I keep a copy of the May 1942 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal in my home office. In “How America Lives,” the magazine features a letter from my grandmother, Ruth Sanborn, a pastor’s spouse. She had written to the women of America to seek financial help, asking “How can we survive on a pastor’s salary?” I share her story with the clergy I work with through the American Baptist Home Mission Societies to let them know that, while pastors’ financial challenges are an acute concern at this moment in time, they keep company with all the saints in wondering how to honor God’s call and stay financially afloat.
Often, when clergy seek financial education and support, it is with numbers and worry, or shame, at the top of their minds. It can be surprising for them when we enter the work with worship and song, viewing art and reading sacred stories. Before we even consider the numbers that shape their lives, we invite them to look appreciatively at their own financial stories.
Describe the season of life when you were most financially whole.
What were the circumstances that shaped this season—your community, your work, your financial commitments?
What was the role of generosity in this season—both generosity toward you and from you?
How did you understand and encounter God in this time?
How did you experience your past? Your present? Your future?
What practices of mind, body, and spirit were present in your daily life?
Appreciative Inquiry – Looking first for what works
I am trained as a coach using appreciative inquiry and, like the clergy I serve, I need to exercise the muscle of looking first for what works. After being conditioned to the disheartening process of dissecting problems, I am grateful for this methodology that challenges me to look for solutions and sparks of possibility through the questions I ask. It is a powerful shift of mind.
Something magical happens when people who are financially stressed are invited to think of their financial reality through the lens of their best financial selves. They remember that they are competent (even as we are all still learning). They remember that they are rooted in connections and communities (even as we take personal responsibility for what we can control and act upon). They realize that in God’s economy, there is enough (even if we have to consciously turn up the volume on this to match the messages of the world’s economy).
Almost any question or exclamation related to our financial well-being can be flipped into a mini-appreciative inquiry.
- “How will I ever be able to provide for my child’s education?” can become, “Who joined me in meeting my own educational needs, and how can I share my thanks?”
- “It’s going to take forever to pay down this debt!” can become, “What long-term projects have I taken on in the past, and what did I learn about the power of taking small steps to meet a big goal?”
If you are struggling in this current chapter of your money story, turn back a few pages to the best of your past. Get your journal and a pen or seek a thoughtful listening partner, and ask yourself the questions above. You just might be surprised by what you discover and how it helps you write a hopeful future.
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