They are not easy at first. They are ‘off-putting’, to use a colloquium. Or tacky. When the subjects come up, you can see everyone squirm in their seats. We wish we could just avoid them. But there are five of them that need to happen pretty routinely. What I am talking about? Awkward questions about money, tithing, salary, retirement savings, and legacy giving.
They are important, even vital, to the life of your church. Most clergy will know that it will be up to them to bring these topics before the board. In other words, every Vestry member will want to talk about these five subjects, but no one will want to bring it up. That makes it awkward.
How these conversations happen will depend on the context and culture of your congregation. They should be entered into thoughtfully and prayerfully. No matter how it happens, though, these topics deserve deep and robust consideration.
I’ll address these questions one at a time in this series.
Who Should Have Access to the Giving Records?
This is an important question I touched on briefly in my book, Giving Up. And my answer is this: only a few people should have access to the records of what people are giving. On this, most people agree. Even though the Apostle Paul seems to know and boast of the giving strength of the Macedonian church (2 Corinthians 8), most people believe that their giving should be a matter of privacy. Certainly, the bookkeeper and the Treasurer of the congregation would want and need to have access to the financial records.
But is there someone else?
I say yes. I believe that the Senior Pastor should have access to the giving records of every single person in the church. This is highly controversial for some churches. I have listened to Vestries list the reasons why they wish to restrict this information and generally speaking it has to do with trying to protect the Rector from the sin of showing favoritism. I have even heard Rectors say the same thing about themselves: If I knew what people give, I think I might show deference to those who give the most.
I am sympathetic to this concern. Showing favoritism is a nasty sin that can easily derail a pastoral ministry or infect a church. This is why the New Testament specifically forbids favoritism along the lines of wealth—James 2:1-9 paints a clear picture of this.
And why is favoritism so roundly condemned? Because it is antithetical to the heart of God. God does NOT show favoritism and neither should his ministers. Nor should his people. The hallmark of the early church was its embrace of people, regardless of any class or distinction. Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth and his letter to the Christians in Galatia show us a church filled with “all sorts and conditions” of people. May it ever be so!
So this much is clear. Favoritism on any grounds—especially financial grounds—is to be avoided and if witnessed, confronted. But rather than let this fear control the conversation about access to giving information, I would suggest these two questions:
- Is financial giving and personal generosity an important marker in the spiritual life of a follower of Christ?
- Can the pastoral leader be trusted with full information about personal giving within the church?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then your church has larger issues that need to be addressed.
But if the answers to these questions are yes, then some policy of information sharing needs to be developed.
Four Points in Favor
If a leadership team in a church wants to thoroughly examine their practices and develop an internal policy about this subject, it will take time and prayer and open discussion. Here are four points to consider in favor of a full financial disclosure to the Senior Pastor/Rector.
1. Financial giving is a good indication of a person’s understanding of biblical stewardship and generosity as one of the core values of the New Testament. It never has to do with amounts of money given…but it does show levels of engagement with the mission of the church.
An illustration might make this point better: If you found out that your doctor was kept from knowing all your blood pressure readings for the past five years, I think you’d want to find a new doctor.
2. The Apostle Paul has no problem knowing and even boasting about what the Macedonians gave (2 Corinthians 8). In fact, he even uses their generosity to encourage the Corinthians in their own level of commitment. Behind the fascinating story of the collection taken for the saints in Judea is an underlying truth: there seems to be no secrecy in what people give. Paul seems to know exactly what was pledged and what was given by the Macedonians and the Corinthians. Furthermore, he certainly seems to deeply care. But like most pastors, he cares more that people give themselves first to the Lord!
3. If giving and generosity are vital signs of a person’s spiritual life, this information should not be kept from the pastor. Indeed, it should be part of an ‘early warning system’ in the congregation. A sudden decrease in giving could be a sign of a pastoral crisis in a member family (job loss, medical issue). The pastor of the church would want to know this.
Consider this scenario: a leading member of the church is elected to a position of authority or leadership in the church. The person’s involvement is sincere; they love the church and are committed to its future. But if they are not giving to the financial needs of the church, they are not fully engaged. Who is the best person to address this pastorally, one on one, with the member? The pastor, of course.
4. If they can be trusted in their role as a spiritual counselor, they can be trusted with this information as well. Pastors know wonderfully good things and terribly bad things about the families in their churches. What they give (or don’t give) hardly compares to those things. If they are tempted to show favoritism based on the behavior of their members, there are much bigger concerns than their knowledge of financial giving. It’s no reason to keep them in the dark on this issue of spiritual health and vitality in the church.
Every church body has an understanding of this subject and any changes to its policy need to be carefully considered, prayed over, and sincerely discussed. But this, the first of Five Awkward Questions, will get our series going.
Stay tuned for the next Awkward Question: How Much Should Our Church Pay Our Clergy? (If you have an awkward question, please send it into me at David@LeaderWorks.org.)