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?

May 02, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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