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.