Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Biggest Beast Yet

I realize I have been fairly silent on the blogging front lately. Part of it is busyness, but mostly it's been that we've been dealing with a lot at the church and much of it has been behind the scenes or confidential for months and I haven't felt like I could voice things here.  But now, it's out in the open. We've had confidential staff and SPRC meetings and public all church meetings.  

We are in a challenging place full of possibilities.  A tense and tiring place to be.  Aside from personal struggles along the way, I'd say this is the biggest beast I have yet to face in ministry.  Years from now I may think it was but a molehill (and it might be) but for the last 3 months, it has caused much heartbreak and stress. 

Here are the basics:
In the last year, we've tried to overhaul how we do financing/budgeting.  In years past we have had a "faith budget" (please keep in mind this is defined differently at different churches)  In the history of our church, this has basically meant that between the expected income/pledging and the budget there is a gap ($50,000, $23,000, $31,000--the number has varied from year to year) and instead of trying to reconcile the gap--we've created a faith line item.  

Some might say this is a faithful thing to do--believing that God will provide for the ministries we have planned.  That could be said, indeed, the trouble is that "faith" number has not been actualized in the 3 years I have been here (nor any years in recent memory...).  So instead, we "lie" (in a manner of speaking) to our ministry areas and say "you have $1000 to spend this year" but then we add in a whisper "but not really, so please only spend $100, or at least ask us before you spend anything"--only when people ask...they are always told no.  So the reality is there is not the $1000 for them to use for their ministry, and in my mind, that's not a fair way to budget for ministry.  I don't want to be told I have a certain allowance at home and then not have the money there to sets me up for one of two things 1) frustration that I've been lied to 2) debt because I spent the money anyway.  

So, in the last year, we've tried to move to a "zero based budget" meaning that the amounts given in the budget match (1 for 1) the expected income/pledging. And, we were poised to do that.  Only we hit a pretty major speed bump...

After our pledge campaign and tallying of expected rental income etc, we found that we were $90,000 short for 2011.  For some churches, that might be a drop in the bucket, for us it's 40% of the budget.  That's a lot. (after some additional giving, a drop in apportionments, and some additional budget cuts, the number has dropped to $74,000, but's a sizable amount.)

And so we saw the scary and staggering truth...if we really want a zero based budget, we will have to cut ALL of our part time staff and then some....and that was not a truth anyone wanted to hear.  

We looked at this from about a zillion different vantage points and have prayed relentlessly about what to do.  

Of course, we've had to notify our staff of this possibility (likelihood??).  And the church council decided they didn't want to make this decision on their own, so we have scheduled all church meetings to talk it out and try and make a decision.  The first was held in mid-November.  I shared the information about the deficit, but also tried to focus on the visioning that the church council has spent the last year doing and where they see us going and petitioned more for input on the vision and where God is calling us than laments on money or fear about our future.  

Not that laments and fear are invalid, only that we can't let them consume us.  And then we broke into small groups and each leader had questions to ask to guide the discussion and a note taker and would come to another meeting 2 days later to share what his/her group had discussed.  It turned out to be fairly productive and helpful and each of the groups talked for about an hour before I cut them off so as not to run on too long. 

We got a lot of helpful feedback about our vision and priorities, some complaints/frustrations that need to be met in the coming months (particularly regarding communication, both internal and external), as well as some areas that need some extra education/information. 

The one area we didn't have true clarity on was what to do about our staff and the money question. For some groups, the custodian was a must keep, for others they had folks ready to volunteer for the role.  Something similar happened for almost all of the group would say "must be paid" and another would have someone volunteer.  There was no clear answer.

So, tomorrow night, we will have yet another all church meeting and we will do some education on those areas that clearly needed attention (apportionments, endowment, bequests, why we continue to do outreach when we need help financially, etc) and then we will ask the $74,000 question...what do we do?  concretely? practically? Which positions, if any, are NECESSARY? If we don't pay for these positions, who will do these ministries?  specifically, not theoretically...and so on.  

All of this has been messy and hard.  It's fairly easy to capsize and summarize here, but not in life.  

At the beginning of the post I said it has brought possibilities...and it has and those should not be forgotten.  The reality is, if we had $74,000 in hand, we would be very likely to do everything we have been doing for the last 10 years just as we have been for the last 10 years.  There would be no need to change.  Not practically speaking anyway.  But this "problem" forces our hand.  It forces us to be creative and think outside the box.  We have to think of ministry differently.  Each member of the church has to think of him/herself in ministry differently and that has huge potential.  

Of course, I'd love to have the money in hand. But not if it's going to cause us to keep doing what we've been doing.  We need to change. Not because we are a bad church or unhealthy (we're not, it's one of the healthiest churches I've ever known...), but because nothing and no one and no church can flourish without changing.  It has to happen.  And, so this year, we get pruned back, so that in the spring we can blossom and grow in ways we haven't for quite a few years.  And that to me, no matter how much my heart has hurt in these last few months, is a God thing. 

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