Money off the shelf
Early in her ministry, Lillian Daniel finds that she has intense anger about money, but no place, in her vocational life, to express it. She writes about her experience in the book, “This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.”
August 4, 2009 | Editor’s note: Lillian Daniel will be the convocation pastor for Drawn into Scripture: Arts and the Life of the Church , Duke Divinity School's 2011 Convocation & Pastors' School, Oct. 10-11.
Pastors have money issues, marriage issues and identity issues. They also experience joy, grace and mystery as they live out their call.
In “This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers,” the Revs. Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver explore all these aspects of the pastoral life in a series of essays that offer an honest look at their lives as working pastors.
Daniel, a blogger for Faith & Leadership, has served since 2004 as senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, Ill., in suburban Chicago.
Copenhaver is senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Mass.
In “Money Off the Shelf,” the first of two chapters of the book excerpted in Faith & Leadership, Daniel explores how she wrestled with money issues, both as a person and as a pastor. “What Shall I Call You?” by Copenhaver is available here.
Money Off the Shelf
By Lillian Daniel
I remember the day I decided that I would never be a tither. I was sitting in the pew as an associate minister, listening to the senior minister preach. The senior minister, who was a tither, was telling us about it. He was explaining that being a tither meant that he had always given the biblically commended tithe, ten percent of his income, to the church, then still more to other causes, and that God had blessed him for it. This wasn’t hypocrisy. He really did it, and he believed that financial peace had come to him as a result.
But I couldn’t stand to hear it. I was paying off massive student loans, paying for full-time day care for my first baby, and to be honest, even though I lived in a lovely parsonage, I was seriously underpaid by the church. Newly married, my husband and I had discovered that we were no different from most couples in that the major stress in our nascent marriage was money. In fact, we had just had an argument about our spending the night before that had ended without answers, but with no shortage of hurt feelings. I was in no mood to hear about tithing.
I felt that my colleague, a widower whose children were grown and whose house was paid off, had absolutely no understanding of my situation. It seemed unimaginable to me that I could be a tither when I had so little to begin with, and the idea of giving such a large sum to an institution that wasn’t paying me enough seemed absurd.
My anger was intense around these issues, but there was no place, in my vocational life, that I could express it. In fact, I was called to project to the congregation an entirely opposite affect and I attempted to do it. I preached generosity and grace while inside I felt worry and resentment.
In some ways, I came to this bipolar ministry of money naturally, for I was behaving as I had been taught as a child. When it came to money, you did not tell the truth. I remember my parents fighting late into the night, always about money, and in particular, my mother’s spending. Now, what fell into the category of “her” spending was just about everything, from groceries, to car payments, to my school supplies and clothes. And because of this, my father was basically unaware of what anything cost. Yet every now and then he would see a bill or a receipt and become irate.
So to avoid such scenes, I was taught never to tell my father what anything cost. If I had a new coat, I learned in my early childhood to say, “I’ve had it for years.” When I needed movie money, he would give me enough for a ticket ten years ago, and my mother would surreptitiously slip the difference into my pocket on the way out. “Why can’t we tell Daddy what the movie really costs?” I asked. “Why can’t we tell him I needed a new outfit for the dance?”
“Shhh…it will only upset him.”
I remember as a little girl delighting in my brand-new blue coat, but being afraid to wear it out the door past my father. From an early age, material things elicited in me both inordinate delight and misplaced shame.
But we don’t have to carry every bad habit from one generation into the next. As a young adult starting out in both marriage and parenting, I longed to break that pattern. And when I saw myself carrying it into my new ministry, it gave me pause. I decided it was time to start telling the truth about money. There was no way I was going to be a tither, but I could at least be honest.
So when it came to stewardship sermons, I confessed to the congregation that I loved cars, clothes, and restaurants; that I wanted to travel everywhere in the world and not worry about what I spent; that when I gave money away, it actually was a sacrifice, because I really wanted the things I saw advertised on television. I learned of course that I didn’t need to tell them. Congregations can read our lives pretty well. But in telling the truth, I got a strong response. We started talking together about money. I did not need to be a perfect, altruistic role model for God to use me in a ministry of money. We were all there to work on each other, and telling the truth, being authentic, was just the beginning. I even got a raise.