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May 30, 2013

Partnering with God

Personal transformation is always critical for leaders


Six years ago we moved from the inner city to a three-acre plot with multiple fruit trees. I never realized how much work these trees require, naively assuming they produced their bountiful harvests year after year, sans intervention. I had much to learn. Fruit trees must be trimmed twice a year as well as repaired after any storm damage. They need to be sprayed multiple times per season to combat the unrelenting pests (or utilize more time-consuming organic methods). Cherry trees need to be draped with netting, or the birds will enjoy an ongoing feast. During times of drought, every tree must be watered. I have found it exhausting, time consuming, and in some seasons, hardly worth the effort.

While we might not see the obvious connection, leadership requires a similar intentionality. Regardless of our experience, if we hope to produce good fruit for the long haul, we must prioritize our own leadership growth and personal transformation above leading others in the same. Failure to do so may result in both a withered soul and contaminated produce.

Leadership growth and personal transformation are deeply interconnected but not necessarily synonymous. From the vantage point of one who’s led for more than 25 years, the former refers to acquiring the skills, information, and knowledge necessary to succeed in the task at hand. Many organizations tend to focus on leadership growth, almost to the exclusion of personal transformation. I hope to convey that our success as leaders depends upon both components.

Transformation is at the core of our faith. Paul wrote, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:23-24). God intends for us to yield to and partner with him so that the whole of who we are gradually reflects Jesus to the world. This is a profound and lifelong process, accomplished in secret but consequential to those we lead—as well as those with whom we share our lives.

Leadership Progression

At the front end of a leadership career, our inexperience and insecurity motivate us to grow our skill sets. We routinely face complex and challenging ministry situations which force us to seek counsel from more experienced partners. I remember sitting down with a couple whose marriage had disintegrated into an unrecognizable mess and thinking to myself, “I have no idea how to help these people.” The next day, I compiled a list of questions and phoned a woman who had been counseling couples for decades. In our next session, I felt much more prepared.

After years of leading, confidence gradually eclipses insecurity. Rather than ask others for help, we receive opportunities to preach or lead retreats. Most of our rough edges have been smoothed over and we can legitimately enjoy the fruits of our labor. We are now at a seminal juncture in our leadership; will we continue to pursue growth and transformation or will we erroneously assume that we’ve been there, done that? In my tenure as a leader, I have repeatedly witnessed vibrant ministries and churches dwindle and even close their doors simply because those at the helm failed to understand the synergistic relationship between our ongoing personal movement and functional success.

Detecting Spiritual Hardening of the Arteries

Because we live in a culture which values success above maturity, we can easily overlook warning signals meant to communicate that our priorities are amiss. In his last two years in the pastorate, one gifted leader repeatedly spun the same ministry stories, all of which took place more than 20 years ago. To those who sat under him, it became increasingly clear that he was stuck. It came as no great surprise when he announced that he was leaving the church and moving on to other ventures.

Asking the following questions might help to determine if you have focused on leading to the exclusion of being transformed. Are the stories and personal examples you share current? Do they reflect areas where God continues to shape you, not a decade ago but within the past year? Do you seek out and carefully weigh critique and criticism? Do you allow those with divergent opinions or perspective to stretch and challenge your approach and content? Do you have mentors who are at least 10 years older?

If you answered “no” to most of the questions, you might want to come to a full stop and explore why. (Some of these symptoms might point to fatigue or the need for a sabbatical.) Few of us rationally decide to resist growth and transformation. More often than not, a complex set of circumstances conspires to derail us. Most of us have limited time and energy. When forced to choose between spending an hour preparing to teach or sitting with a sometimes-confrontational spiritual director, we generally default to the former. If we make that choice once, it’s not terribly consequential, but made over years, it will be. Additionally, most churches and organizations offer a finite discipleship track. After we have gone through all their offerings, we are essentially on our own.

Taking Responsibility for our Growth

Regardless of the many demands upon our time and the limitations of the organizations we serve, we must accept responsibility for our continued maturation by taking the initiative to determine what we need. Options might include regular silent retreats, enrollment in an intensive healing program, meeting with a spiritual director, or simply disciplining yourself to regularly pick up a book on a topic that touches your need—rather than your ministry’s need.

