Thursday, December 17, 2009

Should the Pastor Know Who Gives?

To make a point, let’s ask that question another way. Should the doctor know the symptoms and general health of his patients? Should a lawyer know the details of the case for his client? Should a coach know the athletic abilities of his team members?

Forget the idea of secrecy. The notion that one’s giving to a local church is “just between me and God” may sound good – even pious – but it’s not possible. It is personal, yes, but it is not entirely private. The matter of giving is not only between you and God; it is also between you and your church family! If you belong to a local church somebody knows about your giving. Someone HAS to know. Churches keep records; offerings are counted, personal checks are looked at, the names and dollar amounts are confirmed, and then all this information is entered into the church record. As a result, it is also known who gives nothing at all.

But should the Senior Pastor know who gives and who doesn’t? Well, consider this - the Bible teaches that spiritual leaders in both the O.T. and N.T. KNEW the giving habits of some people (see I Chronicles 29; Acts 4:37; Nehemiah 7:70; Acts 5:1-2; Luke 8:3) and that even Jesus sat and watched how much people were putting into the offering box (Luke 21:1-4)! So the answer is yes, pastors probably should know.

Aside from scriptural precedent, there are the practical reasons for pastors to know the giving habits of people:
  • It lets the pastor know who has bought into the church’s vision
  • It lets the pastor know who can be counted on
  • It lets the pastor know who is ready for leadership in the church
  • And it also lets the pastor know who is on their way out!

Let’s put to rest the notion that pastors should not know which members in the congregation are supporting their church. That’s like a Music Minister not knowing who can and who cannot sing, or the Children’s Minister not knowing any children. Knowing what people give is not about catering to the wealthy. It’s about knowing the state of your flock and being able to develop them in discipleship and Biblical stewardship.

Some might object to this idea, believing instead that if a pastor knows who is giving and who is not, he might treat them differently. My reply to that is I already know many secrets about people’s lives; even dark secrets. I know who has committed adultery, who has a drinking problem, who has had an abortion in the past, who is on drugs, who has homosexual tendencies, who has been in trouble with the law, who is in serious debt, who has tried to commit suicide, and much more. Regardless of people’s dark secrets OR their giving habits, I am called to love and shepherd all the sheep in our church’s flock. This is a matter of trust. Either a pastor can be trusted or he can’t be.

Why is it that the pastors can be trusted to know some of the most intimate details of a person’s life, and yet somehow can’t be trusted with knowing who gives financially and who does not? It the pastor cannot be trusted with this knowledge, then WHO can be trusted – and why them?

My personal practice has ALWAYS BEEN to NOT look at our church records in an effort to “grade” people or place a value on them by the level of their giving. As a personal conviction it helps keep me free from bias or showing favoritism. I still maintain that standard to this day. But there are EXCEPTIONS to this rule, and always have been. Sometimes I DO ask for information about members in our church, and reports are then provided to me. Since there is no personal gain for me in the collection of tithes & offerings (see yesterday’s post), I can ask for this information with a clear conscience and with only the benefit of the individual and our church in mind.

Here are six instances that every pastor should know about people’s giving and happen to represent what I personally practice.

1. When someone new starts to give regularly. When I am notified that a new person, couple or family, starts to give regularly to PCC, then I know this person is someone who is making an intentional effort to be helpful to our church family and wants to deepen their involvement. Their giving reflects a comittment to God and to our church. This information is good for me to know because such a person is an asset to the PCC family and may become eligible for a deeper role in the future.

2. When someone stops giving or significantly decreases their giving. A drop in giving usually happens for two reasons. First, the person has experienced some sort of financial setback (loss of job, etc) which has interrupted their level of giving. Or secondly, the person is upset with someone or something in the church and this drop in giving is an early-warning sign they are probably on their way out. In fact, people who are upset about something usually stop their giving about 4-5 months before they actually leave. Both of these are pastoral issues and the pastor needs to know. If I am notified that someone’s giving has dramatically decreased, I can look for an opportunity to possibly talk with them and find out how to help.

3. When a special gift or donation is given. Sometimes individuals or couples will give PCC a large gift, a special gift, or a designated gift. I am notified when this happens, and for good reason. I am able to be sensitive and make sure the person knows their gift was received, is appreciated, and is being used as intended. People always seem to appreciate this feedback when I offer it.

4. When someone is being considered for leadership or ministry. Let me be blunt here. A person who does not support their church is not fit for leadership in a church – in any capacity. When we are considering anyone for an important role at PCC, one of the questions we ask is, “Does this person have a record of Christian maturity and generosity in their giving?” And yes, we will check our records. If the answer is no, it is an automatic disqualifier. I’ve had plenty of people get mad at me because of this, but I’m okay with that. You don’t let a fox into the chicken coop and you don’t allow a robber of God’s tithe to lead a ministry in the church or be responsible for any portion of our budget. Jesus said our money is connected to our heart, and if a person is not financially supporting their church then their heart is not with us. Plain and simple. Having access to this kind of information helps us avoid major problems with such a person in leadership.

5. When an organizational evaluation needs to made to determine our church’s financial strength. The “bottom line” is not always the best information to have. Sometimes we need to know where the money is coming from and how broad our financial base is. For instance, in most congregations one half (½) of the annual contributions come from 10% of the members. Another 30%-40% of the people give nothing at all. Finally, the other half of annual contributions comes the remaining members, usually in the form of $5 amounts given on an irregular and inconsistent basis. This means that only ten percent of the congregation is carrying most of the financial responsibility. Not good. You can see how lopsided these giving patterns are and why this kind of information is essential to know; it is critical to strategic planning.

6. When someone has shown the capacity to be especially generous. Some people have a spiritual gift of generosity. Romans 12:8 tells us that some people have the gift of giving and that they must use this gift well. Normally this means that a person has a very good income and they choose to spend less of it on their personal lifestyle and invest in the work of God instead. Such people need to be encouraged in that gift. We encourage people with other gifts, don’t we? i.e., If someone is a great singer, we encourage them to sing. If someone is a great teacher, we encourage them to teach. If someone is great in mercy, we encourage them to show mercy. And people with the gift of giving should NOT be IGNORED, but encouraged to use their gift well! If a pastor knows that someone is exhibiting generosity, then he can meet with that person to help them sharpen their gift by pointing out ministries or areas of the church that could benefit from their gift of generosity.

In conclusion…

My guess is most of people who don’t want their pastor to know who gives are those who have something to hide. Or they are suspicious of his motives. Since I have nothing to hide myself, I’ll go completely transparent on a personal level: If you would like to see my record of giving, just ask. I will show it to anyone who asks.

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