03 February 2014

Another Look at Pastors and Giving Records

Cross posted from Steadfast Lutherans:

Should a pastor be concerned with and know details of what members of his flock give in the offering? Pastor Karl Weber offers one answer here, and that answer has generated a good amount of discussion in the comments to his post. In the interest of continuing the discussion, allow me to take another look, from a different angle, at pastors and giving records.

I certainly understand and respect Pastor Weber’s approach, as well as the heart-felt concerns that laypeople may have with their pastor knowing how much they give in the offering and, especially, with a pastor misusing that data. In fact, for many years I have shared Pr. Weber’s reticence at viewing offering records. I have given the same reasons and continue to be leery of the very temptations he mentions.

However, I would suggest that a pastor viewing and knowing the offering records of his members is not necessarily the sure-fire nosedive into sin and misuse that we might suspect. In fact, I submit that, done with responsibility and humility, such knowledge can and does aide the pastor in shepherding his flock.

A Matter of Christian Freedom

First, let’s admit that a pastor viewing and knowing what members of his flock give in the offering is neither commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture. I know of no clear passage in Scripture that actually tells a pastor, “Thou shalt not inform thyself of thy congregation’s offering data.” Hence, it is a matter of Christian freedom. And, as with all matters of Christian freedom, it may be practiced for better or for worse depending on the motive(s), integrity, and good sense of the individual pastor.

On the other hand, neither does Scripture command a pastor to view and know his congregation’s offering records. So I will not bind anyone’s conscience either way. However, I will give the gentle reminder that Jesus and the New Testament writers do teach us about money, not only dangers of dealing with it, but also ways to use it in a salutary fashion for the glory of God and to serve our neighbor.

Not Necessarily

Pastor Weber’s reason for not wanting to know how much his members give in the offering is that he knows the sin that lurks within his heart. He would not want to be tempted to pride or to showing partiality and catering to the higher givers. These are indeed valid concerns and should be acknowledged. Such pride and partiality should certainly be avoided in God’s flock in general and by pastors in particular.

However, let’s not forget that the faithful laypeople who serve as treasurers, who count the offerings, who record the dollar amounts, and who send out the year-end statements have the same sin lurking within their hearts and are also tempted in the same ways. Yet they are still trusted with such monetary information. We simply expect them to be discreet, responsible, and respectful regarding the various life situations and giving levels of their fellow Christians. Perhaps a pastor can also muster the same sanctified discretion, responsibility, and respect? Perhaps he can even model sensitivity and charity? After all, he likely knows other details of people’s life situations and daily deals in discretion, sensitivity, and charity.

An analogy may help. A pastor (or any Christian) could very well be tempted to drink too much wine and get drunk. Should he therefore avoid wine altogether? Not necessarily. Moderation, responsibility, and humility (i.e. knowing one’s limits) are key. The same is true for a pastor knowing the offering records of his congregation. The temptation to sin may certainly be there, but that does not necessarily mean that he will give in to that temptation. God-given moderation, responsibility, and humility are key.

Whence This Cloak of Secrecy for “My Money”?

Many a parishioner may say, “It’s my money. What I give in the offering is between me and God. It’s none of the pastor’s business.” But I ask: What is the real root of this cloak of secrecy regarding our God-given cash? Who says that “my” money-matters are “only between me and God”?

Could our desire to keep our cash under a cloak of secrecy actually be a 1 Timothy 6:10 problem? St. Paul says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Could it be that we strive to keep money-matters secret, and out of the pastor’s view, because we actually love it far too much, more than we “fear, love, and trust in God”? Are we afraid that this misplaced love of money might just be exposed for what it really is: idolatry?

Could it be that we, pastors and laypeople alike, seek to keep our money-matters “only between me and God” because we have wandered from the faith and have an inordinate and idolatrous love of this mere medium of exchange? After all, money is only a convenient means of exchange. We all know everyone has some, in varying amounts, and we all know that we must use it on a daily basis. Why the mystique? Why the secrecy?

