, have written books that apply Bowen’s theory to congregational life. Many consultants use the Bowen method as a framework for their engagements with congregations.
Does this approach help strengthen the local congregation?
Below you will find four observations regarding the helpfulness of Bowen Family Systems.
1) It is not necessary to teach the theory to congregations. The best Bowen theory resources are those which help leaders try new behaviors, not just learn the theory. Spending too much time explaining the Bowen method to congregants has the effect of an orthopedic surgeon explaining in excruciating detail hip replacement to a patient (“then I will take a hammer to your femoral head…”). Don’t substitute sharing the theory with living the theory. Practice it.
2) Many leaders misunderstand what Bowen and Friedman mean by self-differentiation. Differentiation of self is the lifelong work of developing the ability for both autonomy and closeness. Too often this concept is interpreted as license to take alienating stands with little attention to relationships. As a leader working on self-differentiation, you learn to connect deeply with others while at the same time you are learning to be clear about what matters most to you. Self-differentiation includes both connection and boundaries.
3) It could be that the Bowen and Friedman dictum to remain non-anxious is counterproductive, at least sometimes. In Bowen Theory, one of the markers of maturity is the capacity to remain non-anxious in difficult situations. This instruction functions like the command to “love your enemy” – easy to say, but hard to do. Anxiety is not always harmful. Trying to maintain a non-anxious presence often has a paradoxical effect – it raises, not lowers, anxiety. Honesty and authenticity are virtues. It is okay for a leader to say “this makes me anxious.”
4) Bowen theory proponents have a propensity to speak assuredly of the method. I find organizations less predictable than most Bowen theorists assert. They are more certain of their theory than the word “theory” would imply. I wonder, for example, if self-differentiation as it is explained in the Bowen model does not acknowledge the way clergy often need to imagine and manage opposing thoughts within not just the congregation, but within themselves. Does Bowen Theory leave mental space for the self to be transformed by divergent views within one’s self?
Creating a framework
Certainly, though, Bowen Family Systems resources provide congregational leaders with a framework for understanding behaviors they are experiencing in congregations. However, like most things in life, it is appropriate to think critically about this theory. Its power may be in the way it is adapted to fit a leader’s temperament and experience.
In this blog, I’ve referred to Bowen theory proponents. Here are resources that apply the theory to congregational life.
If you’d like to continue the conversation email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A generation ago, congregational observers noted that congregations experiencing growth were those which gave clear-cut, right and wrong, direction about life.
I want to note a subtle correction to this observation.
Vital congregations are those which give more attention to the lives of adherents than the needs of the institution. Congregations which are flourishing are those which provide education, a sense of community, and moments of meaning that help congregants navigate the challenges of life with resilience.
Certainly, your congregation needs to pay attention to its organizational life. You need people attending to budgets, the condition of the facility, the copier, the agenda for the board meeting and so forth. Yet, if attention to the operations of the congregation subtracts from supporting the lives of members and the lives of people in the community, then folks will sense that the congregation is not doing what it is called to do. The congregation becomes a purposeless community in which only those with a strong sense of obligation will stay engaged.
Paying attention to life
Flourishing congregations are those which pay attention to life. People are praying. They are asking important questions. They are thinking about what it means to be a community. The congregation serves as a resource to its members around any number of crucial matters: parenting, finances, justice, vocation, character building, and of course, one’s connection to God.
My colleague Kara Faris and I were introduced to 12 creative congregations and had the privilege of writing about them for the book Divergent Church. A divergent church focuses on an aspect of life beyond the emphasis on the church itself.
It’s about life. It’s not about the congregation as an end unto itself.
What matters most to you in life?
Let your congregation attend to such matters.
To learn more about the book, Divergent Church, here are two links:
You can also read this blog about practices that connect faith and life.
Church planting is different than establishing satellites, multi-sites, a new worship service or a separate non-profit. Church planting is establishing a new congregation in a new location. This process is rewarding, yet it requires hard work and a varied skillset.
Below are four things I’ve learned about church planting.
What are the unique challenges for your church plant? Find help you need like data, church planting conferences, coaching and more by looking at our hand-picked church planting resources.
As a pastor, have you earned enough pastoral capital to accomplish what you seek to do?
In seminary, my leadership professor described the importance of building capital with parishioners. We learned that if the pastor made enough hospital calls, wrote thank you notes, officiated with grace and excellence at weddings and funerals, then she or he would earn respect from congregants. Such respect meant it was more likely for congregants to say “yes” when the pastor experimented with a new idea, like changing the style of worship.
In some contexts, this transactional view of getting things done is called political capital.
The phrase “political capital” refers to the way a politician builds up favor with constituents by pursuing popular legislation. This goodwill can be used to pass more risky bills while minimizing public critique of the politician.
One strength of this approach is that it often works.
One drawback to this approach is that it makes ministry a transactional contest. Clergy and laity can and should accomplish important things through more than an exchange of favors.
Is there an alternative to pursuing leadership capital?
I think there is. Rather than regarding pastoral or political capital, consider instead the dynamics of attachment. What does it look like when a congregation is securely attached to its pastor? How does a clergy person practice ministry when he or she is securely attached to the congregation?
A healthy attachment
In psychology, attachment refers to the healthy bond that forms between an infant and a parent or another caregiver. This relationship then provides the positive energy for subsequent social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual growth of the child.
In congregational life, secure attachment between clergy and congregation provides the learning environment necessary for the congregation and clergy to develop into the fullest expression of their best selves.
