Thursday, November 22, 2007

Question of the Day

Should a pastor know how much money specific members are giving to the church?

[cross-posted]

27 comments:

DannyG said...

As somebody who warms the pew, I would prefer not. Of course, we have a rather large congregation/staff (5 ordained ministers + support staff). We have a financial officer who sees all of that info. In our situtation I suppose he could let the head pastor know something was up if somebody's donation pattern had changed drasticly.

DaveW said...

Absolutely not.

Earl said...

No pastor should ever know what any individual church member is giving in tithes and offerings to the church. That having been said, some think in staffing of committee positions, etc., the pastor should have this information so as to not allow a "marginal" supporter to place in a position where he/she will will be responsible for making decisions about church finances, payment of apportionments, etc. Others think that access to this information is appropriate as it is the pastor's responsibility to "audit" the giving of the members of his/her congregation so as to encourage their growth as disciples of Christ. Regardless of that logic, in the overwhelming majority of cases, I can not see where it would be wise for the pastor to have such information.

Steve Heyduck said...

Yes. The pastor ought to be responsible and mature enough to be able to still deal fairly with individuals.

One of the main reasons the pastor ought to know what contributors contribute is so he/she knows who really is (and isn't) committed to the ministries of the church.

Todd said...

If we are going to be consistent in our claims that money is a spiritual issue, then pastors should have some knowledge about the financial giving of those who are in the church.

I have heard from financial guru-types that giving is one of the first indication of problems in the home is through giving.

If a pastor approaches money as a spiritual matter and not a resource, then a pastor would be the best to respond or deploy care if there is an issue in the home.

Vicki said...

I appreciate that you have raised this question. I have always believed that an individual's giving should be known only to the person(s) handling that specific aspect of the finances.

A few years ago, we received a giving statement that was actually signed (not a computer-generated signature) by our senior pastor that stated the total dollar amount we had given up to that point. We were irate and let the finance committee know of our feelings.

I have seen situations where the pastor treated the bigger givers "better." Of course, I have also seen the bigger givers flaunt their giving status.

I can understand wanting to withhold areas of responsibility from those who aren't as committed to supporting the church, but how could the pastor actually know if a person's giving is a tithed amount without knowing that person's circumstance and paycheck? That may be somewhat possible in a small church, but how could the pastor of a very large church know who is getting by on an unemployment check and who is bringing home a huge commission check?

Keith Taylor said...

I think not.

Rick said...

No. I have been the Treasurer, VP and President of a congregation. I cannot see where this leads to anything good.

Companies attempt to retain their best customers through schmoozing, partnerships and incentives. There should be no concept of "best" or "customer" in a church; we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, regardless how much we contribute.

What about the woman who contributed two mites? She gave all she had, but only Christ knew that.

God is not a respecter of persons; why are we? When pastors can start sizing up people as potential benefactors, the church has moved in the wrong direction.

Danny, I agree that a financial officer may know, but it should be up to the individual giver to approach the pastor about monetary issues.

Earl, per some of your comments, which I understand to be made by others:
- Many politicians would be "marginal" supporters of the people, and should not be in office; they cannot handle their own personal finances, let alone billions of dollars of OPM (other people's money).
- Is the parishoner attending service regularly? Are they doctrinally in agreement (or at least acting as the Bereans did) with the church? Are they familiar with the administration or ministries of the church? Are they positionally qualified? If so, then what more does the pastor need to know?
- Is it more important for me to pay off my creditors, or deal with Rocco & Guido of the Finance Committee (re: the "financial audit" comment)? I would argue I am being a better steward of my finances if I am paying off my egregious debts, even if that means I lower my contributions to my church temporarily.

Steve, pastors are human, too. Why lead them into temptation? Since when does the size of a donation identify a proper commitment?

At this time of Thanksgiving, we should be glad that the Word is preached and heard and the sacraments are administered. Why do we have to qualify by man's standards who is a good parishoner and who isn't?

Michael said...

Well said, Rick. I can think of no good that can come from a pastor's having that kind of knowledge. What could the pastor expect or intend to accomplish with such information? As for being able to judge who is "truly" committed to the mission and ministry of the church, that can be easily discerned by that person's actions and participation. The size of the check is not relevant enough for a pastor to have any need to know.