One of the easiest methods of assessing any areas of weakness is to routinely ask others for honest feedback. I typically do this once a year via a written form. My teammates are allowed to write their names on it or keep it anonymous. I am less interested in having them affirm me and more curious to hear them answer the question “How can I improve as your leader?”

This need for continued leadership growth and personal transformation should be perceived not as a sign of weakness, but as a mark of maturity and obedience to Christ. Jesus said to his disciples, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:5-8). Our ultimate “success” as leaders is reflected not by worldly metrics but by an ever-deepening relationship with Christ, which transforms us into his image.

Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing, making photographs, pastoring, and trying to keep her three teenage sons adequately fed. She and her family live surrounded by apple orchards, just outside of Boston, MA. You can find more of her words and images at

May 27, 2013

Be Still, Ailing Minister, Part 3

Cocooning Is Crucial for Spiritual Transformation


Darkness is rich with theological meaning. Our first thoughts may be of evil things, ala “the powers of darkness.” But there are other applications. Darkness hides things and people, like Nicodemus’ first meeting with Jesus under the cover of night. From the darkness, chaos, and formless void God formed all created matter, and God’s Spirit hovered over the deep. When Jesus’ breathed his last on the cross, darkness covered the earth—an early afternoon sky looked like that of late evening. In the darkness of the Holy of Holies within the Temple, God dwelt.

We don’t know what darkness means. It may offer and provide good, ill, and everything in between. We can’t see what’s in front of, behind, or around us. Fear easily seizes us, and anxiety grips our minds, robbing us of our well-being.

Biologically and spiritually speaking, darkness is an incubation space where the conditions for development are precisely as they need to be. It is in the darkness of the cocoon (of the womb, of the tomb) where God does some of God’s best work: shaping God’s beloved into who they are meant to be.

When author Sue Monk Kidd was pregnant with her now-adult daughter, her son Bob, then 3 years old, touched his mother’s protruding belly.

“Mama, is it dark inside there where the baby is?” he asked. He was scared of the dark, and afraid for his developing sibling.

“Yes,” Monk Kidd responded, “it’s dark in there.”

“Do you think the baby is scared in there, all by himself?” (Bob wanted a brother.)

“I don’t think so, because he’s not really alone. He’s inside of me.”

At that point Monk Kidd had an inspiration. She’d been spiritually struggling and was in “an inscrutable inner darkness unlike any [she] had ever experienced. A spiritual night.” After she answered Bob, Monk Kidd understood.

“When we enter the spiritual night, we can feel alone, encompassed by a fearful darkness,” she writes. “What we need to remember is that we’re carried in God’s womb, in God’s divine heart, even when we don’t know it, even when God seems far away.”

Following my burnout and exit from congregational ministry, the darkness of my cocoon seemed my only constant friend. I did not like her. Praise be to God, my cocoon did not take this personally, and the darkness remained neutral and held ground. God was working. Exhausted from wrestling with God and lacking other options, I finally stopped fighting and succumbed to my own spiritual night. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart often, reminding me that God had wrapped me in an outer shell in order to protect me, and that God carried me every second of every day.

I knew when cocooning began for me, but I didn’t know when it would end. At first, while I was fighting, the uncertainty drove me crazy. When will this end? How am I ever going to endure this? What will happen to me? Will I even recognize myself? Will others know how to be in relationship with the “new me?” Will I?

After I let go, I simply trusted. God has good plans for his people (Jeremiah 29:11). For me this meant God knew about my plight and I could rest in that knowing. I came to understand that my cocoon, this protected spiritual darkness with all of its mystery, was part of God’s plan.

I cocooned for two years. When I started punching through my cocoon so that I might live in God’s creation once again, I was indeed a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). What’s more, I had the strength I needed to fly with Christ to the heights of what God had in store for me. God knew how much time I needed. Left to my own, I would have bugged out of that cocoon way too early. I’m sure of it.

Natasha now knew my full story, and she understood what was in store for her. She and I prayed together. Coffee-shop life bustled around us, but we were on sacred ground and in sacred space. Time stood still as we beseeched God with tears streaming down our cheeks. Change hurts, and darkness is mysterious and frightening. At least a cocoon holds and protects the delicate changeling within so that all that will may come to pass.

