Pastors and Financial Stress

Interview with Carolyn Kitto - Chairperson Soul Survivor NSW/ACT


M: Carolyn, I’d love to gain your wisdom to help any of our pastors out there who are struggling with financial stress. Is this financial stress a real issue for some of our pastors out there?

C: Matt, I would say that its probably an issue for 95% of pastors and the other 5% might not be exactly telling the truth. It is a stress. So let me tell you about three providers of that stress and three things that you could do to help.

CFirst of all, most pastors are in the job because they like people and they want to tell them about Jesus, not because they want to run a small business. But most of our churches are small to medium sized businesses with huge levels of compliance that is mounting every day for them. They got into this not to run a small business. They got into this because they wanted to tell people about Jesus. And so this is not their strong suit necessarily.

What’s the solution? Well you need to release your pastor to be telling people about Jesus. And you need to build a team around them that will help them with the finances. So that’s number one. Number two, you need the right team. A team who understands finances (accountants) and who also understand the nature of church and money and be able to interpret it pastorally and be that bridge to the church.

The third thing is that pastors often to take this incredibly personally.
So I remember a couple that I worked with. I came to realise that if he didn’t turn up to a meeting or if she had a migraine the reason was they’d run out of money. They didn’t have petrol to put in the car so that’s why he hadn’t come to the meeting. They didn’t have enough food to put on the table for their children, that’s why she had a migraine because she wasn’t eating properly. And they saw that the fact that they were struggling with money was an indicator of their lack of faith. And, it is nothing to do with faith. Well certainly not the pastor’s faith! It is not about the faith of the pastor, but it is about the mission of the people that we need to focus on and find a way of resolving.

Fourthly is that pastors hate talking about money in the church. And some of the reasons for that we’ve already talked about. One, it’s not their strong suit. Two, they feel inadequate around people for whom it is their strong suit like accountants. Three, they think it’s a reflection on their faith. But number four, they actually feel as though what they are talking about is their own personal needs. And most church budgets, the biggest line item at the top of it is the clergy salary, the pastor’s salary. So what I teach churches to do as a solution to this is reframe your budget. And I encourage churches to have a mission action budget rather than an income and expenditure budget, where you decide what your mission is and you cost your mission. And you place your clergy/pastor’s salary into that. 

M: could you talk about your relationship to this subject and give us a little back story to why you know so much about this?

C: Well I ended up in a job a long time ago where my job was to help churches to achieve their mission effectively. And I thought I was pretty good at that job. I used all the proper frameworks and techniques and all of those kinds of things, and after I had worked with these churches on how to be more effective in their mission I would go back a year later, and one of the things I found was that in a lot of these churches nothing had happened. And the reason why nothing had happened is even though we had done all of the specific, measurable, achievable, realistic time goals that were inspired by God and all those kinds of things, somebody early on in the process then said, “But is it in the budget? Can we afford it?” And that statement or question was a mission stopper. And what I realised was that I had to figure out a way of helping people around this mission stopper if they were going to be effective in their mission. So even though I planned never to know anything about church finances, I have now written three books on it!

Fuzz and I apart from a small period of our lives have essentially lived by faith. So we serve churches and charities and NGOs and run a campaign called StoptheTraffik, and one of the dilemmas of doing that kind of work is that you actually don’t ever really totally know if you are going to be able to pay your mortgage in 3 months time. But at the same time what we have learned is that God is incredibly faithful and the money does turn up when you are doing the right thing and when you don’t have fear and when you are actually prepared to let people know what your needs are.

So we sometimes get contracts where we get paid really well and we use what we earn in those contracts to work with places that can’t afford it because we think that’s the kingdom of God. We invest a lot of our own resources and money into making things happen. Which I’m not necessarily suggesting that that’s something that pastors should do in fact its probably not appropriate in a church situation. Because the money is actually not the pastors responsibility, its actually the church’s responsibility. And if the church has a mission it wants to resource it has to find a way of getting the money. And not put that stress or responsibility solely onto the shoulders of the pastor.

M: Carolyn, can we unpack a couple of things together. One is that some churches would say, “Where there’s a vision…” and “If you build it they will come” and that mentality of, “Our finances aren’t great because we are really suffering from a lack of vision”. What have you noticed about that kind of comment?

C: What is the connection between vision and money? I actually don’t think that there is a causal relationship between the two. I think we’ve been sold a ‘furby’ which says “If you get the vision right the money will follow.” It’s actually if you get the mission right the money will follow. And so often pastors think their job is to create and cast the vision and in the end it starts to sound like they’re telling their teenage kids to go and clean up the room. Because they are never achieving “the vision”, whatever that is. What we need is churches that have missional leadership which means that a pastor is actually spending time in the community finding out what the hurts and hopes are, he or she is connecting that back with the people in the congregation who are also in the community and they are discerning together the mission of God. Now if that is what you mean by vision, then go for it. But if what you mean by vision is a fancy statement that we keep telling people they need to attain, that’s not going to cut it in my opinion.

M: Yes, I like that. Let’s unpack something that you have worked with me on which is fear and finances.

C: I would say that one of the ways through fear of money is through asking for the gift and spirit of generosity. Generosity begets generosity. And so what I would be saying to anyone as the first step on the journey of dealing with your fear is to find ways to be generous in your own life with other people first. And that’s both a generosity of spirit in terms of qualities of grace and forgiveness, but it also might be “What’s an act of generosity that you can do once a week?” If you can’t do it once a week then do it once a month. That might cost you financially or it might cost you personally, but what is something that you or your church can do that is generous. Pastoring a church that we work with in the states, this church was concerned about some of the people who were doing it tough after the global financial crisis. So they said, “OK, we need to be generous in our community…because people are doing it tough.” (Well the church people were doing it tough too. But they said, “The church’s job is to be generous.”) So they talked around and they said, “Who are the people who have the lowest of the low jobs and really do it tough in our community?” And they decided that they were pizza deliverers that delivered on the midnight to morning shift. They were usually mothers, often single, that were desperate enough that they put their kids to bed and then they would go to work. So this church rang the local pizza place and said, “This is what we reckon, have you got someone like that on your staff?” And he said, “Yep, I can think of exactly the right person who fits that category.” And so they said, “Well we would like her to deliver (I don’t know how many pizzas, but enough for the church. It wasn’t a huge church) 20/30 pizzas at 10am on Sunday.” So she delivered 20 or 30 pizzas to this church at 10 am on Sunday, and they had taken an offering for her as just the gift of generosity. And as she was going out they handed her an envelope and said, “Here’s your tip.” It was $5000. You know, just build that into your spirit of who you are. If you’ve got a choice of having crap coffee of good coffee, be generous and have good coffee. If you’ve got a choice of having crappy biscuits or Tim Tams, be generous have Tim Tams. Scarcity scares people - that’s what the word comes from. Generosity overcomes fear.

M: And what about doing the offering talk at church.

C: Don’t hype it. The whole thing of whipping people up and making them feel guilty or happy or whatever people try to do when they hype people up. Dispense with that! If you can tell a warm story about how your church has helped people, tell them that story. “Here’s our back account details”. Lot’s of churches have now started putting their back account details on their powerpoint. 

And Get yourself a spiritual director who can help you with it spiritually and get yourself a coach who can wisely help you process it. Every small and medium charity that has people out there trying to make things happen struggle with this. And a lot of it is because they have picked up ideas that probably work in a big organisation, but aren’t going to work for them. Authenticity is the single most important thing, its so freeing.

M: thanks Carolyn! If any of us would like more help please contact Carolyn through the website and do check out their trips coming up