Michael said...

I might also add that a pastor is called to faithfully preach the Word; what members choose to do with that Word is entirely up to them.

Don Yeager said...

How about turning the question around -- should church members know how much the pastor gives?
Suppose the pastor asks the members to tithe but gives much less than the tithe him/herself and doesn't practice good stewardship. Is that something the members should know?
I think we are too concerned about confidentiality when it comes to giving. If you look back at churches in the early 1900s, it was public knowledge how much each family pledged and gave.

John said...

I might also add that a pastor is called to faithfully preach the Word; what members choose to do with that Word is entirely up to them.

Really?

Let's turn this question around.

Should a pastor know if individual parishioners are having extramarital affairs?

Rich Holton said...

I understand the concerns of those who worry that the pastor will give special and preferential attention to the big givers. I would say, however, that this concern is misplaced. Not because pastors are above that sort of fault. But because that sort of temptation is already present. Pastors have a pretty good idea who the "important" people are, without needing to know how much people pledge or give.

The pastor's role is more than just preaching on Sunday morning. A pastor is called, as all Christians are, to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

So, does discipleship include how you make use of your money? Can you be a disciple but not include your money in your discipleship?

I think not. Money clearly is a matter of discipleship, and thus is a concern of the pastor.

There's this thing called "accountability" that has almost disappeared from our faith life. We need to hold each other accountable in love. But instead we resist any hint of intrusion into our personal lives.

larry said...

John - thanks for a thoughtful question.

As a pastor, these are the guidelines I use:

1. I ask my financial secretary to notify me if she notices significant changes in individual family giving patterns, either up or down, so that I might be aware that perhaps something is changing in their circumstances at home.

2. I hold a kind of informal veto on nominations for committees in regards to giving - not the amount, but the regularity. If someone gives faithfully and shows consistenticy, then I really don't worry too much about the amount - I figure they are committed members (I figure a regular pattern of giving ties in somewhat with faithful attendance too). If someone gives irregularly, then I really don't want them in leadership, regardless of what size gifts he or she may have made.

John Meunier said...

I'm pretty sure my pastor knows.

I have no problem with it.

I'm actually perplexed why this is controversial.

Jehovah Judah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jehovah Judah said...

There is place for abuse on both sides of the aisle. But if parishioners do not trust their pastor with mere money of this world then there lies fault already with either the pastor or the parishioner. If a pastor misuses that information, it is not a situation where one should simply not give him the information, but that pastor should be removed from his place. Those that we call our "pastors" must be beyond reproach to the outside world.

I think a pastor should know what his parishioners are giving. This information will aid him in his prayers and keeping his parishioners accountable, and that accountability should also cover him aswell.

Anonymous said...

We only put cash in the offering plate, have always felt what we give is between me and God.

There have been many times I didn't go to church because I didn't have a cent to put in the offereing plate. Its a humbling experience to say the least, right up there with not being able to afford food for our children and trying to explain to to them why Santa brought tons of stuff to the neighbors while they got only a few homemade things. :(

DaveW said...

Dear Anonymous,

Have you heard or read the alternative reading to the gospel story of the widows offering? If you look at in the context of what comes before and after then you can hear it as criticism by Jesus of the temple/religious authorities who have convinced this woman to put more than she should into the offering - which was being used to support a building rather than care for the poor.

According to that interpretation you should never choose in favour of the church offering over essential caring for your kids.

If you want to know more on this interpretation let me know (here, on my blog, or by email).

Hope this helps.

Dave

Michael said...

John,

You ask whether a pastor should know about extramarital affairs. How would he or she come by that knowledge, and how would he or she know for sure, without doubt, short of actually catching someone in the act?

I see what you're driving at, but I don't see the similarity. If a pastor is to know how much one is giving, then the pastor is going to be required to keep a file for every member's W-4's or paycheck stubs.

By the same token of your question, all members would be required to check in and out with a pastor and account for every moment of everyday.

