By Rev. Dr. Angela Barker Jackson
What financial tools and practices prepare ministers for thriving? This was the primary question for my recently completed Faith, Finances, and Flourishing research project that sprang from a confluence of systemic financial challenges that currently plague the 21stCentury church. I considered challenges such as clergy educational debt, declining church memberships and diminishing resources, clergy compensation and often underemployment, costs of theological education, fundraising complicated by institutional distrust, and a materialistic culture.
Throughout 2017 six working clergy from three ABC regions met regularly as part of an action research group to undertake intentional formation for financial leadership. These faithful ministers studied Biblical texts, read thoughtful scholarship, engaged financial leadership in context, and gathered to reflect. They sought to construct a framework for financial ministry preparation by compiling a list of necessary tools and practices that would enable clergy to thrive, especially in relation to their finances and financial ministries. Additionally, the study hypothesized that the ministers would experience an increase in thriving as a result of their formation together.
The resulting insights are informative as the seminary seeks to prepare fully formed individuals for shaping the church. To navigate these multi-faceted issues, ministers require the biblical and theological formation to speak prophetically to the church and culture, practical skills and plans to manage personal finances, knowledge of compensation trends and employment opportunities, self-awareness about one’s own money history, ability to read organization financial reports, and the capacity to inspire others. While these tools and practices are essential for financial leadership, another trait rose to the top as most important: courage, especially as it relates to naming “elephants” or saying hard things.
When the various facets of financial formation and preparation are combined with courage, the results are ministers who feel prepared to lead, experience satisfaction, anticipate longevity, sense confidence, perceive support from co-laborers, and suffer little stress. Indeed, all clergy in the study scored higher in thriving post-experiment on the instrument we administered. Not only that, but the female clergy who reported significantly less thriving than the men at the beginning of the experiment experienced such increases that they effectively closed the gap with the men by experiment’s end.
The results of the Faith, Finances, and Flourishing research beckon us to consider the ways in which seminarians and ministry professionals are formed for financial leadership and equipped for thriving. We look forward to future opportunities for collaboration with churches and working ministers as we all seek to shape the church for effective ministry. We pray for Christian leaders to find meaningful groups where their courage is summoned and nurtured by supportive colleagues.