For Leaders Only: Are you Silent About Money? (Part One)

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It happened again yesterday. I was having supper with a field missionary (J) who was lamenting his poor funding. His vivacious wife (B) was in full agreement. After listening for 30 minutes, I asked, “What does your supervisor think about your dilemma? What advice does he give?”

Silence. J rolled his eyes. B got up quickly to clear the dishes. Her lips were tight. She said nothing. 

Finally J said, “He doesn’t care. We talk about everything else, but never money.”

Trying to be encouraging, I volunteered, “Perhaps he does care but doesn’t know what to say.”

J continued, “Maybe, but it feels like he doesn’t care. He’s not well-funded either, and I don’t think he feels confident to talk to us about funding or money in general.” 

Dozens of mission-workers have told me a similar story. It’s a negative commentary on ministry leadership. But sadly, it is not surprising. The Lilly Foundation in Indianapolis has documented that Christian leaders and pastors do not like to talk about money. They say it this way: “A shroud of shame and silence about money surrounds Christian leaders.”

Okay, what can we as leaders do? How can we help a dedicated but discouoraged couple like J and B? Here are four suggestions:

1.    Realize that your staff are reluctant to bring up the subject of funding. They will tell you “Everything is fine.” But they are shamed, embarrassed and will change the subject if possible. So if you ask about their funding and get a diversion or a shallow answer, don’t stop. Ask another question. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. 

2.    Ask questions—drill below the surface.

a.    How you are feeling these days about your fundraising? To spouse: How are youfeeling about the fundraising?

b.    Tell me about a recent fundraising appeal you’ve made? How did it go? Tell me about another…

c.    How much exactly do you need to raise to be fully funded? Is that adequate? To spouse: Is that adequate?

 d.    Who do you think needs to hear your ministry story in the next 3 months? Let’s think of 2-3 names right now…

 e.    How can I help you reach full funding in the next 3-6 months? What will it take?

 3.    You need not be their expert funding coach. Who in your region or country can you ask to be this dear staff’s funding coach? Do you have someone who specializes in coaching staff in funding?

 4.    Talk about your own fundraising discoveries, mistakes and victories. If you are silent, your staff assumes they too should be silent and that money magically appears for their leaders. Bring it out into the open. Make money a safe topic.

Nehemiah 13 describes Nehemiah’s encounter with poorly funded staff. After a brief absence in Persia,Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to a problem: The Jews stopped giving the tithe to the Levites. Nehemiah 13:10-11 says, 

I [Nehemiah] also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites…had gone away, each to his own field. So reprimanded the officials and said,

‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’ 

Nehemiah didn’t “let it go” when he heard that the Levites had drifted back to their fields. The word “reprimanded” is also translated “confronted” or “I told them they were wrong.”

Are you bold enough to say that low funding is “not okay.” If your staff suffer in funding, they cannot give their best. They will “go back to their fields” (find other income streams).


Conclusion:Nehemiah championed the Levites!And so must we. Silence about funding is not acceptable.