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Posts Tagged ‘should pastors know how much money church members give’

I was a pastor for 36 years.  During that time, I never wanted to know how much churchgoers gave to the church.

Why not?

Because I didn’t want the amount people gave to influence the way I served them.

If someone who was poor went to the hospital, I didn’t want to think, “They don’t give much to the church, so I won’t see them.”

There’s a difference of opinion on this matter among pastors.

I’ve read that about half of all pastors know how much people from their church give.  The pastor enters his office on Monday morning and reviews computer records stating who gave how much at the previous weekend’s services.

Pastors who access this information argue that it’s tremendously helpful.  For example, if a family has stopped giving, maybe they’re having job or financial issues, and the pastor can reach out to them.

More ominously, a family that stops giving may be angry with the pastor or the church and may be hoping to (a) influence church policy, or even (b) eventually get rid of the pastor.  Withholding giving may be an early warning sign of trouble.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to know what everybody is giving.

But a pastor absolutely needs to know about the giving patterns of key church leaders … especially members of the staff and board … and preferably before they become church leaders.

Years ago, a district minister told me that when he was a pastor, and he was considering someone as a board member, he first checked with the financial secretary to discover that person’s giving pattern.

If the person was a generous giver (what looked like a tithe), he’d be considered for the governing board.  If he wasn’t a generous giver, his name would be dropped from consideration.

From what I understand, this is standard practice among growing, impactful churches.

Why is this important?

First, church leaders are required to set an example for the rest of the church.

If they’re giving generously, they’ll communicate that to their social network … and challenge their friends to follow their giving example.

But if they aren’t giving generously – or at all – they will also communicate their non-giving in subtle ways.

I heard Bill Hybels speak on giving several times, and during his message, he invited his listeners at Willow Creek to look at his checkbook after the service to see if he was practicing what he was preaching.

Following his example, I issued the same challenge whenever I preached on giving.

Wouldn’t it be great if the pastoral staff and governing board of your church did the same thing?  At the end of a service on giving one Sunday, the pastor and leadership team could all stand at the front of the worship center with their checkbooks open, as if to tell the people of their church, “As your leaders, you can follow our example of generosity.”

After all, doesn’t 1 Peter 5:2-4 state that spiritual leaders should not be “greedy for money” but “examples to the flock?”

And how can leaders let people know they’re generous givers unless the leaders tell them?

Second, church leaders need to invest in advancing Christ’s kingdom locally.

When a leader gives abundantly to his church, he’s saying, “I believe in what we’re doing and where we’re going.  I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”  By investing his money, he’s investing himself.

But when a leader isn’t giving, he’s implicitly communicating, “I’m not behind our pastor or our vision.”  In that sense, withholding giving can become a subversive action.

And yet, in staff and board meetings, whenever the topic of money comes up, the other leaders assume that every leader present supports the ministry financially … but nobody is going to confess that they don’t.

Jesus put it clearly in the Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

If your treasure is all at home, that’s where your heart will be.  If some of your treasure is at church, your heart will follow.

By the way, many people assume that a pastor listens attentively to the desires of the large givers in a church, while ignoring the pleas of sparse givers.  But some wealthy believers are up to their neck in debt and give little to their church, while some relatively poor people faithfully give a tithe.

In fact, I cannot ever remember a time when someone in a church threatened to my face to give or not give funds.

Third, church leaders are the ones making financial decisions for the rest of the church.

Generous givers know from personal experience that when they give to God, He is likely to replenish those funds.  They’ll treat church funds the same way.

Stingy givers are making a silent confession that they don’t trust God in their personal life … and that lack of trust will eventually manifest itself when money is discussed at church meetings.

Pastors don’t want non-givers making decisions about church budgets involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Non-giving leaders will usually want to curtail spending because they assume everyone is like them.  They say through their attitudes, “Money is god.  If we don’t have the money, let’s not spend anything.”

But generous leaders are more likely to say, “The Lord is our God.  Money is not god … it’s just a tool.  If God is telling us to do something, let’s step out in faith and do it, trusting Him to take care of our church.”

The phrase on our coinage says, “In God we trust.”  But I’ve met my share of church leaders who trust gold far more than God.

Because most Christians rarely discuss their finances or giving with others, some believers like to quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:3-4: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus says, “Don’t call attention to your giving or brag about it.”  But Jesus never says we can’t discuss it with our family or friends or fellow believers!

In fact, Jesus did discuss other people’s giving with His disciples.  Mark 12:41 says:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.”

Then Jesus noticed a widow who deposited two small copper coins … and called over His disciples to discuss her generosity.

Jesus noticed and discussed how much other people gave with His disciples.

And it seems to me that parents should talk about their giving with their kids … veteran believers with new believers … and current leaders with prospective ones.

Let me put it bluntly:

Church leaders who are generous givers are the ones who stand behind their church and their pastor when crises come.  They’re invested.

Church leaders who are miserly givers are the ones who bail on their church and their pastor when things go south.  They’re not invested.

I can tell you from personal experience: it’s better never to let non-givers into leadership.

And if that reduces the size of the church staff and governing board, so be it.

Because every healthy, growing church is led by generous, obedient leaders.

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