Natasha cocooned for six months. She spoke to barely anyone. Needing to be Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, she gave herself a break from her typically Martha ways (Luke 10:39-42). She did little, ministered to others none, cried, journaled, and prayed. Natasha took a sabbatical from church services, choosing to worship God in private and with her small group only. She listened to herself, took care of herself, learned to love herself anew, and entered the place where the Holy Spirit resides within her to connect with God. She was absorbed in God and self completely.

It was exactly what she needed. Cocooning was part of God’s plan for her. Truth be told, cocooning is a part of God’s plan for everyone.

God calls each of us to wholeness and purposes greater than we can design for ourselves. In order for us to live into our divine design, we must, like our Savior, die to our former selves and rise again to our new lives. There is no Easter without Good Friday and the time in the sealed tomb. We must, like Jesus, endure the entire journey.

Sue Monk Kidd continues, “We're being drawn beyond where we are into an entirely new way of relating to God, one that's beyond anything we've even imagined…God guides us the long way round. And sometimes that means winding through a dark wood. It doesn't mean we're lost, however. The darkness is part of the trip. Too many of us panic in the dark. We don't understand that it's a holy dark and that the idea is to surrender to it and journey through to the real light.”

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served as a solo pastor for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…”. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

May 23, 2013

Be Still, Ailing Minister, Part 2

Cocooning Is Crucial for Spiritual Transformation


I had looked and felt much like Natasha about 18 months prior to our coffee shop chat. I’d sat in a stunned silence on the oversize sofa in the counseling room at QuietWaters Ministries, an intensive care retreat center for pastors and missionaries in crisis in Denver, Colorado.

Five and a half years of solo-pastoring had come to a screeching and painful standstill. Diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and burnout, I was on an emergency sabbatical from church. I did not know if I would return to serve my congregation with renewed fervor, or to leave and go…well, I didn’t know that either. I spent two weeks at QuietWaters at the beginning of my sabbatical, desperate for answers.

How did I get here? How do I heal from this depression? What is next for me?

As the second half of my two-week stay began, my counselor held up a graphic to help me understand the chaotic journey I was undergoing.

“About a year ago you were here.” She pointed to the page. “Now you are here, and you need to stay there as long as necessary. There’s no telling how long it will be, but you’ll know when it’s time to emerge. If you try to break free before you’re ready, truly ready, you’ll do more harm than good, and you’ll end up right back where you were at the point of your burnout.”

I blinked. Beyond “Uh…okay,” that was all the response I could muster.

My counselor referred to Hudson’s Cycle of Renewal, a transition model developed by Hudson Institute of Coaching founders Fredrich Hudson and Pamela McClean in their book LifeLaunch. Typically, the model is used for corporate coaching, and specifically when someone is in the midst of “a transition or searching for redirection and enrichment of their careers or lives.”

Career Change and Life Transition Coach Janet Cranford succinctly outlines Hudson’s cycle here.

As strung out as I felt, I could see theology all over Hudson’s model. God’s fingerprints evidenced the Lord’s recent doing in my life throughout the four phases. The Spirit drew to the margins the veil that clouded my vision as my counselor explained each step to me. The path that had brought me to my depleted state and the path that was yet before me shone with morning-dawn clarity. It mattered not exactly how I got where I was, nor was I concerned with how I was supposed to get where God deemed that I go. The brush had cleared, and that was enough for me to praise my Maker.

Indeed, I was firmly in Phase 3—cocooning, supposedly the darkest, most uncertain, isolating, and frightening stage of the four. Like the caterpillar in nature, the old me was in a pupal stage, dissolving. I was changing into my new form, the beautiful creation God meant for me to be. God had called me into this transition and wrapped this silk around me. All of this, I was surprised to learn—the burnout, the depression, the painful dying to old ways, the darkness of the cocoon, and the cocoon itself protecting me while I processed—was part of God’s plan.

Next up: wait. Wait for nature to take its course, for God to change and shape me, wait for God to give me the signal to emerge, whatever signal that would be.

My charge? Submit. Allow. Receive. Let go. Type-A old me does not do this very well. I am active and not passive. Surely God knows this?

My counselor knew this. She read my expression and body language and headed off my complaining with a warning.

If I gave into my anxiety and impatience and tried to burst forth prematurely, she said, I would indeed serve myself poorly. Metaphorically speaking, my wings would be weak; I’d be unable to fly, and I’d be easy prey for predators. No, I needed all the time in this groggy, withdrawn, self-protective, and introspective space that God had predestined.

