Giving Speaks is pleased to share this guest blog post by the Rev. Neal Jones* ~
People can be funny about money. I know some people with lots of money who act like they’re barely scraping by, and I know some people who are barely scraping by who are as generous as kings and queens. When it comes to money, perception can have little to do with reality.
How much we save and spend has more to do with our mindset than our bank account. Some people have a mindset of scarcity, a “glass half empty” outlook. They expect money, time, and love to be hard to come by. These resources could run out at any time, leaving you high and dry. You need to grab them and cling to them to make sure they don’t slip away. It’s hard to be generous with a clenched fist.
Some people have a mindset of abundance—a belief, a faith, really, that money, time, and love are plentiful and accessible. It’s an attitude of gratitude. Sure, we have to earn our keep, but the real bottom-line is that these things are primarily gifts from God, Life, or the Universe (choose your own term). When we focus on what we’re getting from life instead of what we’re not getting, it’s easy to feel generous and to be generous.
Congregations can operate from a mindset of scarcity or abundance, too. Healthy congregations have cultivated a culture of abundance, regardless of the net worth of the people involved. As individuals we may not be wealthy, but sense that we have been blessed with enough—enough to meet our needs and to fulfill the needs of our congregations.
In keeping with a culture and mindset of abundance, it helps for the congregation to begin with our shared aspirations in mind.
We ask ourselves and one another:
What do we value most about our community of faith and the meaning it brings to our lives?
What vision do we hold for our future and what we could accomplish together?
What can we pledge financially that reflects the level of our commitment to our community and our shared vision?
These are the questions and financial commitment we build our annual budget upon. We build on our mindset of abundance by providing other opportunities to give generously. An example of our abundance and generosity is our monthly shared offering program which has grown steadily each month, with more money given to benefit both the congregation and the other charitable and social justice organizations that receive our gifts.
It’s a strange arithmetic—the more we give away, the more we give. But it makes perfect sense…when you have a mindset of abundance.
(adapted with permission by the author)
The Rev. Neal Jones, Psy. D., serves as the Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, SC http://www.uucolumbia.org/ .
The UU Congregation of Columbia is one the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Honor Congregations, a recognition of their generosity and annual financial support of their wider faith community. (www.uua.org/giving/apf )
RESOURCES to Nurture Generosity & Abundance in Congregations: http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml
Congregational Stewardship Services and Forward Through the Ages Program (FORTH): http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/forth/index.shtml
Giving–the sacred art by Lauren Tyler Wright: http://www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978-1-59473-224-9, and six-session study guide for use by UU groups, www.uua.org/documents/stew-dev/study_guide_giving.pdf
Inspired Philanthropy by Tracy Gary: http://inspiredphilanthropy.com/
The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist: http://www.soulofmoney.org/
Ultimately, most of my comments here at this church, online, etc., are pointed towards the goal of the UU faith being all it can be. We all know it has tremendous potential — that there are hundreds of thousands of UUs who don’t attend on Sundays, and probably several million who are UUs but don’t know it yet.
We’ve had 4 UU presidents in office, but its been 100 years. (Having a president in office isn’t our purpose, not even close to it, but it is a pretty good proxy for our relative influence in trying to create the kind of world we want to see.) We can become, again, a major, active, and influential faith in this country and the world, but we have to get focused. Part of that includes our relationship with money.
In the absence of good leadership plus a clear and compelling mission, then churches can easily slip into “just gettin’ along like we always have.” (Both these ideas, btw, could take pages of unpacking so as to differentiate them from other things that claim to be leadership and mission but are not.)
In the absence of these things, in the absence of focus, then the extremes have as much of a voice as the moderates.
On the one hand, its very difficult to say no to pet projects that require church time, treasure, and talent but that ultimately don’t go very far or do much to further even a likely mission of the church. You may have seen yourself in some churches how hard it is to say “no” to Pat Smith’s proposal to take the bequest the church just received and spend it on a ferris wheel “for the kids.” After all, Pat is a hard-working volunteer, the Smith family is very respected, and nobody wants drama (crying, parking lot conversations, etc.).
On the other hand, the voice of strong fiscal caution also has its day. When this voice holds the reins, it brings a stop to the ferris wheel type boondoggles, which is a blessing. However, it is inclined to focus heavily on cost cutting and savings, which can create a culture of scarcity. In the absence of good leadership and mission, who would not want to do what is “fiscally responsible”?
Ultimately, I believe the key lies in good leadership and mission, and putting the church’s assets at the service of that mission. When the mission is clear, then its fairly easy to determine the right investments for our time, treasure, and talent. Its also easy to determine what isn’t, which means saying no to new ferris wheels and perhaps mothballing the old ones.
Savings can be good. Fun can be good. Cost cutting can be good. New expenses can be good. They should all be in service of a clear, compelling, and unifying mission.
That is the only way I know of for our churches to reach their potential, for the hundreds of thousands of potential UUs to become active, and for us to collectively wield the influence necessary for us to create the change we want to see in the world.
Thanks for your comment, Sean! You make an important point when it comes to personal and congregational stewardship. I think there is a significant role for our congregations to address the aspects of giving, saving, and spending and to help individuals to intentionally plan and balace them in their overall financial picture. As UUs, we do not have a solid theologically-based expectation of our members with regard to charitable giving levels, but we can help them to place value on their faith community alongside of their spending and saving choices. In addition to financial/giving planning tools, we can also offer opportunities to engage in deeper conversations about money and its role in our lives. There is definitely a role for the faith community in that conversation.
Great article. Very thought provoking. This could spark a very fruitful congregational conversation.
Just to play devil’s advocate: how do you see the other side of this tale, which often resembles the tale of the ant and the grasshopper?
I anticipate that any good fiscal conservative might ask what role you propose for savings, for example.
Say more, Sean! Are you talking about establishing congregation savings accounts? The “income” for a congregation is donations, investment interest, and possibly rental revenue. “Savings” would come from that income stream, just as it does with home budgets.
Or are you talking about “grasshoppers” on church budget committees, who appear to only “spend,” but don’t directly raise revenue?
I’m concerned that fiscal conservatism means “keep it for myself for future contingencies,” which, again, can be a naive wish for control over the future, and the illusion that having money will protect us from pain — even though that stance can lead us to holding back on our vision for a fair, joyous, and equitable society, in favor of protecting “me and mine.”
Please elucidate! We need conservative forces to keep us from magical thinking in budgeting and income, so I’m interested in hearing how you envision the balance between generosity and prudence.