Pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock. Generosity is an important discipline and gauge by which we measure the spiritual growth of Christ’s disciples. Does a pastor need access to the church’s giving records in order to properly care for the people under his care?
It’s a fair question and a frequent one. The answer is “perhaps.” As unsatisfying as that answer may seem, it depends on a number of variables including the size of the congregation. Some church planters and solo pastors have involvement in almost every aspect of church life by necessity. In some larger churches, there are multiple staff members who have access to information that others do not. A church may also be engaged in a capital campaign when a pastor might need to approach church members in groups or individually to ask for commitments.
In order to find the answer, here are some things to consider:
#1: The Biblical Testimony
The Bible is quiet on this specific issue. The New Testament was written in a time and place before gifts were tax-deductible and when record-keeping was minimal. The only record of a church leader having knowledge of a church member’s contribution is Peter in Acts 5 when confronting Ananias. Even then, Peter’s knowledge seems to be divinely endowed, evidenced by the fact that the confrontation was centered not on what was given but what was held back.
Though we can find helpful principles in Scripture to guide our thinking on this matter, we will not find an explicit mandate one way or another. It is a matter upon which church leaders may disagree and defer to the wisdom of others among them.
#2: Our Confessional Standards
If any officer in the church is charged with being mindful of the generosity of church members, it is the office of the deacon. According to the PCA’s Book of Church Order 9-2, “It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed.” No such statements are made about the office of elder.
A practice to consider implementing is sending a letter from the deacons, or a representative from among them, to church members who fail to give in a particular year. The letter should acknowledge the possibility that they may have given anonymously while also striking a tone of encouragement, inviting members to grow in the grace of giving by starting with small gifts. The goal of the letter is to raise the matter for consideration and provide them with achievable steps to take.
#3: Giving and Secrecy
Giving is intended to be a secret activity. Giving is never to be done in order to be noticed and applauded. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us, “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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). Jesus’ words weren’t intended to exclude the possibility of any individual outside of ourselves knowing how much we gave, like a church bookkeeper. Rather, His words are meant to exclude the possibility of giving in order to garner favor or recognition from others.
What does this mean for church leaders? We should protect the privacy of our members and their giving. Access should be limited to the smallest number of people possible. It might also be wise to ask people with access to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Churches may find it wise to inform the congregation occasionally as to who has access to this information. Beyond transparency, they may find greater confidence in the church’s abilities to manage the gifts entrusted to them.
People can and do give anonymously to their church. They do so either through cash contributions or using a donor-advised fund like those offered by the PCA Foundation. Some Christians take Jesus’ words to heart and want to give as secretly as possible. Others give anonymously because their gifts may be large and they do not want to potentially be viewed or treated differently by church officers as a result.
#4: The Pastor’s Giving
Who should know and shepherd the pastor in his own giving? You could expand this beyond the pastor to all church officers. If the elders and deacons are to set a worthy example of Christian character, what processes are in place to make sure these individuals are not “lovers of money” and properly steward the resources God has entrusted to them? The Bible is clear that among all the people in the church, those who lead it must possess integrity regarding generosity.
The goal isn’t to focus on how much officers give. Rather, it is to ensure they have a habit of regularly giving, proving themselves “ready to share” as the Bible states they should be (1 Timothy 6:18). This can be done simply through a written commitment they make annually or through accountability processes they establish among themselves. Even then, the goal isn’t to force anyone’s giving to be public. Rather, it is to make sure that the leadership embodies the Biblical characteristics they want to see in the congregation.
Should a pastor know how much people give? There’s certainly nothing forbidding it and there are things to commend it. Of course, the Bible reminds us to never lord our authority over the flock, manipulating them into giving apart from a willing and cheerful spirit. Rather, we should pray for them and remind them of God’s own generosity toward us. Occasional encouraging reminders whether they are from the pastor or the deacons of the church will hopefully move them forward to growth in the grace of giving.
The PCA Foundation is here to help you facilitate generosity, in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Click here for more information on our services for individual givers. Click here for more information on our church resources.