Could it be that we pastors actually encourage this sinful “love of money” and the piercing pangs it brings by tacitly agreeing to this hush-hush on what is really God’s cash? Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” My money is not “mine.” It belongs to God; He owns it. He merely calls me to manage it for Him so as to promote His Gospel and serve my neighbor. So what if other people happen to know how much of God’s money I give in the offering for God’s purposes in the congregation? (No, I don’t recommend shouting it from the housetops either. We must avoid the temptations to pride and partiality on that front too.)

Pastors and Money-Matters in Scripture

Some may claim that the pastor should not know the offering records of his members because he should focus instead on things spiritual. The pastor, they say, should not involve himself in money-matters whatsoever. This is nothing new. Dr. John H. C. Fritz addresses this in his Pastoral Theology (1932), when he discusses “Christian Giving”:
Some say that the financial affairs of the church are none of the pastor’s business; he should look only after the spiritual needs of the members and not meddle in money-matters. This is not as the Lord would have it. We learn from the Holy Scriptures that money-matters play a very important part in the spiritual life of God’s children. When in the church of Jerusalem financial troubles arose, the apostles did not say that this was none of their business, but called a meeting of the congregation and had the financial irregularities of the church adjusted, Acts 6, 1-4. (Pastoral Theology, 260)
We also have the example of St. Paul himself in 2 Corinthians 8-9. As he managed the relief fund drive for the famine-stricken Jerusalem church, he referred to the Macedonian Christians as he encouraged the Corinthian congregation to make good on its promised free-will offering. The apostle may not have mentioned a specific amount of money, but he apparently knew something of what the Macedonian congregation had given. He said, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).

St. Paul’s apparent knowledge of the Macedonian offerings allowed him to encourage the Corinthians to give generously as well. A pastor knowing his congregation’s offering amounts can very well be used for salutary purposes.

Pastoral Care via Offering Information

How might knowing what his members give in the offering aide a pastor in caring for the souls in his charge? Let’s consider some congregational and individual examples (by no means exhaustive).

Congregational Examples
  1. If a congregation is located in a wealthier town, or part of town, and many members are higher paid professionals (doctors, lawyers, business owners, etc.), but the offerings are quite low, the pastor may need to gear some of his preaching and teaching toward more generous giving in order that they, as a congregation, may serve their needy neighbors.
  2. If a congregation is located in a poorer town, or part of town, and the members give generously, even beyond their means, the pastor will certainly want to thank God and commend his congregation (as St. Paul did the Macedonian Christians in 2 Corinthians 8).
  3. If a pastor knows the giving records and patterns of his flock, he can properly advise them when it comes time to prepare the congregation’s annual budget. Perhaps the congregation needs to scale back its spending because the money just isn’t or won’t be there. Perhaps the congregation can give more generously to outside missions and charities because the money is or will be there.
Individual Examples
  1. If the offerings of a typically generous giver (individual or family) suddenly plummet, the pastor may rightly suspect that something has changed for that person or family. Perhaps one of his flock suddenly lost employment. Perhaps an elderly couple recently moved into a senior living facility (which sucks up their money!) and/or their adult children are managing their finances and don’t know or share their parents’ giving habits. Learning such details certainly helps the pastor apply the Word of God to the souls in his care.
  2. If the offerings of an individual or family are typically low or even non-existent, the pastor may see an opportunity to assist the poor and needy in his flock. Perhaps that individual or family just does not have much income from which to give. In that case aid from the congregation may be offered and could be very appreciated. Perhaps that individual or family wants to give more in the offering, but first needs help getting out of debt so that they can be better managers of God’s gifts. The pastor and congregation may want to find a way to address such needs.

The matter of a pastor knowing the giving records of his congregation is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. While such knowledge could tempt a pastor to sins of pride and partiality, he would not necessarily give in to such temptation. In fact, a faithful and godly pastor may very well use such information for responsible pastoral care.

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