Do You Trust Your Pastor with Money Information?

We either trust our pastor or we don’t.

Through the years, people have entrusted me with information about everything from their addiction struggles to their sex lives. I’ve been asked to see the engagement ring before anybody asked, “Will you marry me?” I’ve been shown wallpaper samples before purchasing the new wallpaper.

But I’ve rarely been entrusted with information about parishioners’ money: how much they earn, how much they’ve inherited, how much they paid for their car, how much they owe in credit card debt.

I am more likely to know what kind of birth control someone is using than what they take home in salary. And that’s okay. People get to pick what they will and will not share with their spiritual leaders.

But I believe that the pastor must know what everyone is giving to support their congregation. How much. With names.

Again – either we trust our pastor or we don’t.

For the first half of professional ministry I self-righteously declared that I never knew “what people gave” as if this made me a hero. But it was a mistake.

I know what each of our congregations contribute to our Presbytery. If I were still a parish pastor, I would insist on knowing what each person/family contributes. And it’s not so that I’ll drive faster to the hospital if “the biggest giver” has a heart attack. It’s not so that I’ll know who to visit first when there’s a capital campaign to replace the roof.

It’s about spiritual health. If I know that M. gives $20,000 every year although she lives frugally, that tells me something I need to know. M. took public transportation in her later years, not because she was too old to drive. She told me she’d rather give the church the money she’d be spending on a car.

It’s about spiritual health. If I know that the P. Family doesn’t financially support the church, even though they loudly announce that they will “cut their pledge” if they don’t get their way on something, I better understand the P. Family’s spiritual maturity.

It’s about spiritual health. Individuals who give generously to the mission of their congregation (and beyond) are showing with their actions what they say with their mouths: that serving the hungry and homeless is important to them, that educating our children is a priority for them, that growing the church is critical for the sake of the neighborhood, the community, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do I believe that pastors should ever share that information with others? No.

Are all pastors trustworthy to keep this information confidential? No.

And yet, imagine for a moment, if what we contributed for any and all charitable giving was made public? I’m not saying it should be, but if it were, would we feel embarrassed or would we feel grateful that we could make those contributions?

Giving money is one of the essential spiritual disciplines and it makes us feel grateful when done well. It’s not even about amounts. It’s about ability to give. And so we are thankful when we have the ability.

Money Things

My personal and professional life is awash in Money Things.


  • Working on becoming completely debt-free (like one of those annoying people on Instagram #debtfree) My recommendation for coaching/education on this is Bernadette Joy here. She especially works with Women of Color, but she will also work with White Ladies. And Gentlemen.
  • Saving for Summer 2023 Sabbatical.
  • Writing my Members of Congress about student loan forgiveness. (Before you roll your eyes, please remember that “unlike other forms of debt, such as credit cards and mortgages, Direct Loans are daily interest loans. On daily interest loans, interest accrues every day. Someone faithfully paying off this kind of debt might never be able to pay off the debt due to this predatory practice. Source.


  • Working on 92 Thank You Notes for 2022 congregational contributions to the congregations in my Presbytery and am making them as personal as possible because my mama raised me that way.*
  • Encouraging congregations who refuse to financially support their denomination that they are taking food away from hungry people, youth conference scholarships away from teens, and counseling from depressed clergy. Also there will be no funds to help your congregation find a pastor, shepherd your seminarian, or help your treasurer calculate SECA.
  • Helping congregations realize that not giving their Pastors and non-ordained staff even a Cost of Living Adjustment is a sin.
  • Helping congregations realize that it’s not a good idea to make your Pastor a co-signer on the checking account.
  • Helping congregations realize that it’s unhealthy to hire church members for paid positions in most circumstances. (It’s great if it works, but if it doesn’t, prepare for ugly church divisions. Also the parishioner turned employee loses their Pastor who becomes their boss.)
  • Helping congregations stop hiring church members who need a job. (Personnel is not a mission project.)
  • Helping congregations stop worrying about bullies who threaten to withhold money if they don’t get their way.
  • Helping congregations talk about money as a spiritual tool.

It’s a problem that – depending on our sources – 32% or 40% or 67% of Americans could not cover a $400 emergency with cash. A huge contribution our churches could make would be financial education for all ages open to everyone. Not only would the information itself be valuable, but it would contribute to a culture of trust. Financial shame is rampant in our congregations. (This is a really good article from May 2016 by Neil Gabler.)

We’ve all heard that Jesus talked more about money than anything else. One of the most valuable gifts we can offer people is to talk about money as a tool for changing the world for good in the name of Jesus Christ.

