Should the pastor know?
Should the pastor know, in full detail, who gives what in his/her congregation?
Many of the pastors I’ve talked with say they don’t know, and they don’t want to know. Their reasons include the following:
- Anything to do with money is best left to the laity, who have greater expertise. It’s not a pastor’s job to get involved in financial matters. Often that has been made clear by lay leaders in the congregation.
- Salaries make up a very large chunk of most congregational budgets. If clergy show an interest in what people give, it may appear that they are only interested in feathering their own nest.
- They don’t want their pastoral ministry to be influenced by the knowledge of who gives what. They might treat people differently as a result, and that would be wrong. It is important to treat everyone the same when it comes to pastoral care.
Some pastors are proud of their utter indifference to, or ignorance of, financial matters in their congregation. They appear to think that it somehow marks them as more virtuous or at least more spiritual. (Notice the dualism that creeps into the conversation as we make distinctions between pastoral ministry and lay ministry, or things that are spiritual and things that are material.)
Last May I posted a review in this space of a a book by J. Clif Christopher, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (you can find it if you scroll back to the earliest posts here). He devotes several chapters to a consideration of the pastor’s role in church fundraising.
In a chapter entitled “All Members Are Not Equal”, he argues that it would be folly to treat wealthy members the same as middle-class or lower-class members. “The argument that I hope you hear being made is that the rich need the attention of their pastor to know how to handle the burden of money.”
In the next chapter, “The Pastor Must Be A Fund-Raiser”, he suggests that it is ridiculous that churches do not demand leadership from their pastors in this area. Senior leaders of every other type of non-profit organization are expected to be fund-raisers, so why not pastors?
“It is because people grumble. And why do people grumble? . . . It is because most of them are not giving as they know the Bible commands, and they do not want light shed on that fact.”
J. Clif Christopher
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate
Christopher offers four reasons why it is important for a pastor to know who gives what (paraphrased here):
- It will help the pastor raise more money.
- It will help to assess the effectiveness of church programs.
- It will let the pastor give thanks for people’s gifts.
- It will help the pastor “capture their real gift: their soul”.
To this list I’ll add a fifth: it will allow a pastor to recognize pastoral issues that may be signalled by changes in the pattern of giving. Has someone in the household lost a job, incurred unusual medical expenses or had to provide financial support to a family member? Did someone get a big raise or come into an inheritance? Is someone mad at the pastor, the church or God and wants to send a message about it? Many different things could be happening, good things or bad things, but the member might hesitate to tell the pastor directly. Knowing who gives what is like having an early warning system for other issues.
I am a strong proponent of pastors being in the know. What is your view?