I still remember the first time I overheard how many church members hadn’t contributed a penny to the church’s annual budget.
It’s an understatement to say numbers aren’t my thing. But even I could calculate the difference if these same members had been giving something. . . anything!
You read correctly — I used the word "overheard" because during my years as a parish pastor, I never wanted to know how much church members were (or weren’t) giving. I didn’t think it was any of my business. I realize now that I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I was missing the fact that some people have never learned how to manage their personal finances, or just aren’t very good at it. I wasn’t considering those who live with such burdensome debt they’ve lost all hope of escaping it.
Whatever the circumstances, knowing who is struggling is the obvious first step toward helping them.
But what about those who give regularly and even generously? Why learn at the details of their giving?
Here, I take my cue from the Apostle Paul who doesn’t shy away from encouraging eager church members to continue giving. In 2 Corinthians, he spends two chapters discussing this. It’s almost uncomfortable!
Paul understands even generous givers can grow weary in giving. The pitfalls of giving reluctantly or under compulsion need to be named and believers called to give cheerfully so that “all grace can abound.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NIV)
Then there are those who need to be thanked. Some give in particularly sacrificial ways during unique or trying times in the life of a church. Timely and targeted giving requires timely and targeted thanks. But it’s impossible to deliver this thanks if you don’t know who the givers are in the first place!
I get the pitfalls here – the concerns about stepping on toes, meddling, and/or pandering. Pleading ignorance about member giving can be framed as acts of piety and protection. But the responsibility for leadership that is both pastorally sensitive and even responsible outweighs these concerns.
Now, when I see pastors who make knowing what members give their business, I see it for what it is – good leadership and solid pastoral practice.