I also believe it’s essential for the Pastor to know how much each person/family unit contributes to the Church. Stay tuned.

*For those of you who don’t know how denominations work, individual congregations make voluntary or required contributions to the higher councils of their branch of The Church (Presbytery, Diocese, Conference, Association, etc.) Those funds cover everything from the Pope’s salary (for our Roman Catholic siblings) or the Bishop’s salary (for our Anglican and Anglican-adjacent siblings) or my salary (General Presbyter) to everything from A-Z that might resource congregations: Anti-Racism Training to Zoom Set Ups. In my context contributions mostly help with expenses related to education for officers, grants for mission projects, youth scholarships, college chaplains, boundary training, ordination preparation, pastor searches, immigration assistance, background checks, and a very small amount for taking pastors and other leaders out for coffee.

How Old Are You in Your Head?

There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time.” Milan Kundera in Immortality

Our FBC is a 34 year old filmmaker and I recently re-watched the first movie he ever made with BE. He was eight. It’s an adventure film involving killer bunnies with a lavish soundtrack and curious special effects. (I’ve been threatened with bodily harm if I share the link.)

The boys clearly saw themselves as older in this film which they directed, wrote, and starred in. I’m guessing they pictured characters in their twenties. I wonder if little children playing house or doctor or teacher or wedding caterer (a favorite of our TBC in elementary school) picture themselves being older while pretending.

One of my favorite writers, Jennifer Senior (age 53, feels 36) wrote this article for The Atlantic about the phenomenon of imagining ourselves to be younger than our chronological age. She refers to several studies as well as individuals who feel younger than they are: Psychologist David C. Rubin (age 75, feels 60), Law Professor Richard Primus (age 53, feels 35) and Writer Molly Jong-Fast (age 44, feels 19).

As another birthday is weeks away for me, all the age things whirl in my brain.

I will be 67 and – depending on the day – feel like 36 or 50 or 70. I noticed recently when traveling by plane that everyone wanted to help me lift my carry-on into the bin or give me their seat on the shuttle. It was confusing until I realized that I probably look like I can’t lift things or stand. And that’s just sad.

I’ve just recently realized that I’m probably going to live to retirement and so I should probably make plans. My siblings and I continue to be shocked that we are alive past 60 considering how young our parents were when they died. Seriously. It’s shocking.

My life expectancy is 90 according to the Lifespan Calculator and I assure you I will not be serving in The Church anywhere near 90- at least professionally.. But I know I’ll be doing interesting things, as long as my body allows. The subject of retirement kind of bores me and even this subject of aging bores me. It reeks of Boomer Privilege as if we are the first people to experience it.

I would love to hear – if you are willing to share – what age you are in your head. I know 15 year olds who seem 40 and at least one 98 year old who seems to be no older than 60. Life is hard and sweet and important to ponder. May Lent be a good time for pondering over the next 40 days.

Image of Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. She was 32 when playing Annie Reed in this movie. I was 37 at the time. I always wanted her to play me in my HBO series Church.

The Tyranny of Niceness

*But not if it means people are being bullied, abused, or terrorized.

*But not if people are being hurt, bullied, or terrorized.

Niceness has been known to kill churches.

I’m not talking about saying “please” and “thank you.” I’m not talking about displays of consideration. I’m talking about conflict avoidance.

I grew up in the South and was taught not to be “ugly” in my behavior or comments. If someone told a racist joke, I was to smile and move on. If someone acted in a passive-aggressive way I was to accept it. If someone exploded in public, I was to pretend like it wasn’t really happening.

Today, after almost 40 years of professional ministry, I believe that “niceness” for the sake of avoiding conflict makes God unhappy. Bullies depend on bystanders to be nice. Sometimes, the most faithful thing to do is address conflict head on.

True stories:

  • A church didn’t want to fire a preschool director for emotional abusing her students because her family had been members for three generations. It wasn’t until one of the other teachers reported her to Child Protective Services that she was finally let go.
  • “The biggest givers” threatened to leave the church if the elders did’t follow their instructions. (Turns out, they weren’t even the biggest givers at all.)
  • A member threw a hymnbook at the pastor on his way out of worship. Nobody wanted to address it because it would embarrass his wife.
  • A committee moderator consistently trashed members of the committee who weren’t present and nobody came to their defense for fear she’d trash them at the next meeting.

When did we in the church conflate being “nice” with being faithful? Part of growing in spiritual maturity is holding each other accountable. That’s what Jesus did. We are called to be more like Jesus.

