Are you wondering what happens to all the continuing ed dollars in churches across the country that weren’t spent in 2022? Yeah, me too. If you’re like me, at some of the churches where I’ve worked, those budget dollars don’t roll over.  And if you’re like me, at other churches where I’ve served, they never existed to begin with. 

Rest in peace, CE dollars. Rest in peace.

But it’s a new year! And, whether or not your church has budgeted money for your continued leadership development, there is still time to ask your boss or board for help becoming an even better leader in 2023. I know because I’ve done it. And you can, too!

To help you think through how to make the asks you need to make, I’ve invited my friend and former boss to lend his voice to the conversation, in order to get a supervisor’s perspective on what I’m suggesting. Anthony Prince currently serves as the Executive Pastor at a growing church in the foothills of Los Angeles, CA. I’m Brandi Kirkland and I’ve previously answered to the titles of children’s pastor, kids lead influencer, and various other global roles at multiple single and multi-site churches. Now, I’m a staff consultant with Ministry Architects helping churches make their ministries more sustainable, the marketing more effective, and their searches run smoother.

When Anthony and I worked together, I was one of over a dozen direct reports he had on our family ministry team at a large multi-site church in North Carolina. Anthony talks a lot about trust when it comes to the relationship we have with our bosses and that’s especially true in conversations about money and resources.

ANTHONY: Do you trust your boss? Or, more importantly, do you believe that your boss wants you to succeed in your ministry role? As a supervisor, I want the teams that I work with to have the resources they need to accomplish the work that God is calling them to. When Brandi and I worked together, there were days when working together was difficult, but I always wanted her to succeed. If you find yourself in a ministry calling where it’s hard to believe that your supervisor wants what’s best for you, then we’d invite you to use THIS HANDY TOOL to help determine if you should stay or leave the role you’re currently in. With that said, we’re going to assume that this statement is true: “Your leaders want you to succeed.” If it helps, write this statement on a post-it and put it in a spot where you can see it as you: “The leadership at my church wants me to succeed”.

That said, here are some basic principles for making an ask. Some Anthony taught me and others I learned the hard way. Let’s go…

1. Always tie budgetary requests to your leadership’s goals.

Trust me. Your direct supervisor has goals for the future, goals for the church, and goals for your ministry. Hopefully, they’ve shared some of that vision with you, but even if they haven’t, you should be able to glean some ideas by looking at where they’ve put money in the past. (And if it’s the squeaky wheel… it might be time to get a little squeaky, friend!) But seriously, if you can tie your goal to the goal of your leadership, you’re halfway there already.

ANTHONY: Your goals aren’t the ones that keep your boss up at night, theirs are. Learning how to integrate what your hopes are with what your leader is hoping to achieve is a great place to start a conversation. If you’re not sure what your supervisor’s goals are, one way to find out is by asking them to help you do some goal-setting for the next three to six months. While they’re helping you, feel free to ask to clarify some of their goals so that you can see where there might be some integration and synergy. Just make sure it doesn’t come across like you’re accusing them of not having goals or vision when you ask – it’ll be harder to have a conversation about resources if your boss feels like they need to defend their leadership ability.

2. Don’t spring the conversation on your boss.

Imagine walking into your supervisor’s office and saying, “I want to take a $2,000 class. Will the church pay for it?” Most likely, they’ll spit their coffee across their desk and then YOU’D owe THEM for the replacement Bible, the Macbook Pro, the Batman bobblehead, AND the coffee. Depending on the size of the ask, it’s probably a good idea to send an email to schedule an actual chat. I’ll let Anthony jump in here, but I’m betting he’s going to say PLEASE let them know that the reason for meeting is to discuss continuing ed rather than not giving a reason and adding to an already existing stress ulcer.

ANTHONY: Let me take a moment to double down on what Brandi is suggesting. When I receive a message from a staff member or congregant that asks “Can we talk?”, I start playing through the scenarios that I could be walking into. And, depending on the day, I might walk into our conversation with more anxiety than is helpful for the situation. Knowing that my team is wondering about goal-setting or pursuing a resource they’re curious about helps me frame my posture going into the meeting. You don’t have to say everything about the meeting before the meeting, but a general framing is always helpful.

3. Always put the dollar amount at the end. 

This seems so basic, but it still needs to be said. DON’T LEAD WITH THE PRICE TAG. Sticker shock is a real thing, especially when it comes to managing nonprofit budgets. Come prepared with a great brochure and all the reasons this opportunity is going to help build your ministry. Tie it back to the goals of the leadership, like I said before. And then, AND ONLY THEN, talk prices. If you have a couple of different price points, even better. Do your research ahead of time so you can answer questions in the meeting you asked for. If lodging, transportation, food, or books will be needed, know these details (and prices), too.

ANTHONY: Your church’s budgeting process is something you should be familiar with before going into conversations like this. If what you’re asking for exceeds what is allotted for personal development or continuing ed, that should frame the way you go about asking for the additional resources. Though you shouldn’t lead with the price tag, I always appreciate when I can tell that my team members aren’t making their ask in a vacuum because they’ve considered how their request fits into the rest of what we’re trying to accomplish as a church. Additionally, Brandi suggests bringing a brochure to the meeting, but this is another area where you need to know how to speak to your boss. Brandi knows I love a good powerpoint presentation, so she always knew the best way to pitch an idea to me was with visual aids. If it involved a whiteboard, I almost always said yes.
(Brandi: That’s true!)

4. Never, ever, EVER rely on the adage, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” …even for continuing ed

Both as a former employee and boss, this one makes me nauseous. It’s not better. This frame of mind breaks the trust that your boss has in you, it brings up questions about your leadership, and it can disrupt your overall integrity. It doesn’t just have the potential to hurt other ministries and what they are able to accomplish this year, it hurts you for the months and years to come. No conference, cohort, or membership is worth losing credibility as a leader and starting (or exacerbating) a distrust that could lead to the people you minister to having to miss you in the future.

ANTHONY: I’m both thankful and frustrated that we have to say things like this to Jesus-followers, let alone church leaders. Nothing erodes trust faster than this sort of mindset.  Not only that, but spending church resources without permission can lead to your removal from a ministry position… and that’s a hard thing to explain if you try to pursue a future position at another church.

So, these are the basics. And they apply to most of the asks we as ministry leaders are going to address throughout our working life, though with varying degrees of gravity. For example, a book is a much smaller investment than coaching. Thus, depending on your relationship with your leadership, it’s probably a much smaller conversation. But the same principles generally apply. 

There are a plethora of options when it comes to reaching your leadership goals and expanding your ministry tool belt. And, in part two of this resource, Anthony and I will walk you through some of our favorite options AND how to ask for them. 

For now, Here’s the key takeaway: You are worth investing in. Whether or not you trust that your leadership team wants what’s best for you (and we hope they do!), you are worthy of growth and development. Just like the people in your congregation or parish, God has a plan for you, for your life and your ministry, and for the people you will reach. And if you want to talk more about any of this, we hope you will let us know.