We either trust our pastor or we don’t.
Through the years, people have entrusted me with information about everything from their addiction struggles to their sex lives. I’ve been asked to see the engagement ring before anybody asked, “Will you marry me?” I’ve been shown wallpaper samples before purchasing the new wallpaper.
But I’ve rarely been entrusted with information about parishioners’ money: how much they earn, how much they’ve inherited, how much they paid for their car, how much they owe in credit card debt.
I am more likely to know what kind of birth control someone is using than what they take home in salary. And that’s okay. People get to pick what they will and will not share with their spiritual leaders.
But I believe that the pastor must know what everyone is giving to support their congregation. How much. With names.
Again – either we trust our pastor or we don’t.
For the first half of professional ministry I self-righteously declared that I never knew “what people gave” as if this made me a hero. But it was a mistake.
I know what each of our congregations contribute to our Presbytery. If I were still a parish pastor, I would insist on knowing what each person/family contributes. And it’s not so that I’ll drive faster to the hospital if “the biggest giver” has a heart attack. It’s not so that I’ll know who to visit first when there’s a capital campaign to replace the roof.
It’s about spiritual health. If I know that M. gives $20,000 every year although she lives frugally, that tells me something I need to know. M. took public transportation in her later years, not because she was too old to drive. She told me she’d rather give the church the money she’d be spending on a car.
It’s about spiritual health. If I know that the P. Family doesn’t financially support the church, even though they loudly announce that they will “cut their pledge” if they don’t get their way on something, I better understand the P. Family’s spiritual maturity.
It’s about spiritual health. Individuals who give generously to the mission of their congregation (and beyond) are showing with their actions what they say with their mouths: that serving the hungry and homeless is important to them, that educating our children is a priority for them, that growing the church is critical for the sake of the neighborhood, the community, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do I believe that pastors should ever share that information with others? No.
Are all pastors trustworthy to keep this information confidential? No.
And yet, imagine for a moment, if what we contributed for any and all charitable giving was made public? I’m not saying it should be, but if it were, would we feel embarrassed or would we feel grateful that we could make those contributions?
Giving money is one of the essential spiritual disciplines and it makes us feel grateful when done well. It’s not even about amounts. It’s about ability to give. And so we are thankful when we have the ability.
The first time ever, I disagree. Have seen it cause so much grief. The pastor needs to care for the congregation regardless of what they give. And you may like to think it doesn’t influence, but I disagree. You can learn of someone’s generosity in other ways…like the person who takes the bus in order to be generous to others. The pastors having giving information has been deadly to our congregation in so many ways.
Agree with you – if the pastor is not trustworthy.
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Spot on, Jan, and well said! I too thought what you thought “for the first half of my professional ministry,” yet, like you, no longer do for the same and/or similar reasons.
Absolutely. We always know how much or little time or effort a person contributes to the church family, and that is clearly a pastoral matter. Money is just another way of contributing to the needs and community and work that we all share in. Did someone stop showing up for worship, or quit (or suddenly start) volunteering for committees or service work? Did someone stop giving, or boost giving by a lot? These are all different axes of involvement, and expressions of where someone is in spiritual journey, material need, and health of one’s relationship with the church family. The job of the pastor is largely to walk with people in those life journeys, something that can only happen with awareness.
For us to treat money any differently than any other form of participation- for different people have different things to give- is to give money a place of pride. It both treats it as a thing of over-elevated importance (the one thing pastors can’t know) and at the same time makes it impossible to recognize and appreciate that type of sacrifice.
Both pastors and members of a church regularly give money an elevated pedestal, and this is done either by equating money to importance *or* by refusing to treat it the same as other ways of pitching in to the work of the church. Making the latter mistake does not solve the former. Often it makes it even worse, because it allows for pretense and outward appearances to govern instead of truths.
The basic fact is that you *should* be treated differently based on how much you give, particularly on how much relative to your income. Not treated as more or less important or valuable; not treated “better” or “worse”, but treated, in pastoral care and encouragement, exactly how one’s levels and types of engagement indicate one needs to be treated pastorally. A doctor will investigate and give you different bodily treatments based on knowing whether your appetite or your circulation is healthy or diminished. Just try to imagine pastors trying to do their jobs while insisting on wearing blindfolds so as not to see which people are attending worship, avoiding any mention of who is joining in which ministries, and making sure nobody ever tells them if someone new is trying dipping their toes in volunteering in some new form of service for the first time. Can’t be done well. Pastors need to know where you are at, or they can’t pastor in a full way, just preach in the blind once a week, like a doctor just giving you generic advice to eat healthy instead of addressing your personal condition. If pastors are so caught up in prideful thinking around money that they do more harm with it than good, much like some doctors get morally judgmental instead of helpful…the answer isn’t to hide giving amounts from pastors and hide people’s dietary practices or addictions from their doctors; those practitioners need to be brought through some soul searching and do the work of reforming themselves and the service they provide.
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I know what people give. And I have told some church leaders what I give. And when giving patterns change, either up or down, it is often the canary in the coal mine that shows people may be in need of pastoral care.
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Imagine the CEO of any non-profit unaware of their largest donors or unable to challenge each giver to the next giving range at the right stage in their lives. That non-profit would likely be under-serving their community and appear less vibrant to those who use and support their services.
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I respectfully disagree. Yes, I may be told what kind of contraception someone is using, or any other extremely personal information, but I’d never ask for that. Trust is earned. People should be able to control their own information about their health (maybe they don’t want the pastor to visit them in hospital or maybe they deeply want that type of visit), their relationship status (undergoing a divorce, in a same-sex relationship, estranged from children or parents), or their money. It is controlling to ask about or go searching for their personal information. And if we are hoping to attract or retain younger generations who already have a tenuous relationship with institutions, this type of (what I consider to be) intrusive knowledge is damaging. I’m sure the intention is good; I believe the result is not.
And yes, this has been an oft-discussed issue as long as I can remember.
Yes. The pastor can model this by sharing what she pledges to the church as an opportunity to talk about her own priorities, commitment and trust. Thanks!