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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — What's in a Name?

We passed our budget the other day, and it's a good one. I have no concerns with it at all. It's how they are naming it.

We have the goal every church has: to match our mission where we are planted with our resources. We all work at this, but this budget is being called matching "mission and resources" and it's about us.

But mission is not about looking after US. To me, it's about others. This is clearly a Maintenance Budget and there is nothing wrong with it, except the concept of naming it "Mission." By doing so, we are our own mission— That's not a good precedent to follow and could lead to many misunderstandings about "Mission" as it has been defined.

We have a Mission & Outreach Committee in our church, and we have Mission Enthusiasts that are named to promote the National Church's Mission & Service Fund. By re-naming our maintenance budget "mission," it could cause confusion...confusion is never helpful.

I see nothing wrong with a great Maintenance Budget—but please call it that, not something else that already is a named ministry for all the Church. It is a poor choice of words.

How does one deal with this without bringing people down?

Well, you'll be happy to know that our Matriarchs agree with you. However, Jan notes that you can split the hair this way: "I'd suggest that if you call the de facto Maintenance Budget the 'Mission Budget,' then you call the budget that serves outside the walls of the church building the 'Missional Budget.' 'Missional' is the hot word these days and it involves incarnational, indigenous, intentional outreach. It would be the funds that serve people outside the walls, being Christ out there in the world, serving the people who happen to populate your neighborhood, and doing all of this purposefully."

Mission moments
Tomay-to, tomah-to; next thing you know they've called the whole thing off, right? Perhaps your instincts are telling you that it's not about fighting the name so much as it is increasing the visibility of and focus on mission in your church. The Matriarchs suggest that dealing with this tactfully may mean that you make a point of reinforcing a "mission message" in various ways. "When we are trying to educate people in the church, it takes 5 different ways to get the point across," says Abi. "So perhaps you need to think of five different ways to educate them, such as mission moments during the service, in the bulletin, with the newsletter, on posters, during meetings or bible study or any time you have a chance."

St. Casserole agrees, noting that one of the most powerful sermons she can remember was a stewardship sermon from The Right Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, back when he was rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va. "During the sermon, he stepped down from the pulpit, removed his stole, and discussed how much the light bill was for the church, then how much church school materials cost, then how much building maintenance cost each year," says St. C. "After making it clear, in a charming way, that each member's giving went first for general church upkeep, he stepped back into the pulpit, put his liturgical stole back on, and talked about the needs of the larger community and world. I heard this sermon sometime around 1975-ish. Talk about powerful preaching!"

Communication strategies
Jan notes an exercise you can do to help your church leaders step back and look at their budget objectively. "Ask your leaders first to look at the whole budget and see if it reflects what your congregation believes," she says. "Did you fund your highest priorities first? Does the most money go to the most important aspects of your ministry? Could a stranger look at that budget and tell (correctly) who you are and what you believe as a church?"

You may also have someone among the leadership that you'd be comfortable pointing out the difference between mission and maintenance to, writes Abi. Having them speak up on your behalf might be a gentler way of making it "seem like" it's their idea. And there may be no way to avoid hurting their feelings, but... we're good at helping mend hurt feelings, right?

Jan notes that you can call that part of the budget anything you want; it won't change what it is. (The troublemaker in the back of the class that lives inside me is piping up with "Let's call it the monkey budget!") The blunt angle, as she puts it, is, "Sure, you can be a mission to yourselves. But that's not Great Commission-esque or Pauline by anyone's definition. At all. Tell your leaders they can focus on maintenance (serving themselves first) or they can focus on mission (carrying out Biblical ministry)."

And now a word from your Abi
You know, what I wouldn't give for a peek at Abi's library. Here's her recommended reading for this week's topic:

Outflow: Outward-Focused Living in a Self-Focused World by Steve Sjogren
Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field by Paul D. Borden
Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders by Charles M. Olsen
Church Without Walls: Moving Beyond Traditional Boundaries by Jim Peterson
Revolution by George Barna

Until next week, my friends—and, as always, feel free to give additional feedback in comments below, or write to us with your own question at Ask The Matriarch!


  1. Good thoughts all of them! The books Abi suggests, waken the curious cat in me...all sound invitational.

    John Shelby Spong is good at what he does!

  2. O for a day in Abi's library- always such good reccomendations!

    Excellent article- thanks :-)

  3. I was in a church that divided their budget into "Jerusalem" (self and neighborhood bucks), "Judea" (state and national of "like-kinds"), "Samaria" (state and national of "cross-cultural" kinds) and "the Great Beyond"(overseas).

    Kinda kitchy, but it worked.



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