“Submit and wait,” she said, “and connect with God while you’re at it.”

So I’m cocooning, huh?

I had control over one aspect, and that was my perspective. Would I release myself to God and make cocooning a holy experience? Or would I curse the change, darkness, and waiting and make each day of cocooning a living hell?

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served as a solo pastor for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…”. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

May 20, 2013

Be Still, Ailing Minister, Part 1

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.

“You’re spent.” I complete her sentence. “You’re burnt out; your confidence is shaken; you’re wondering, after these good years of ministry, how this could have happened; and you’re even questioning your call.”

She nods. Her body relaxes. Thank God you understand, it says to me. And I do.

How do I proceed? Natasha’s nonverbals communicate again. Help me, please.

I’ve Been There

Natasha and I share many things. Today we are unified by our toxic church experiences. We are both wounded church leaders who no longer serve in our former posts. We both sit bewildered at once-strong relationships with lay leaders and clergy in our respective congregations that have gone sour. Natasha a children’s minister and me a pastor, we are known to be wellsprings of compassion, encouragement, and wisdom. Now we are parched and utterly unable to nurture.

The difference is that she is just beginning her huge spiritual journey, and I, while not completely healed, am coming near the end of mine. I console and counsel my sister in Christ, having already walked rugged miles in the moccasins she is just donning.

“You are cocooning,” I say. “And the best you can do for yourself, your ministry, and most importantly, your relationship with God, is to be still and let God and others love on you without obliging yourself to return the favors.”

Natasha’s eyes glazed over. Her brow wrinkled in either disagreement or confusion. Ministers are the worst at being still and allowing themselves to be spiritually fed.

Cocooning—Slothful or Spiritually Necessary?

Author Faith Popcorn coined the term “cocooning” in the 1990s, referring to “the trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more.” She noted cocooning as a commercially siginifant trend that would, among other things, lead to stay-at-home electronic shopping.

When cocooning, people turn into themselves and isolate themselves from the outside world. It’s an all-about-me thing to do, cocooning is. Phone calls might not get returned. Email probably isn’t even checked, much less responded to. Relationships, connections, and responsibilities take a back seat to the world that turns within the cocooner’s own life and home.

Christian theology, specifically in the Bible, teaches against such behavior. Created in the image of the Triune God (Genesis 1:26–28), we are made for relationship with God and one another (Genesis 2:18–25). Beyond that, together we make up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), each doing our part for the common good. We need one another to function (1 Corinthians 12:14–24), and together we both suffer and rejoice (1 Corinthians 12:26). Sure, Jesus withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16), but as far as we know these times were brief.

Seeing Christian community as one of six “holy habits that produce spiritual growth,” the Wesleyan tradition lists cocooning, in addition to our other “cultural trends” of fragmentation, isolation, consumerism, as something which inhibits our relationship with God.

Based on this we might conclude that the Christian within her cocoon is selfish, lazy, and inconsiderate of others. Or we may fear that over time, as she sequesters herself from society, she will lose contact with people and her relationships may deteriorate.

To both I say exactly, and God is at work in the midst.

To be continued…

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served as a solo pastor for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…”. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

May 16, 2013

Catalyst Dallas 2013: Highlights and Reflections

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:

Worth the Price of Admission
• Worship with Matt Redman and David Crowder (though not at the same time).
Brene Brown. Period.
• Leadership lessons from Andy Stanley, arguably one of the most gifted communicators in our “industry.”

Fun Factor
• Excellent production level, including surprises like a quick concert with an audience-fueled light show, a first look at a major movie trailer, special guest vocalists like JohnnySwim and Anthony Evans, and one of the craziest contortion-like dancers I have ever seen.
• The comedic antics of Tripp and Tyler. Proof that Christians can indeed be funny while poking fun at themselves.
• Two words: pie bar.