There is only so much a pastor can do. He or she is still, after all, only human. They have had no magical, mystical, or parental authority bestowed by virtue of the pastorate or ordination. None of my parishioners owes me explanations as to decisions they've made unless they choose to make those decisions public knowledge or if they come to me in confidence. Either way, the response is theirs. Their finances are none of my business.

Rick said...

I don't see where it is the pastor's responsibility to keep each member of the congregation financially accountable. His responsibility is to preach it and live it.

If the pastor keeps each member "financially accountable", what does that mean? That he reviews my financial statements and receipts every month? That he keeps me on track with my annual giving commitment? That he grants me approval so I can pay off those $1,500 of unexpected, urgently needed car repairs that hit me last week (after all, I had to put them on my credit card because I barely live paycheck to paycheck)? I see a slippery slope here.

Remember, I didn't sin because I paid off the car repair bill.

I think the adultery example provides a different context. Still, I am not sure how you would confront someone about their sin if you (or the spouse, maybe) weren't the one catching them in the act. I am glad I am not a pastor. :-)

Here is another turn on the question:

What about churches that accept donations by credit card? Does that / will that hold the same weight, if the important metrics are the amount of giving and the frequency of giving?

And another turn:

What if an "important" contributer decides to hold the pastor financially hostage by threatening to discontinue contributions until you change certain aspects of the service or programs? Does that compromise the pastor's position, since he knows how the potential loss of funds could affect the church?

And another turn:

What if I regularly give 12-15% of my income, and drop it to 10%? Did I become a less valued member, or am I all of a sudden a "problem" for the pastor?

John said...

Michael, I agree that checking out giving amounts for individuals can cause all sorts of problems. That's why I don't do it myself. But I utter reject the notion that how parishioners respond to the Word is no business of the pastor. Otherwise, we're just preachers, not shepherds.

Rick wrote:

What if an "important" contributer decides to hold the pastor financially hostage by threatening to discontinue contributions until you change certain aspects of the service or programs? Does that compromise the pastor's position, since he knows how the potential loss of funds could affect the church?

This is the primary reason why I don't ask to see what individuals are giving.

revjfletcher said...

Tithing is a spiritual issue. If one of my members suddenly does not tithe anymore then there is something going on.--probably something negative (job loss, conflict at home, horrible sermon:) etc). Part of my ministry is to offer spiritual direction to that person (family).

The flip side is when one of my members begins to tithe. Again something is probably going on. In this case, I have something to celebrate with them about.

I don't care to know How Much (dollar figures or net vs gross)someone gives. I'm only interesting in the spiritual aspect of the issue.
Stay blessed...john

Steve Heyduck said...

Was I really asked "since when does the size of a donation indicate a level of commitment?"

Really?

Actually, it isn't dollar for dollar the size of the donation. It's the well dressed, well heeled who throws money around visibly and presumes to take leadership in a congregation when actually giving nothing - that indicates a commitment problem.

A pastor's knowing that a family of four working hard to raise kids, both parents are public school teachers, yet they give at the same dollar level as a couple living high on the hog - there is a commitment difference there.

Those who commit their money to the church in greater proportion to their income are MORE committed to the church than those who wait to be asked to write big checks in December, when the big check is more about tax accounting than about supporting ministry.

Should I go on?

Rick said...

Steve,

Your response was exactly what I had in mind. (Well, minus the indignation that I would question you.) A larger check doesn't mean larger commitment; the whole picture needs to be taken into account. However, I still say "no" to the original question.

Steve Heyduck said...

Agreed, Rick; a larger check doesn't mean larger commitment.

A larger check PER INCOME, however, does mean larger commitment.

I agree that it isn't an easy situation, but one where, I believe, a pastor's maturity must be trusted.

Rich Holton said...

It is a difficult thing to express in simple terms. Even "a larger check per income" is a simplification (though it's a decent approximation).

As an example, a family with severe health issues to deal with may not be able to write as large a check as a similar family minus the health issues. I don't think we want to have a legalistic attitude about a specific percentage of income.

In our society, the way we use our money is an indication of our priorities. Money itself isn't necessarily the issue--it's the measuring stick of commitment.