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Should Pastors Know What Congregants Give?

Church leaders discuss the pros and cons.
Should Pastors Know What Congregants Give?
Image: Photo by Orbon Alija | Getty

One National Association of Evangelicals survey found that 70 percent of evangelical leaders believe pastors should know who gives to their church. Further, 76 percent of those who affirm such knowledge also think pastors should know how much those people give.

Yet the pastoral concerns tied to this question—from the spiritual formation of congregants to the grave temptations such knowledge can bring—make this a crucial matter for pastors to navigate carefully. We asked a variety of pastors this difficult question. They all emphasized that every church situation is unique and that there is no single “right” answer. But here’s how fellow leaders from across the country approach this issue in their own church contexts.

Yes, to Deepen Community and Service to God

On the surface, the question of pastors and financial giving sounds like a topic that could lead to division during a time when we desperately need to work toward unity. The past year and a half—with the global pandemic and loss of life, income, careers, relationships, as well as racial upheaval—has stretched the family of God thin. Every community is different in what it is experiencing, but as a diverse church, we’ve felt all of it.

As an executive pastor, I’m interested in this question: Why is it important to give and serve as part of a church community? This is the focus our leaders have regarding how we engage and encourage congregants to understand the biblical principle of giving as a part of service. We do not treat people differently based on our knowledge of what they give. Knowing simply helps us understand where each person is spiritually as it pertains to giving and directs us in how to pray and teach on this topic. Our desire as pastors is that people understand the importance of giving as an act of service unto the Lord.

—Kevin P. Lett, executive pastor of Hope in the Hills in Beverly Hills, California

It’s Part of Pastoral Care

When I started at my church two years ago, I was asked if I wanted to know what people gave. In my faith tradition, this decision is up to the church and the pastor. Each congregation is different, but in our case, I decided yes.

Knowing what people give has not changed my opinion of them. I don’t use this knowledge to shame people or give people power, but to care for them. For example, knowing when there has been a significant change in giving opens the door to ask more pointed questions in pastoral care about work or a change in finances. When I know someone hasn’t been giving but is passionate about the work of the church, I’ve been able to talk to them about what it means to participate in the greater work of the church by giving.

—Emily Clark, senior pastor of Faith United Church of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan

It Shows Commitment and Ownership

Often, it’s not so much a question of should the pastor know, but rather will a pastor know. In large churches, you may have the luxury of not knowing because the church structure includes an administration team and finance team. In smaller churches, though, lead pastors tend to be the utilitarian infielder—a jack- or jill-of-all-trades. Ideally, a pastor would not know what people give; that allows a pastor to minister freely without expectation or frustration. But in smaller churches, this knowledge often comes with the job.

One benefit of this is being encouraged by others’ generosity and commitment to God’s mission through the local church. Do lay leaders feel a sense of ownership? If they do, you will see it in their checkbooks. If a pastor were to see how much a church member gives, it would give the pastor insight into a member’s sense of ownership and how they value the church community.

—Mary Chung March, pastor and president of Covenant Asian Pastors Association

You Can Pastor Well in Either Scenario

I used to know the weekly giving (who gave and how much), but I don’t anymore. I don’t believe either scenario affected the way I serve the church. Whatever posture a pastor takes—which is totally subjective and often dependent on circumstances—he should do so not with an eye toward convincing others to do the same, but for the comfort and encouragement of his own soul. Whichever stance frees you to serve the flock in the grace and mercy of Christ, go for it.

—Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in East Point, Georgia

I’d Rather Not Know

For the most part, I don’t need or want to know what individual people give to the church. I decided years ago we would not count church attendance (except for once each year at the request of our denomination), because my self-esteem would probably rise and fall with it. Similarly, I don’t see what individuals give, because my esteem of them might rise and fall with that number—and yet I could never know all they’ve come from economically or what any amount indicates.

The exception to this principle is that we ask any of our leaders—our staff, our clergy, our board—to be “givers of record”: to give some amount in each calendar year. And if we were hoping to start a capital campaign, I would want to meet first with our top 25 givers to see if they are supportive. But generally, I don’t need to know the specific amount anyone gives.

—Kevin Miller, rector of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois

Avoid the Temptation of Favoritism

Pastors should be aware of the resources coming in, as the apostles were in Acts 4:32–37. Otherwise, how else can they budget? But it is not wise for pastors to know specifically how much individuals give. That can breed temptations to favoritism (James 2:1–4). Instead, other Christian leaders, whether deacons or elders, should have a pulse of what people give. A twofold purpose of this is that (1) they can know whether a congregant is giving, and (2) they can know whether people are tithing appropriately to their income. In both cases, a lack of giving can indicate other issues at play (e.g., financial hardship, immaturity, greed). From there, these leaders can inform pastors, and, in turn, pastors can come alongside the congregant to minister to them accordingly.

—Aaron Reyes, lead pastor of Hope Community Church in Austin, Texas

No, to Minister Freely

Twenty years ago, while planting Mosaic, I faced a choice: to know or not to know who in the church gives and how much. After consideration, I chose the latter, and to this day I do not regret it. People in our church know that such information is not guiding my time or interactions with them, nor is it shaping my opinion of them, one way or another. This frees me of any temptation to use such information for my own ends or in any manipulative way.

Of course, at least two responsible leaders need to know such information to ensure financial accountability and to send year-end tax statements. In our case, the executive team requests only general data, current trends, and analysis from these leaders to assist in decision making. Ultimately, the answer to the question is not biblically mandated: The choice is yours, as are the outcomes and consequences of your decision.

—Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor and directional leader of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas

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