What Challenged Me
Craig Groeschel’s remarks on the making of a spiritual leader: I was so convicted by the three levels of leadership Craig contrasted for us. He shared that leaders on the first level are in it to make a name for themselves with their efforts getting the credit; leaders on the second level are in it to make a difference with their team getting the credit; but leaders on the third level are in it to make history because God is the one at work getting all the credit. I left reflecting on the various leadership roles I have had over the years and who I gave credit for the impact.
Jon Acuff punching fear in the face: Jon’s ridiculously witty approach offered refreshing reminders of how crippling my fear really is. His statement “God will never be handcuffed by our failures or unleashed by our successes” made me ask once again, “Then what am I really afraid of?” He pushed all of us to live fully into our own calling—now.
Mark Driscoll’s presence on the speaker lineup: I am not a huge fan of Pastor Mark because of his previous comments about women’s roles in the church and marriage. However, I had the opportunity to choose to respectfully engage with his teaching about our true identity as leaders or leave the session and grab coffee with a friend. I stayed (my friend did, too). Staying was a good exercise for me in praying without ceasing, trying not to jump to conclusions, and extending grace.
Brene Brown’s words on what it means to dare as a leader: “Leadership minus vulnerability equals disengagement.” If I want to inspire others to action or encourage them to be all they were created to be, I have to be courageous and allow others to really know me. Brene said we can choose comfort or courage, but we can’t choose both. Moving forward, I want to choose courage more often than I currently choose comfort.

What I’ve Added to My “to Read” Bookshelf because of Catalyst
Start by Jon Acuff
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick
Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst

“Innovation needs the best version of me for we.” —Charles Lee
“Hope is boss.” —Jon Acuff
“Our reactions determine our reach.” —Lysa Terkeurst
“Leaders are made one response at a time.” —Andy Stanley
“What inspires? Leaders who are courageous and show up.” —Brene Brown

Julie Pierce empowers leaders to change the world through coaching, consulting teams, and communicating with groups. You can follow her on Twitter at julie_pierce or read her leadership blog at

May 13, 2013

End the Struggle between Ministry and Money

I felt I never had enough…until I discovered a powerful secret


The Struggle

“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.

Have you, like me, ever wondered, Why are we working so hard and still struggling financially? Is this worth it, all this involvement in ministry without making or having enough money?

If I would have been careful, I would have discovered the secret to the relationship between ministry and money sooner. Certainly, some in ministry have already discovered this secret, while others have not.

Until it is discovered, those in ministry risk further struggles like coveting, making comparisons, bitterness, and being easily offended. They wish for what others have (building? salary? staff?). They compare their success, or lack thereof, to others. They become resentful toward people for not giving financially like they should or can. They are easily offended by…almost everything.

A complication to the relationship between ministry and money is a weakened economy. How many times has the work of ministry required more hours, more activities, yet with lesser amounts in the offering? That was our case; our ministry work was increasing while our support was decreasing.

This problem of too much ministry and not enough money was a hurdle, and it was directly in front of me. I tripped over it, falling onto the slippery slope nearby, where complaints and tears were muddy accomplices. Weariness, loneliness, and loss gave further momentum to my downward slide. I landed in a heap of self-pity that threatened to replace the sacrifice on the altar of my heart.

Too often we blame the problem for the problem; we blame the ministry, the money, or both. I did that, failing to see that the biggest hurdle wasn’t money or the ministry; it was me—namely, my attitude.

What’s worse, I overlooked an important truth: that my life and ministry are shaped by attitudes that constantly influence those around me; a negative attitude bleeds out, staining those under me or around me, whereas a positive one sows into others, reaping changes that may flourish merely from my example.

Look around and you’ll see how often churches mirror the personality and character of their pastor, whether positively or not so positively. This is especially true in the relationship between money and ministry: a generous pastor typically ends up with a higher percentage of generous people, and a miserly pastor ends up with a higher percentage of miserly people.

The Secret

In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer said, “Abraham had everything, yet possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret…the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation.”

One day, falling headfirst over the money/ministry hurdle, I plunged into depression. I felt sorry for myself and was greatly discouraged over our finances. Something had to change; someone had to help get rid of every hurdle. And he did.

As I knelt in prayer, tearfully offering God my ugly attitudes and frustrations over money and ministry, he mercifully led me back to the place of cleansing and healing. It is the place where we allow his gentle hands to remove the deeply penetrating talons of stuff, money, and possessions from the flesh of our hearts. It is the place of rededication to the lordship of Christ.

That is the secret.

Whether our economic situation is abundant or scarce is not the issue. Whether our ministry is thriving or struggling because of economy is not the issue. Rather, the condition of hearts is what matters.

