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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Other People's Problems

Our question this week comes from a colleague who is concerned about what is happening at the church where she used to serve. Our matriarchs offer their good thoughts, and perhaps you have some to share as well. Read on....

I have a difficult situation. I was on a church staff and am now working for a nonprofit. (Still a pastor - just don't have a church.) I just found out that the church where I was working is playing some kind of "games" with the church's finances. (FYI that this church is an independent church - no regional or state board or diocese to go to with my question...)

1) They sent out a letter with the first quarter giving statement telling us that the church is about $40,000 in the hole
2) They asked everyone to give extra to help cover these "holes"
3) I find out from a girlfriend on staff that they are hiring three more part-time staff (which they have no money to pay?)
4) I also find out that they are going to take a staff retreat to a spa!!!

OK, so when I am "in the hole" I don't go to the spa and I cut my own grass, I clean my own house and I don't eat out...

What do you do? The senior pastor is a bigwig in the community. I am not. It's all second-hand information, but she shared it with me freely...

Sign me -
Don't Cook the Books!

Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
Oh yuck! Churches and money-problems are always a horrible combination.
I don’t think you can do much on the basis of second-hand information – so you need to know what’s really going on: can you go to the ‘bigwig’ senior pastor and ask what’s really happening? Even if somehow it’s all above board they need to know the perceptions that are out there, and if there is something shady the truth needs to be told.
I realise that’s not much to go on – but hope it helps.

Jennifer writes:
I’m struggling to understand what we’re being asked this week.

I’m not quite sure if we’re being asked to chime in on the perceived impropriety of inviting church members to make up a financial shortfall, when it seems as though the church leadership is indicating new hiring and a staff retreat? Or are we being asked to respond to the role of a person who has been gifted with information about a church where she no longer serves? Either way, it’s awkward, to be sure.

I think it’s odd to think that a staff retreat to a spa would ever be in order, but all of the matters raised by our questioner this week point me to one response.

I think my role, if I were in the questioner’s situation, would be to maintain good boundaries. Assuming that the questioner no longer worships at the church where she formerly served, I think it’s important for her to be super clear with her friend on the staff (and with any others who would want her opinion on matters at her former church,) and share that it’s really not appropriate for her to weigh in on matters that are no longer her day-to-day concern.If her friend on staff has concerns that she’s willing to air with people who should rightly know, she should encourage her friend to contact those best suited to address the matters. A financial shortfall, plans to hire new part-time staff, a staff retreat to a spa, her perceived status in the community or that of the senior pastor are really irrelevant. She no longer works there. End of story.

And Mompriest offers:
My first inclination is to say - "let it go!" I say this because ssecond hand information is dangerous. The woman telling you this has triangulated you in her anxiety (true or not) and now you are carrying the anxiety too. If you do want to do something to de-triagulate yourself, do one of two things: a) either tell the woman to go to the Pastor with this information OR b) you go to the Pastor and tell him what you are hearing. He needs to know if there are rumors that are false. If it's true he needs to know that people are seeing through the haze. Then again you can choose to do nothing and let others take this one on, hoping that there are other folks like the person who came to you and there is power in numbers...But it should be people in the congregation - not you. I am not convinced that it is your place to be the "truth-teller" in this situation. That said, I could be wrong. Only you know the details well enough to discern if you should act. If you do decide to act know that there is every likely hood that life will get difficult for you. That doesn't mean don't act, just to stay "safe" - just know why you are acting and that the potential outcome may not be "pretty" for you. Think of the prophets in scripture - they were truth tellers, but life was tough for them as a result. So...prayers for you, what ever you do.

I will offer my two cents, too!

You can probably tell from how I titled this blog post where I come down - this is someone else's problem, not the questioner's. It might feel good to vent your sense of righteous indignation, and to allow the staff person to vent hers. But this is not your problem and, as far as I can tell, there is nothing you can do about it. The current members and staff have to be the ones to deal with this, not former staff who happen to be unhappy about it. I am with Jennifer on this - tell the complaining staff member to take her concerns to the senior pastor, not to you.

What about the rest of you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

And please send the matriarchs your questions! The queue is totally empty now. So if you have a burning question, now is a great time to send it in. Please send your questions to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot[com.

-- earthchick


  1. I agree that this is a boundary issue. If the church were denominational, you would have the option to direct the staff member to report concerns to the judicatory. But this is not your battle. By getting involved you would violate boundaries and potentially create a diversion that would rebound on you. The church of which you are no longer a part needs to resolve its own issues, or not. Is is painful to sit by and watch such a thing happen? Yes. But your integrity is the only integrity under your control.

  2. As a former staff person, even if you are still worshiping there, you are in a perfect position to be drawn into the triangle, as was already stated. It is hard to let go of a ministry when you leave a position, but for the church to be healthy, former pastors and former associate pastors and former educators all need to maintain good boundaries. The person who brought her concerns to our questioner could easily think to herself, "Oh good, now that I have told this person I don't need to do anything more with this." In fact, if the questioner takes the bait she will get caught. If she leaves the bait alone, the person who approached her may go fishing in another place, or may address the situation more directly. I would encourage the questioner to focus her energy on the positive ministry that she has with the not-for-profit, and allow the church leaders and people to seek for themselves what it means to be faithful with their ministry.

  3. Totally let this one go.
    Although I agree that there are some real issues over how they are spending in a time of monetary need, you need to just let it go.
    If it helps any, the old adage of sowing what one reaps seems to apply. If word gets out about them asking for money and at the same time doing a spa retreat/ adding staff, folks will ask questions.
    I am amazed at how quickly people take note of spending and money in the church.
    But, for reals, don't get caught up in this mess.

  4. Run. Run away.

    SB said it, "But your integrity is the only integrity under your control."

    The only way to keep your integrity - both actual and perceived - is to stay away from this hornets' nest.

  5. I totally agree - you are triangled and the way to go is to tell the person who told you that she needs to take it to the senior pastor.

    Saying that, we do get emotionally bound to the places we serve and I am sure that soft spot you have in your heart for your former congregaiton is aching. So, I would encourage to you to engage in another triangle: you, the your concerns for the well-being of the congregation, and the God that cares for you both.

  6. I'm sorry that someone you consider a friend dragged you down into this. Transition is hard, and she must be hurting. I hope you can find a gentle caring way to let her know that she cannot do that again.

  7. All of your wisdom is appreciated. I could not sort out the issues and needed outside voices to tell me what I think I already knew in my heart of hearts. Thank you for helping me remember what to do the next time I'm in a situation which does indeed have boundary issues and triangulation -- and hopefully to see it more quickly for what it is.


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