Instead we overlook bad behavior because we don’t want someone to be mad at us, or we don’t want them to “leave the church” or we are afraid we will become the next target. It could happen. Yes.

But a healthy Church holds people accountable in love. As we move into Lent this Wednesday, we need to do more of this.

PS My new favorite passage for Lent is Jeremiah 13:1-11 but I’m too nice/afraid to preach it. The Word of the LORD.

A Better Way to Call a New Pastor

One of my colleagues – SL – shared something last week that has stuck with me about the work of pastoral leaders and his wisdom impacts how congregations select their pastors.

Countless church people tell me that – what they want in a pastor – are these skills and gifts:

  • Good preacher.
  • Able to bring in young families*
  • Approachable and friendly*
  • Able to connect with the community*

This is a deceptive way to call a pastor.

Instead of asking “What are we looking for in a pastor?” the better question for a church to ask is:

What is the work our church needs and who is the person to do it?

If your church needs to work on:

  • Trust
  • Financial commitment
  • Long term conflict
  • Short term conflict
  • Any conflict
  • Worship refurbishment
  • Corporate or individual grief
  • Anxiety that “the church isn’t what it used to be”
  • Replacing the roof
  • Systemic racism
  • Staff relationships
  • Administrative organization
  • Connecting with the community

Then – for the love of God – call someone who will do those things based on past performance in other positions. What every congregation needs most is a spiritual leader who will love them and who can shepherd them in doing the work that needs to be done for this time and context.

I hear over and over that about a year into a new position new pastors realize that there is essential work to do that nobody told them about during the interview process. They realize that the church has called them “to fix things” but those things were never discussed in the discernment process.

Savvy pastoral candidates will see this a mile away and withdraw from consideration as soon as possible.

What work does your congregation need to do in order to be the Church God has called you to be? Be honest about that.

It’s not fair to call a pastor under the false pretenses that “things are great and we just want a solid preacher with charisma.” Please don’t do that.

Most pastoral leaders are called to serve God’s people by creating community, bolstering spiritual growth, and expanding God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. It’s heartbreaking to go into a church excited about a call that allows them to do those things, when – in truth – there is a list of recognized or unrecognized issues to address. Life has enough surprises. Please don’t surprise new pastors with realities we could have shared before they moved in.


*It’s not any pastor’s job to 1) bring in young families, 2) be friendly, or 3) connect with the community. That would be the job of the members of the church led by the pastor.

Read This Book

In the past years, I have observed deeply faithful church folks separate themselves from other deeply faithful church folks because of politics. I’ve heard from Presbyterian siblings that they are embarrassed to be identified as part of the PCUSA (the largest and most progressive Reformed denomination in the United States) because of our social policies. (Note: those social policies included wearing masks during the worst days of COVID and confessing the historic sin of slavery.)

How did we get here? Brad Onishi has written a very good book about the history that got us where we are today in terms of the rise of Christian Nationalism. He and Daniel Miller are also the creators and hosts of one of the most widely-listened to podcasts on religion and politics in the U.S. right now. Check out the podcast Straight White American Jesus.

Do we want to go to war with each other over our theology? Onishi makes the case that it’s not about theology at all. It’s about power.

Black History Month and Swimming Pools

“My father built a swimming pool in Charlotte in the 1950s and let Black people swim there.” White Church Leader explaining to me why his family wasn’t racist at an anti-racism event in 2018

This post is perhaps better suited for swimming pool weather – especially in the summer months when two significant stories about Black history occurred in 1951 and 1964. But maybe these stories will sink in just as well in February 2023.

The most gut-wrenching story from Isabel Wilkerson’s extraordinary book Caste: The Origens of our Discontents involves a young Black boy, his mostly White Little League team, and a municipal swimming pool in Youngstown, Ohio in 1951. The Donnell Ford Little League team had won the city’s championship with a game winning hit by the only Black child on the team – Al Bright. The team celebrated with a pool party and picnic, except they (the White coaches) forgot that young Mr. Bright would not be allowed to join his teammates in the swimming pool and his parents would not be allowed on the picnic grounds. Al Bright was eleven years old.*

While the White children swam, the pool was padlocked to ensure that Al Bright would not be able to join them. Eventually, the pool supervisor was convinced to allow Al to swim but first, all the White kids would have to get out of the pool. From Ms. Wilkerson’s book, a story told by Al’s friend Mel Watkins:

Al was led to the pool and placed in a small rubber raft. A lifeguard got into the water and pushed the raft with Al in it for a single turn around the pool, as a hundred or so teammates, coaches, parents, and onlookers watched from the sidelines. After the agonizing few minutes that it took to complete the circle, Al was then escorted to his assigned spot on the other side of the fence. During his short time in the raft, as it glided on the surface, the lifeguard warned him over and over again of one important rule “Just don’t touch the water,” the lifeguard said, as he pushed the rubber float. “Whatever you do, don’t touch the water.

