This week, we have a pretty specific question, but it bears exploring because, well, what's the use of a pastor's discretionary fund if the pastor can't use the funds at her discretion?
What makes it particularly thorny is that the suggestions she gets are not frivolous. She just had a slightly different vision for how the discretionary fund should work. Here, I'll let her explain and then open the mike to, first, Jan and Abi, and then the rest of you can chime in on the comments if you want:
The leadership board of my church has set apart a small fund ($200) for me, the pastor, to use when folks come to me with a monetary need. There has never been actual cash provided, just an understanding that if such a need arose, I could disburse some money and get reimbursed through the general fund. I'm okay with that system-- I really don't need that kind of cash lying around the church, and that way of doing things suits how business gets done around here.
Recently, though, some influential members have been "suggesting" ways for me to spend that fund. We have a couple in our church who are out of work, and are over the age of 55, but not old enough to get any kind of benefits. This couple is part of the gang who goes out to brunch after church. (My spouse and I join this brunch group a couple of times a month.) A few of the members of the gang have been dropping hints that I should start picking up the tab for the couple, and get reimbursed through the "pastor's discretionary fund". (Ironic name, don't you think?)
The same folks are hinting very strongly that I should also use the fund to arrange for occasional babysitters for another family in our church with three small children, two of whom have special needs. The parents of these children seldom get time alone, and often look like they've just been run over by a truck, emotionally.
The response I want to give to these Helpy-Helperton members is perhaps not very pastoral: "Gee, why don't we start doing potluck brunch at church? Then everybody could come, regardless of income! Even people with kids!" Gasp! (Somehow I ended up in the only protestant church in the Midwest that is allergic to potlucks!)
And to the second situation: "Shall I give the _____s your phone numbers and let them know you'll take turns watching the kids two Saturday nights a month for them?"
It seems that often the solution to problems around here is money, which many people here have lots of. How can I effectively reinforce the theology that we can take care of each other in ways that build stronger bonds than simply throwing money at a problem?
And am I being silly and proprietary about this money? I pictured using it for a family who couldn't make the gas bill or something like that, or to help someone with groceries. I know that the needs that are being expressed are legitimate, and come from genuine concern, but they are not coming from the potential recipients, so therein lies the danger of embarrassing someone by pointing out a need they might not be ready to acknowledge to others.
First, from Jan:
You are on the right track, IMHO, in wanting to train members to care for this couple. It sounds like they want you to use the discretionary fund for "fairy godmother" functions rather than helping someone who has no one else to help him/her. Clearly these members (the jobless middle-agers and the couple who need a night out) are surrounded by people who love them. This is what a missional church does: reach out to those in their own community who need assistance rather than depend upon someone else to write a check on their behalf, etc.
This could be an awesome opportunity for your congregation. For example, we had a member with two children under 4 whose husband was in Iraq, and every Tuesday night, a different family brought her dinner and/or babysat for her so she could go grocery shopping, etc. It bound her to these church friends forever.
If they take turns treating their friends, it could be amazing. I can imagine the couple in need and the young mom don't want to be considered "charity cases," but this is not what's happening. This is simply what God's people do for each other. It's called grace. (UNLESS you indeed serve people who can't do this without holding each other hostage.)
Sounds like you need to establish the true purpose of this $200 fund. If it's truly discretionary for the pastor, then the pastor gets to decide how to use it. If they have a purpose in mind and you simply get to decide when to use it, then that needs to be established.
If you are going to start helping these families out of the discretionary fund, you are going to need a whole lot more than what you have right now. Even to help people with utility bills now days is costly.
Your two ideas aren't all that bad; maybe you could present it differently. I hate hints, myself; you are expected to make some assumptions by the hints. See if you can get them to clarify your hints first to see if that's really what they are suggesting. I am not sure the members are aware of how little money you have in your fund to utilize. I don't know what denomination you are in, but they are asking you to override the board for how they designated this fund to be used.
I would find myself saying, "that's not what this is set up for at this time. But you know this is great that God has given us/you this opportunity for ministry? How will you answer it? What might God be asking you to do? Asking the church to do?"
And if they don't know, send them home to pray over it and think about it, and when they know to come back and tell you or the board or the Chair of the Board. Now, if they come back and say something about it has to do with money, get them to help you set up people to babysit or pay for a babysitter, helping this couple to find a job of sorts, paying for a resume service. If nothing else, encourage them to set up a new fund for this new ministry.
We have a fund at our church to help members in times of crises. We have even held a fundraiser to raise money for a family with really high medical bills and husband out of work.
One last thing: The fund at the church is at my discretion. But I do check things out before I use it.