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his promised gift because his heart was dedicated first to the Lord. The Macedonians mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:5, who were poverty-stricken yet generous and knew something about the relationship between money and ministry, were willing to give abundantly because “their first action was to give themselves to the Lord.”

My hurdles are gone. The struggle between money and ministry is over, as it no longer matters how much of either I have. This secret is not safe with me. I will share it with anyone who is stumbling over those same hurdles…perhaps even you.

But I confess I’m also keeping the secret close by, in case those hurdles pop up again.

Ilona Hadinger, together with her husband and children, has served 17 years as a missionary to the Ethnic/Indigenous People of Mexico. She is a credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God, blogs at, and is a contributing author to Tortilla Press.

May 9, 2013

Missional Budgeting

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?

I saw the way I was spending the church’s money and couldn’t help but feel a stirring dissatisfaction within. Since, I have adopted a more missional/kingdom mindset which has flipped my world upside down—including the way I look at budgets and finances. It started with a challenge to how I personally budgeted. I noticed my personal budget looked no different from my church ministry budget; most of my money was spent on…me.

I started budgeting based on what I would give (beyond my tithe). How could I bless others first? What contributions could I make to my community if I stopped buying a Starbucks every day? What if I stopped going out for lunch and invited people over to my house to share a meal instead? Where could the money be better allocated to bless others rather than feed myself…literally? This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s amazing how as soon as you make a commitment to deny yourself a five-dollar coffee, that’s all you want! It helped when I started brewing Starbucks coffee at home and got myself a travel mug. I started to enjoy having people in my home for dinner more than going out. Somehow we experienced a deep fellowship around my scratched-up old table. I call it “communion.” I never experienced this during dinners out at restaurants.

Then I started to attend this crazy church that I still attend. As a staff, they were dedicated to flipping their church budget. They started pushing to move from 80 percent dedicated to what happens inside the building and 20 percent for missions and outreach, to 80 percent of the budget flowing out to mission and only 20 percent to internal church programs. Wow. My mind was blown. For two years, they have succeeded in actually turning their budget around to a ratio of 70 percent mission, 30 percent internal. I have been moved by their dedication and focus to be kingdom minded, specifically in terms of finances and budget.

This has modeled something significant to me. When we have a “church ministry” mindset, we will budget in that mindset. But if we have a kingdom mindset and start asking the question “What does a kingdom-building budget look like?” we may see our budgets shift in focus from inward to outward. It’s interesting that as my focus switched to learning what building the kingdom looks like, that’s when my concept on finances changed. What has surprised me most is how easy it is. Going from a focus on how to bring people into the building, to how I bless the community, first made me get out into my community to find out what the needs are! Once the needs are known, budgeting becomes simple.

However, it does involve a shift in philosophy of ministry. If our goal is to draw people to our Sunday morning gatherings with the latest and greatest, all in the name of “relevance,” the budget will reflect this goal. When I started getting to know the people in my community, I was surprised at how little they cared about the church’s attempt at “relevance” What we fail to recognize is that while we sit in our board meetings and conferences, strategizing all things innovative in “relevance,” society is moving along without any care for our attempts to lure them. If we knew this, how would this change our meeting agendas? Again, how would this inspire a new way of budgeting?

With a change in budgeting, I’ve seen substantial results in reaching people. Churches have been planted. Urban missionary projects have received funding. Innovation and creativity are thriving. Isn’t this what we desire? Don’t we encourage our churches to dream and innovate for the kingdom? Perhaps all that’s standing in the way is a slight switch from thinking about church programs to kingdom innovation.

Connie Jakab is passionate about rebelling against status-quo living and encouraging others to branch out. She’s author of the book Culture Rebel and founder of WILD (Women Impacting Lives Daily) and Mpact, a dance company that produces shows based on social justice issues. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.

May 6, 2013

How Our Sacrifice Inspired Generosity and Commitment

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.

As a result, my husband gave a sermon on giving, but the amount that people gave was not enough to solve our financial woes. After praying about it, my husband told everyone at the next business meeting that the church would give up the office space and secretary, and that he’d move the office back into our home. Most people in the business meeting began to nod in agreement until one of the church founders stood to his feet and gave an impassioned speech about how it grieved him to see the church go backward rather than forward. He challenged everyone there to dig deep and see how they might be able to give sacrificially so that the church could keep the office. The atmosphere in the room changed immediately, and they unanimously agreed to find a way to keep the office.