In the book How Your Congregation Learns, I describe this relationship:
In the best situations, the relationship between clergy and lay leaders is characterized by a kind of affection that is unique—different from other relationships. It includes respect, but it is more than respect. It is more than the honoring of office and roles. This affection includes friendship, but it is a kind of friendship. It is not necessarily shaped by sharing of intimacies—that is, the sharing of deep secrets and wounds. This friendship is characterized by closeness that comes from sharing a common purpose. The affection that is noticeable between clergy and lay leaders in congregations that accomplish what they set out to do is exemplified by competence and character in the pursuit of common, God-focused goals. This dynamic is what brings a lay leader to tell her friend, “We just love our pastor.” This affection is what leads the clergyperson to look out from the place she stands to preach and think, “I love these people.” And it is one of the primary conditions that helps a congregation learn how to accomplish new things. (How Your Congregation Learns, page 67).
Clergy and laity do favors for one another. Give and take is a necessary leadership dynamic. Consider naming such dynamics as something other than building capital. After all, congregational endeavors aren’t ultimately about transactions that can be measured in terms of who gets what.
What you call the dynamic will change what you experience. What you experience relationally will open new opportunities for your faith community.
Center for Congregations President Tim Shapiro spoke with Tod Bolsinger of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Canoeing the Mountains. Below are snippets of their conversation.
Tim: Early in your book you share your epiphany “that your people need you to lead them even more than preach to them” (page 36). If preaching, teaching and the care of souls were at one time seen as the primary tasks of the pastor, what do you see as the primary tasks of the pastor as leader?
Tod: I define leadership as “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” Therefore, the primary tasks of a leader certainly do include preaching, teaching and pastoral care as what I would call the “on-the-map technical competence” of a leader. Those primary tasks cannot be ignored our overlooked.
But leadership in uncharted territory is more about leading a process of learning and transformation with a group of people so they can carry out the mission to which they are called. Leading that process requires a leader to focus more on how to be, rather than on what to do. Specifically, to adapt a phrase from Richard Blackburn of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center: “Start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”
Because all transformational leadership requires change, and change is experienced as loss, a significant amount of a leader’s work is to help a community determine what will never change (start with conviction) and then prepare to courageously face the necessary losses (stay calm) to keeping together (stay connected) to accomplish their mission (stay the course).
Those experiences of loss tend to cause people to lose their nerve and fall back on quick fixes or platitudes. But the way of leadership is ultimately about helping a people face their losses with courage, commitment and hope believing that God is at work within them and through them—so they can continue the course of change and fruitfulness. As Jesus put it so clearly about his own life and leadership in John 12, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Tim: You describe adaptive capacity, technical competence and relational congruence. Let’s look at relational congruence. How does a clergy leader learn relational congruence?
Tod: Relational congruence is the key to engendering trust in those whom we seek to lead into uncharted territory. While technical competence is learned in the repetitive discharging of our expected duties, relational congruence is both more difficult and requires more transparency.
Relational congruence comes through the intersection of reflection and relationships. Or to flip that on its head, relational congruence comes through relationships with trustworthy, caring and brutally honest people who cause you to engage in deep searching and brutally honest self-reflection. A famous principle that is attributed to educator John Dewey is that we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. The key way that we learn to be relationally congruent is to reflect upon the moments of incongruence in our lives. It is to have safe, trusted advisors who will allow us to reflect with them on why we act one way at the church office and another in our neighborhoods, why we preach judgment on some people and some sins and overlook others, and why we act generously to those with whom we identify but withhold from those who are different from us.
Relational congruence comes only as we are able to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of those whom we respect and who love us. When they see us showing up in the same way in every circumstance—and we see them seeing us showing up this way—then we will be trustworthy leaders.
Tim: Your book builds on Ronald Heifetz’s theory of leadership based on understanding the difference between adaptive and technical problems. It is possible to teach this theory. There are as many leadership workshops for clergy on adaptive leadership now as there were on workshops regarding Bowen Family Systems 15 years ago. How do you help clergy live into adaptive leadership and not just understand the theory?
Tod: Leadership is an art, a practice, a way of functioning. It is a skill that is more like conducting an orchestra, guiding an expedition or teaching a cooking class. Leadership is learned in the leading. The problem with most theories of leadership is that they tend to communicate that once someone learns the theory then she is a leader. But learning to be a leader, especially an adaptive leader is something that happens only in real time with space to reflect on, with feedback from others, and with opportunities to try again and correct one’s mistakes.
Learning leadership from a book, a workshop, or a lecture is like learning to cook without entering a kitchen, fly-fish without casting to a trout, or flying a plane using only a video game. The best way for pastors to learn to become adaptive leaders is to secure a leadership coach who both understands adaptive leadership and whom the pastor can trust enough to be vulnerable and reflect on the lessons learned in the leading.
One warning: Don’t assume that because a pastor has been successful that he or she can be a good coach. Coaching is itself a skill and adaptive leadership coaching is not the same thing as either pastor or even leading. My own coach for three years was a brilliant psychologist who not only knew adaptive leadership theory, but was a committed church lay leader. He had never pastored a congregation nor led a company, but was great at asking questions, reflecting back to me, and creating a space for me to learn “on-the-job.”
Tim: What’s one thing you’ve been working on regarding congregations and leadership since you published Canoeing the Mountains?
Tod: I’m currently working on a book that combines my early work in communal spiritual formation with my more recent work in leading change to focus on the practices that form adaptive leaders for the church and mission of God. My working title is Tempered, and it is focused on helping Christian leaders develop the strength and flexibility to lead people they love into the places of pain in the world, in the face of their people’s own resistance.
Tim: You can give first-time clergy three books to read that they probably didn’t read in seminary or whatever education route they took to ministry. What three books do you offer?
Tod: Let me give you one ministry book, one theology book, and one novel:
Thriving through Ministry Conflict by Jim Osterhaus, Joe Jurkowski and Todd Hahn
The Misunderstanding of the Church by Emil Brunner
Glittering Images by Susan Howatch