Cocooning is crucial for spiritual transformation
Natasha cradles her coffee cup between her trembling hands. Holding that cup, it seems, is the one thing she can do to keep herself together.
Usually she sits erect—shoulders back, head up, chin square, eyes tuned in. Natasha typically leans in during a conversation and engages her audience, however small or large, with hospitality, confidence, and grace. This day she is a shadow of herself.
Her shoulders slump with the weight of her broken heart and grieving soul. Her gaze rarely wanders from the surface of her coffee. She spends most of her meager energy on containing tears.
This is not the church leader I know.
“I…I…I just feel so…so vulnerable and skittish,” Natasha says. “I feel like I could break down sobbing at any minute. I am so hurt; I’m not sure which part I’d be crying about. And if anyone asks anything of me, even the slightest request, I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. I am totally unable to give, and…and…”
She trails off and searches my eyes for reprieve.
A conference review
Last week, the Catalyst Conference blew through Dallas with more force than the gusty winds we experienced in the parking lot. This was two and half days packed full of church leaders, hip plaid shirts, soulful worship, and a who’s who lineup of Christian authors and speakers. I attended Catalyst because it is one of the best leadership conferences of its kind and it was conveniently traveling to my neck of the woods. I also knew quite a few people in my spheres of influence would be attending and it would serve as an on-ramp to challenging conversation with leader friends.
The following are a few reflections on my experience:
I felt I never had enough…until I discovered a powerful secret
“Too much ministry; not enough money!”
That’s how one pastor replied when asked about the biggest hurdle in the relationship between ministry and money. I agree. Or I did in the past. I have stumbled over that same hurdle, but now I am careful to avoid it, having discovered a secret.
That secret, however, first revealed a greater hurdle that exists in the relationship between ministry and money: me.
My start in ministry was probably similar to yours: obedience to the call, commitment to serve God and people, willingness to sacrifice. Whatever it took, I was in. I’d find myself happily and sincerely singing lyrics like…
“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
“Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”
“All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give…I surrender all!”
As years went by, however, something slow and sinister began occurring: My call became less compliant, being bullied by comparison and envy; my commitment to serve God and people grew weaker, thanks to complaining; and the sacrifice I once offered freely now teetered precariously on the altar as self-pity climbed up beside it.
Does your ministry budget reflect God’s kingdom or church enterprise?
I remember creating my children’s ministry budget for the year. This is what it looked like:
• VBS (a program inside the building): $6000
• Sunday morning celebration (a program inside the building): $10,000
• Team building and training (for the people who volunteered inside the building): $1000
• Conference and further education (so I could get better at planning all my “inside the building” programs): $1000
• Mentoring/meetings (aka lunches out on the church): $500
• Outreach (which was really all about getting the community to come to the building): $500
It was a hard reality to see that most of the money given by faithful tithers was feeding ourselves and not really doing much outside our walls. I was only doing what I was taught in Bible college. Church ministry was my life, so I budgeted based on what I had been taught should be my priorities. To me, ministry was all about how many people we had on a Sunday morning and coming up with creative ways to get them out of bed and into our pews. I slowly started to become frustrated and wondered if I was missing something. Was this really what ministry was all about? filling pews?
During economic difficulties, we discovered the power of example
When my husband and I came to a new church plant immediately after seminary, we knew there were going to be some financial challenges for the small congregation. They had only 10 members and about 40 attending, including children. But they were a devoted, expansive-minded people, which gave us hope for the future of the church. And they offered us a livable wage, which was extremely important for a family of five. Because of their commitment, the church thrived in those early years. People gave sacrificially and the church grew.
The problem came several years in. We had grown by that point to around 200 people and had rented a larger, more expensive facility to hold everyone. And in the earliest days of the church, the pastor’s office was in our home, but it soon became clear that this was less than ideal since the church needed a secretary and extra space for Sunday school. So when office space opened up across the street from the community center where we met, it seemed the perfect solution.
But as any church plant grows, the congregation’s commitment to that church diminishes. The 200 did not feel as invested and determined to see the church grow as the original 40 who liberally gave of their time and money and who had a clear vision for the church. So after several months of increased expenses, our budget began to run in the red.
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.
