Our last blog post started a two-part conversation about a controversial subject within churches today. Pastors greatly debate whether it is okay for them to know the giving records of their church attendees and members. Yesterday, we presented the argument for knowing the giving records, but today we present the opposite view point. Today’s blog is written by Rev. Dr. David B. Jones at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. He’s been in local church ministry for over 30 years and has valuable insight into church operations.
The names and numbers are right there in the church computer. I could access them as easily as I access phone numbers and addresses. So why don’t I look at them . . . members’ giving records, I mean?
I could make a case for knowing who gives what. And at times I’d really like to know. But I resist the urge, and here’s why: I’m not as pure and unprejudiced as I wish I were. While I may think I know a person’s financial situation, the truth is I don’t always know as much as I think I do. The perceptions and assumptions behind my judgments are often woefully mistaken.
I tell the congregation that as their spiritual shepherd I intend to lead them “without fear or favor.” But I found, early in my ministry, that promise was hard to keep when I reviewed people’s giving record. It made too much of a difference in how I felt toward some people, especially those who talked much about what the church should be doing but gave little or nothing to get it done.
These days I do know who makes a first-time pledge, renews a pledge, or increases their pledge. I write each one a personal note saying, “I don’t know the amount of your gift, but I thank you for your generosity.”
By process of elimination this means I know who doesn’t make a pledge. I want to know that, just as I want to know who doesn’t give any non-pledged gifts to the church.
Each year the Nominating Committee and I give the Financial Secretary the pool of names from which leaders are nominated. The Financial Secretary removes the name of anyone who has no record of giving at all for the last twelve months. Our membership vows call for us to support the church by our prayers, presence, gifts, and service. If you’ve given nothing at all over the course of a year, our Nominating Committee says you’re not eligible to be a leader.
I’ve stressed that since the day years ago when the Financial Secretary at my new church said, “I think there’s something you should know. The long-time chair of the Finance Committee hasn’t pledged or given a dime in years.” A pastor needs to know something like that, and that church needed and got a new chair of finance.
If my life depended on it, I couldn’t tell you what any five members of my current church pledge or give. But I could name those who make up the top 15% of our givers. Again, I don’t know the amount but I do know their names.
Why? Because no church can survive without a fair number of substantial gifts every year. The people who contribute those substantial gifts are our financial leaders. I want them to know that, and to know that Cathy and I are among them, because I believe it’s important for pastors to thank and encourage those who lead the congregation in various ways.
This is a sensitive subject on which good pastors disagree. If you choose to know how much your members give, it seems to me that in fairness you should let your people know that’s your practice so they can offer you a word of explanation about their giving if they choose to.
If you’re not willing to tell your people. . . well, I leave it to you to wrestle with that unwillingness and see what’s behind it.
Leave a comment and share your thoughts on this week’s discussion.