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11 Aug '08

Should a senior pastor know what people give in the local church?

Posted by T.J. Addington in church leadership, money matters
OK, I acknowledge that this blog will be controversial to some and runs against "conventional wisdom." The truth is that conventional wisdom is not always wisdom. So I will wade in and at least raise some issues to consider.

As one who has helped many churches raise funds for capital projects and consulted with churches on other issues I have often been privy to giving information. I have also had the privilege of working with very generous individuals in a development capacity. It is against that background that I raise this issue.

If I were a senior pastor today, I would want to know what individuals in the church were giving for these reasons:

So I can thank them
Think about this. We thank people who use their gifts of teaching, leadership, administration, care and those who make sacrificial personal investments in ministry but because of our "taboo" on knowing what people give it is usually not possible to sit down with someone who has been extraordinarily generous and thank them - and tell them how their investments in the ministry are making a difference.

Many generous individuals give large sums of money outside of their local church - which is to be expected. But when they do, someone says "thank you" and "let me tell you how your dollars are making a difference." That is not the motivation to give but it is a real encouragement when someone does give. We do not encourage those who give generously in the church enough - especially when a senior leader does not know who to thank.

So I understand their spiritual commitments
The commitment of being generous to God is a very direct indicator of spiritual commitments and maturity. As a leader I would never want to place someone in a leadership position who was not a regular giver because it tells me something about where their heart is. If you doubt that connection, just pay attention to how much Jesus talks about the heart, money and the connection between the two.

I would not want someone in leadership who did not have a devotional life, who was not committed to personal growth, or who is stingy with God. It is an indicator of immaturity and immaturity does not fly in church leadership.

So I know how much to listen if someone is in serious disagreement with leaders or church direction
Read this section carefully. I am not saying that we pay attention to those who have money more than we pay attention to those who do not. But here is an interesting observation that I make from experience. It is not unusual for someone who is perceived to have money to use that perception to try to influence decisions that are made.

Let me give you an example. A church I was working with was entering into a major expansion project. An individual who was perceived to have means was a vocal opponent and would not let go of his opposition. When we looked to see what his giving record was, he was giving nothing to the church - which would have shocked many.

Now why would a church leader take someone seriously who had no stake in the ministry? In fact, why would a church leader who is responsible for the spiritual health of the flock, not sit down with someone like that and confront him with the fact that he is not living in obedience in a major area of his life and that until he does, he does not have the credibility to speak to the issue?

We would have a conversation if someone's marriage was on the rocks, if they were involved in pornography, or living in conflict with someone - so why would we not have a conversation if they are ignoring this area of Christian obedience? In my experience, and this should not surprise us, it is those who do not have a commitment to giving - often who are in leadership positions in the church who most vocably argue that no one should know what people give. Isn't that telling?

So that I would know if there are spiritual issues that need to be addressed
People who do not give are hiding deeper spiritual issues in their lives. Generosity with God is such a basic and fundamental indication of commitment to Him and maturity in our walk with him that the lack of it - from those who would otherwise claim to be fully devoted followers is an indication of deeper spiritual issues. If I care about people and their spiritual commitments I would be concerned about the lack of obedience in this area of life.

We would lovingly talk to someone who started to ignore church attendance or someone whose marriage seemed to be on the rocks, or someone who seemed to be straying in some other area of life. So why would we not lovingly talk to someone whose spiritual claims are not matched by their personal commitments in the area of giving?

But, Scripture says no one should know what we give
Actually, Scripture does not say that. It says that we should not trumpet what we give for purposes of being praised, just as Jesus criticized the pharisees for praying and fasting in pubic for the purpose of "looking spiritual."

Why are we willing for a pastor to know the intimate details of the troubles we face but not a key area of our spiritual lives?

But, if the pastor knows what someone gives he will treat them differently than others
That could be true, but not in the sense that one might think. If as a pastor I knew someone did not have a commitment to giving to their church I would indeed make a judgment and it would be that there is not a stake in the ministry. At the same time, knowing that someone does have a financial stake in the ministry tells me something about their spiritual maturity and commitment to the church. The issue is not whether they are a wealthy giver or a modest giver, it is the fact that they are living in obedience in this core area and have a commitment to the ministry.

Scripture says that we do not treat people differently because they are wealthy or poor. It does not say that we listen to everyone equally. I listen to those who have a stake in the ministry and a commitment to the ministry as demonstrated by their participation, the use of their gifts, their giving and their time and energy on behalf of the ministry. Those are also the only ones that I would entrust to place in leadership positions - which is consistent with New Testament teaching.

I raise these issues for your consideration. I know that not all will agree and some will strongly disagree. But it is something to think about.