Dave Davis explores the issue whether pastors must be involved more about the financial process in their congregations. For Davis, such involvement includes to know what amount of money each member gives, or at least, those persons who give the most. This arises the question whether giving should be personal but not private. In this brief reflection I respond a “yes” to this question regardless socio-cultural context. I offer some brief reasons.
In a church context where people give money for the administration of the congregation, I think how the money is earned, spent, saved, and alike, all of these aspects matter because they have repercussions, negative or positive, in the community of faith.
As Christians, we cannot forget about those repercussions because these can affect the spiritual health of the church as a whole. Money management is also part of the spiritual care offered by pastors. If this principle is true, that money giving must be personal but not private, the church can protect itself from donations coming from doubtful sources, the lack of an adequate accountability and any potential money idleness.
When money giving and money discussions are personal, things are better in this area. That is, the personalization of money allows us to remember that each cent that is given has been earned by others for the public good, in this case, the community of faith.
I recall an example of a depersonalization of money. I heard the story of a pastor who kept all tithing (not offering but only tithing) idle for around 20 years or more. Many years later, the pastor died, and the elders found in the pastor’s house significant amount of money in old bags with their labels “tithing”. The pastor did not use the money, did not put it in a bank, he just left it in his house. Without entering in details or the reason to do so, this act was a product of a serious misunderstandings of biblical principles about stewardship. The pastor did not spend or invest the money, and more important he did not pay attention to the well intentions of the givers. With time, all tithing became “money in an old bag,” a complete depersonalization of money.
Because money giving can be understood as personal, church leaders should not ignore serious matters around the management of money and possessions in the congregations they are pastoring. The church not only must be accountable before the State through the application of tax exception, recordkeeping of all donations, etc., the church also has accountability before God. Since giving is an important part of finances in the church, money discussions around giving (including who gives, how much, etc.) should not be kept private at all. All pastors and people have the right to know how giving goes in the church. For example, a list of donations can be disclosed with all giving information by groups (children-young people-seniors) instead of individual names, or with the major donors. In any case, perhaps individual people can donate more by themselves without the need of a pastor always talking about the budget in a Sunday sermon. This is an excellent opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to work in mysterious ways in the church. I have observed that when the whole staff, pastors, elders, and deacons in a congregation receive solid financial reports, they become proactive in managing better the resources.
The last reason I think giving and money-related matters in the church should be kept personal but not private is that the privatization of money giving and money issues promotes certain lack of transparency in the church. It is an open secret money should be treated in the most transparent way possible, but this does not always happen. The sad reality is that money, including giving, is one of the sources of problems in the church. The misuse of money, stealing, donations to cover up issues, and alike do happen in the church. It is enough to read the news to find these issues now and then. If money-related matters and giving are treated as personal, I think these issues might be avoided or at least will minimize their consequences.
When I had my interview with the church treasurer of a friend’s congregation, one thing that emerged was the issue of transparency in the management of the finances. When a significant money-related problem exists in the church, a lack of transparency can worsen the issues. For example, because of the problems in the past, this congregation makes bigger donations to be disclosed publicly. Besides, if a non-member gives a significant amount of money, this person is also contacted to avoid potential issues in the future. However, not always the church has emphasized these practices. Something I find interesting in my church is that both the leadership team and treasurer have access to the list of donations of members. This allows the leadership team to know how well finances go. Of course, this information can be misused. A list of donations or donors can be a way to track people’s activities such as whether a person contributes consistently or now and then. This can also reflect a person’s attitude toward the church or how often this person attends to the congregation. Despite these potential drawbacks, I do not think the privatization of money and giving within the church would be the solution. Rather, financial education could be a better solution to avoid situations like these.
In conclusion, although giving is personal, a privatization of it should be avoided. By adopting this position, I think church leaders can avoid potential problems which might arise for keeping money-related matters private. Church leadership has a responsibility of offering good pastoral care to their congregation, but money management is also part of such care, as Bassinger claims. This assertion might stir up controversy, but since money and giving play a significant role in the health of a congregation, this is an area that should concern everyone. In sum, rather than to privatize money donations in the church, personalizing money and giving is a good opportunity to teach the church about finances in light of the Scriptures. It is my belief that this privatization not only promotes misunderstandings but also it creates a flawed lens in Christian communities.