Although young Al was offered a ride home by his White teammates’ families after the party, he chose to walk home. Sources here.

Thirteen years later, on June 11, 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was arrested for trespassing after trying to eat lunch at the Monson Motor Inn in St. Augustine, Florida. While in jail, Dr. wrote his friend New Jersey Rabbi Israel Dresner who convinced 16 other rabbis to join him in protesting the Monson Motor Inn. They were also arrested in what would be the largest mass arrest of rabbis in the United States.

Later the same day Black and White protesters all jumped into the Monson Motor Inn “Whites Only” swimming pool and the motel’s owner responded by pouring muriatic acid into the pool. Muriatic acid (a diluted solution of hydrochloric acid) burns human skin and can cause vision loss in the event of eye contact. Sources here.

I imagine that many of my friends and family are reading this and thinking “this is just the way things were” That is truthfully correct.

And yet – and yet – knowing the truth doesn’t excuse us or relieve us of confessing past sins and lamenting decades of injustice – especially when we have claimed to be followers of Jesus. It’s on us – White People – to know these stories and to work against such injustice every day. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s what Jesus teaches us to do.

Instead of writing off these not-so-ancient stories, we are called to be aware that such hatefulness continues to occur today. And then we fight that hatefulness with God’s love.

*Dr. Alfred L. Bright (1940-2019) grew up to be an artist and teacher who was the first full-time African American to serve on the faculty of his alma mater Youngstown State University.

Starting with Tsenacommacah

Tip of the hat to SB for sharing this resource.

I’m back from my 5th or 6th (or 10th or 20th) Anti-Racism Training event which doesn’t mean I’m woker than you. It means I constantly need to educate myself about information that daily impacts my life even though I didn’t realize it for my first 50+ years.

Because it’s once again Black History month, there is all sorts of commentary about changes in the AP African American Studies curriculum, or why reading The 1619 Project and/or watching it on Hulu is important to do or why The 1619 Project is “historically illiterate” (an older but interesting op-ed by George F. Will.)

If we could only focus on the facts. But we even debate what’s factual.

Now that we are no longer children and can engage in critical thinking, we are old enough to educate ourselves on all aspects of something and then discern what’s true and what’s not true. No longer are we first graders who are told that – for example – “you can’t take three away from one” in math. We learn when we are a bit older that – in fact – we can take three from one and we get negative 2. But six year olds usually aren’t ready for that part of math.

Back to Black History Month.

We can all download for free this resource if we consider ourselves teachers in any way. I am a teacher of church people and maybe you are too. Or you teach your own children or grandchildren.

The List is curated by Marquis D.B. who is @kbnpete on Instagram. He has accumulated 60 facts about Black History connecting the enslavement of 20 men and women from Angola to George Floyd. And he has inserted his own perspective. For example, The List begins with this:

  1. 1619 – 20 Africans brought from Angola to Tsenacommacah which is Native American for ‘This was our land until the English invaded it, conquered it, and re-named it to Jamestown, Virginia.”

Because, upon reading this, I found the meaning of Tsenacommacah curiously specific, I dug a little (i.e. I googled “Tsenacommacah”) and subsequently learned that it literally means “densely inhabited land” by the Powhatan people. So – as we can see – Marquis D.B. is making a point in regards to the facts.

[Note: My children all went to Jamestown, VA for their 4th Grade field trip and they probably would have survived if someone had mentioned that the original name for Jamestown was in fact “Tsenacommacah.” They could have practiced saying it. It would have been fun.]

Saying that Tsenacommacah means “This was our land until the English invaded it, conquered it, and re-named it to Jamestown, Virginia” does not make me stop reading The List. It simply teaches me that 1) Marquis D.B. has a pointed and humorous perspective and 2) I need to be a critical thinker when I read things.

Here’s something about education:

  • If we believe we are educated because we are widely read on topics that affirm what we already believe,
  • If we never read information that challenges us,
  • If we don’t read at all, but we accept what others say about books, etc. as sufficient for us . . .

we are not very educated at all.

We’ve become a culture that judges everything without knowing what we are talking about. I truly appreciated reading The 1619 Project and yet I also took issue with some of its statements. It’s not the Bible, people (and re: The Bible, I hope we all dig a little into those books too.)