We learned at least three things about ministry and money through that experience.

When church leaders sacrifice, it’s a powerful example.

The fact that my husband offered to give up something for the sake of the church was powerful. His attitude of humility and willingness to sacrifice for the church moved the congregation in ways that cajoling and making everyone feel guilty never would have. It’s important for the pastor to also cast vision, but if that vision seems to profit him more than the felt needs of the congregation, it is often perceived as selfish. On the other hand, if the leaders are visibly willing to give up something important to them, the people in the church take note.

We found this same principle to be true in other situations. When our church again hit financial difficulty in the downturn of 2008, my husband asked the church to freeze his salary since we had enough to live on. This stance on his salary challenged the people of the church once again to give sacrificially. Most people in the congregation realized they had more than enough to live on and began to increase their giving. The desire to give faithfully overcame their fear of the nation’s economic woes.

Lay leadership is vital in raising ministry funds.

Because my husband took the humble position of sacrifice, the way was open for lay leaders to champion his cause. His willingness to give up something valuable to him opened the door for others to speak up, and in so doing challenged people to give in a way that he could not urge them to. Unless those who are not paid staff wholeheartedly embrace the ministry that needs funds, it’s simply not going to happen. But if at least a few lay leaders who are respected in the church take up the cause as their own, the rest of the congregation takes note.

We found this to be true when we finally moved out of the community center and raised funds to build a church home. As the senior pastor, my husband led the charge, but he also stepped back and gave lay leaders a platform to make their case for why we needed to build. Their impassioned pleas were more powerful than the paid staff’s voices ever could have been.

Hearts must be touched for people to give sacrificially.

All of this led to the realization that generally people do not give unless their hearts are moved. When we hit that first crisis over the church office, we discovered that people in our church were extremely generous, but they had been giving to other things that tugged at their heartstrings more. When the church founder similarly tugged at their hearts, they responded immediately. They had to be convinced that what they were giving to was worthwhile. At the surface, a church office did not stir any passion in them for giving. But when it was put into context of where the church needed to go in order to have an impact in the community and the world, people responded.

Let me add a final word of caution. None of these things can be manufactured. The pastor’s willingness to sacrifice, the lay leaders’ passion for the cause, and hearts that are moved to give must be sincere. Anything artificial will be recognized as such and ultimately hurt the church much more than advance its cause. Remember that in raising funds, we must have a sincere desire to advance Christ and his kingdom more than to obtain an end result.

JoHannah Reardon has had experience as a women’s ministry director, a pastor’s wife, and a longtime church leader. She blogs at and is the author of seven fictional books and two devotional guides.

May 2, 2013

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?

And those are just questions of lifestyle. What about how money colors my leadership?

Am I afraid to speak hard truth because the givers might leave? I’ve seen it happen too many times: church leadership becomes hesitant to go this way or that, speak this thing or that, because of how the “heavy hitters” might respond. Are my husband and I tempted to acquiesce if we ever sense this pressure?

Or do I lead differently because in the back of my mind, I know this organization pays our salary and therefore our family’s bills? On the flip side, do I experience or express entitlement regarding salary and benefits, believing that the church “owes” us something? What if money weren’t an issue and we were financially independent from the church? How might we lead or speak differently?

I’ll admit that I have many more questions than answers. My husband and I continue to pray for wisdom and direction in these areas, learning as we grow. We have chosen a smaller, simpler house and fewer possessions. Sometimes we decline opportunities for ourselves and for our children in order to give that money to other needs. We have learned to redefine needs and to distinguish between true needs and personal wants. And I dream that our family will one day be financially independent of our church, or in a position that we can “reverse tithe,” giving back to the churches that have given so much to us over the years.

Those are decisions and dreams for our family; they are descriptive, not prescriptive. I know that my answers will be different from those of anyone else. But I believe that each ministry leader, couple, and family must at least wrestle with these questions. Money complicates ministry. How does your own relationship with money hinder or further your ministry?

Angie Ward is a leadership writer, teacher, coach, and consultant with 25 years of ministry experience. She blogs at Leadership Connections and teaches at a number of Christian colleges and seminaries. Angie and her husband, Dave, a pastor, live outside Indianapolis with their two delightful sons and one adorable beagle.


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