4 savvy tips to save money on your next ministry trip
It’s not uncommon for my husband, Leif, and I to spend more than 200 days a year travelling for work. We bounce from airports to rental car terminals to hotels and back home on a regular basis, and along the way we’ve discovered a few tips to stretching our travel budget—enjoying better hotels, rental cars, and amenities for a fraction of the cost.
Need an example? We recently stayed in a Westin Hotel for $52.00 per night and rented a mid-size car for $12.00 a day.
Whether you’re attending a leadership conference, engaging in educational enrichment, or organizing a much-needed staff getaway, how can you make your travel budget go further than it ever has before?
Here are four ways to save money on your next ministry trip.
The chart-topping worship leader “doesn’t have it down yet,” but is working on becoming a genuine worshipper every day
Worship leader Kari Jobe grew up traveling with parents in ministry before experiencing a “divine appointment” at the age of 10, when she decided to commit her life to writing songs to help people communicate their feelings to God. She’s currently on tour with Chris Tomlin, but recently took a break to lead worship for 8,500 women at Gateway Church’s Pink Impact Conference. When she's not touring or leading worship at Gateway, her home church in Dallas, Kari supports various anti-human trafficking organizations. She has numerous life-giving things to say about what it means to worship authentically both on and offstage.
You’re currently on tour with Chris Tomlin. As a worship leader, how do you navigate the balance between performance and worship on stage?
That’s a good question. It took me a little while. When I first learned to lead worship, I was focused on sounding good and not missing a note. It’s natural to do that, but I think over time, practice makes permanent. As worship leaders our job is to be so in love with God that it’s contagious and catches on for other people. For me personally, I need the Lord so much. There are just everyday things I’m going through, and I have to say, Lord, give me wisdom in this.
Worship for me is such a place of connecting with the Lord and laying down my burdens. If I’m able to do that on stage in front of people and not worry about what they think, it helps me look more authentic and not be so performance-oriented. But you can’t lose people either—there are some worship leaders who don’t care at all what the congregation’s doing, and they often completely lose people. So there’s got to be a good balance. I’m working on that all the time. I don’t have it down yet.
What I learned through God’s healing after my mother’s death
The hymnist Fanny Crosby wrote these words: “Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.” I included her words in the first chapter of my upcoming book, Victory Song. Below is an excerpt describing my up-close encounter with suicide and the remnants it left behind.
I was 17 the night it happened: the single, tragic event that would shape my journey and life’s purpose from that point forward.
It happened in Hong Kong, February of 1974, five months before I would leave for America to attend Mississippi University for Women on a long sought-after scholarship. It happened just before dawn, in the dim hours when the world still wears the blanket of night. In the bedroom that I shared with my older sister, I woke up suddenly, hearing a wailing cry. I can still hear that haunting voice of my father. He was shouting my sister’s name. As I shook my sister awake, I had a foreboding sense that something dreadful had happened and life would never be the same. I followed timidly behind as my sister made her way through the living room into the kitchen. I was afraid to follow any further and stood silently in the living room, hoping for some indication that this was just a false alarm and life would resume to normal, if there was such a thing as normal. Then I heard my father’s voice say in a panting way, “Quick! Get a knife! Cut her down!”
In that instant, I knew my mother had hung herself from the rafters. My father was holding up her body to keep the rope from choking her further.
Four recent events that matter to your ministry
Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.
The Example of Edith
On Easter Sunday Edith Schaeffer—a woman best known for the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland she founded with her husband, Francis—died at the age of 98. She wrote more than a dozen books, on topics ranging from biblical womanhood to children and family life to human suffering to music and art. As the wife of a famous husband, she had her own voice and platform for promoting her causes.
She valued beauty and fashion, wearing pearls and Chanel No. 5 unapologetically as she championed the arts at a time when many evangelicals did not take them seriously: “A Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively,” she wrote in The Art of Life. “If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.”
As the Her.meneutics tribute notes, she was not the perfect model of a female leader, as her son’s books claim she put up with years of abuse and concerned herself with maintaining an outward image of perfection. Her life is a testament to the reality that even imperfect leaders can impact the Kingdom when they consistently point back to a merciful, forgiving, overcoming, loving God.