On this first Monday in February, my hope is that all of us who consider ourselves to be “White” will read something that troubles us just a little for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which commands that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Unless we live in a very unfortunate bubble/gated community, we all have neighbors whose skin is not “white.” Thanks be to God.

Please Explain This to Me Like I’m Two Years Old

During my tenure as a pastor in Northern Virginia, I remember seeing photos of a church event in the 1950s in which 25 men dressed in drag for a “fashion show.” It was held in the Fellowship Hall and a note by one of the old photos says, “Oh well – – it’s been fun and we ourselves have got some good laughs. And got to know each other better. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope the audience gets a laugh out of our theatrical attempts.”

In the 1950s, this was considered good clean fun, albeit just a little bit sexist. Men dressing as women is different from white people dressing as black people or anyone dressing as Nazis. I get that.

What I honestly don’t understand is why so many people consider dressing in drag so threatening today.

Clearly drag events – including bingo nights and story times – are considered “adult performances” that confuse children and teens. Just as clearly though, in my mind, is that the Super Bowl is coming up and these same leaders have no problem with cheerleaders even though their performances might also confuse children and teens into thinking that women’s bodies are for entertainment.

Can someone explain why professional cheerleaders are wholesome and drag queens are not?

We Can (and Must) Hear Hard Things

Some words are hard to hear:

  • To the Pastor: “We need for you to take a class on preaching/worship leadership/administration.” (Ouch for Pastors who already consider themselves to be good preachers, worship leaders, and administrators.)
  • To the Music Director: “We invite you to spend time attending a conference to hone your skills and get some fresh ideas.” (Ouch for Music Directors who believe themselves to be in no need of improvement.)
  • To the longtime volunteer Confirmation Teacher: “We thank you for serving in this role for so long, but we would like to give someone new the opportunity to teach Confirmation.” (Ouch! I thought the kids loved me – especially that part of Confirmation when we talk about church history!”)
  • To the longtime Chairperson of the Annual Fried Chicken Fundraiser: “The elders have decided that the Annual Fried Chicken Fundraiser needs to take a break. We have had a hard time getting volunteers to cover it and we’ve actually lost money on it for several years.” (Ouch for the Fried Chicken Fundraiser Chairperson. “But this is my thing! I’m going to leave the Church if I can’t be in charge of the Fried Chicken Fundraiser.“)

Note: Each of us have a long list of harmful things we have been told about ourselves or our activities which are not true. I’m not talking about power plays or mean criticisms or cattiness here. I’m talking about those hard truths we need to hear for the sake of clarity and healthy relationships and our ability to expand the Reign of God.

It’s not only uncomfortable to say hard things like:”It’s time for a change in the way you do things.”

It’s also uncomfortable to hear hard things. One of the best things we can do as leaders – in any context – is be open to receiving uncomfortable feedback.

What often happens is:

  • Deafness: As if nothing was said at all. Example: Pastors to whom (conflict-averse) leaders attempt to say, “You really need to take a preaching refresher” but no refresher course is considered much less scheduled.
  • Defensiveness: The one receiving hard truths reacts with hostility and anxiety, and probably offers a threat: “Fine. If I can’t lead the youth group, I’ll just leave.”
  • Congregational war-mongering: The offended one lines up their supporters and it’s war. Gossip, ugliness, and basic unChrist-like behaviors ensue. “It would be better to destroy the Church if I can’t have my way.”

Obviously this is about trust. If we trust our parishoners, our leaders, our colleagues, our siblings in Christ, we can both say and hear hard things. What’s also true is that for millennia, church people have been saying hurtful and untrue things.

If we are told something uncomfortable, consider:

  • Is the person sharing the difficult thing as a lone ranger making a personal swipe? (I once had a Personnel Committee member tell me it was “time to go” where I was pastor. He had gone rogue and the Personnel Committee had not asked him to have this conversation with me.) One might say he simply didn’t want a female pastor.
  • Ask the person who is sharing the difficult truth, “Are you sharing this on behalf of the whole church?” (If so, they should have brought at least one other person with the authority to have this conversation with you.)
  • Ask trusted others if this resonates with them too. Trusted colleagues will indeed be able to speak to hard feedback.

A common Call to Confession in my faith tradition is: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (Thank you John the Evangelist.) Part of our own spiritual growth – if we believe we were created to serve rather than to be served – is to let hard truths sink in. We cannot grow if we don’t embrace the truth that we can and need to do better.

Do I need to listen more and talk less? (Ouch. Yes. It’s true.)

Note: I’m on study leave this week and this is my last post for January. Thanks be to God.