With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Given the economy — [with] the mortgage crisis, [and the fact] that most pastors own their own homes — has the number of pastors accepting calls (having to move and having to sell their homes) declined? Has this caused tensions in congregations where the pastor should move on?
Q: In our congregation, we are struggling with laying off some of our staff. We do not want to do this, but the economy is affecting what people give to the church; and when giving goes down, we can’t afford to keep all our staff. I’d think this is a common problem with churches at this [time of] economic downturn, particularly churches with schools like ours. But maybe [ours is] an isolated situation. Is this a common problem these days? If so, how have other churches handled this?
Q: My salary is now frozen.I am scared what comes next. No one can really tell what comes next, but are you hearing this from other church workers? If you are, what can you say … to us … in your column?
A: The times in which we currently live are difficult for many. The economic implications are serious for most organizations whose financial existence is based primarily on donations.
Social service and other not-for-profit agencies are being pressed. Foundations and corporations with a history of offering support gifts to organizations are cutting back. Many workers or leaders in our hard-pressed industries are struggling; and, as is the case with the three writers with questions for this column, workers and leaders in our churches, schools, and agencies also are struggling.
The three questions above are among several I have received that reflect the major economic crisis in our country and, indeed, worldwide.
I repeat my initial call in the March 2009 Pressure Points for congregation members and leaders to share with me ways that they are responding to this economic downturn.
Most congregations and other organizations will look in two major obvious directions when financially threatened: reduce staff and reduce non-personnel expenses. Some might look toward increasing revenue — a more difficult strategy, for which some proverbial out-of-the-box thinking is necessary.
Since we are all in this together, and since when one member of the Body of Christ suffers, all suffer, we may find more creative ideas and initiatives among us by asking what folks are doing.
I am most willing to open up this column to some salutary ideas about this difficult topic. Please let me hear from you. Using our common experience, we might have good ways to answer some of the questions posed above.
In the meantime, I think it is important to recognize that we think less creatively and effectively when we are chronically anxious. This is true for organizations as well as individuals. So I believe that there are three necessary initial steps to take — not that they will “solve” the problems; rather, they set the stage to work on the problems together. They are as follows:
1. Since we are in this together, we need to find increasing ways to join hands to work together on this common problem, rather than to treat each other as an enemy or to find someone or something in our midst to blame for our situation. Blame has been a natural response since the Garden of Eden. But creative solutions to problems are best when they come from people working together on them.
2. As members of the Body of Christ, we join hands at the foot of the cross and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Congregational leaders and workers work together best as they come together in prayer, in meditation on the Scriptures, and receive the Eucharist together.
3. As people who have both thoughts and feelings, and who likely have some (or a lot of) anxiety concerning the future, it is important to have safe spaces where we can raise our concerns and share our anxieties. Everyone should take the opportunity to talk about what is on their heart and in their head … in safety. Essentially, this means that no one should try to go at this alone.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted March 27, 2009