I don't want a patron

April 23, 2014

I recently spoke at a stewardship conference. I always learn a tremendous amount when I speak, and that conference in particular was full of insightful people who inspired me to think theologically and practically about stewardship.

I also found out that there is a shift in attitude about whether a pastor ought to know the amount people give. I've never gotten any breakdown of names and amounts and I never want one. It was never an issue until my last church, which was filled with amazing non-profit directors. They were shocked that the pastors didn’t know the contributors of every dollar, because they couldn’t imagine doing their jobs without a detailed spreadsheet of names.

I agree that non-profit organizations need to know. Seminary fundraisers need to know. I have respect for the pastors who feel like they need to know. I just don’t.

I spoke to my friend, Rob Dyer, about it. He didn’t want to know either. But it kind of felt like we were the only two people who didn’t want to know. I heard lots of arguments supporting the pastor’s need to know. Most of them stated that giving is a spiritual discipline. We would be concerned about the prayer life of our members, why wouldn’t we be concerned about how much they give?

“Yeah, but I don’t ask the members of the church to hand in logs stating how long and how often they pray,” Rob said in response to that.

Typically, in a congregation, I like to know if there is a big change in giving, because that often indicates a pastoral care issue. I like to have a general idea of what the members of the congregation give on average because I can get an understanding of how they have been taught to give. But I don’t want to know about individual giving. I just don’t want to treat one person better because he or she gives a lot more money. I don't want to unintentionally start a Church Rewards Program, where you get additional bonus point for each dollar.

“Hi, Mrs. Hughes! I came by for a pastoral visit today because I heard that you just reached Platinum status with our CRP! Congratulations. Because of your faithful giving, you’ve earned one visit from a pastor each month. And a gift basket!”

When I came home, I realized I had another reason I didn’t want to know. My daughter was reading Pride and Prejudice, and I was reminded of Mr. Collins, who was a clergyman and the patron of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. It’s comical how much Collins talks about De Bourgh, who is rather awful to him.

This time around Austen’s novel, all of my alliances had shifted. I was no longer feeling the same connection with Elizabeth Bennet, but I felt one with the dreadful Collins and his endless, groveling fealty.

I realized that was also the reason I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to feel owned by someone. Maybe that’s my issue. I mean, maybe it’s wrong of me to not want to feel indebted to a certain individual in the congregation, but I don’t. As long as I don't know and they know that I don't know, it just feels cleaner.

So what about you? Do you think that pastors should know?     


You need to know...

For two years I served as church treasurer with a pastor who did not want to know. These were lonely and challenging times for me. It's difficult to be the one person trusted with the knowledge that the executive whom everyone assumes is the biggest donor actually gives nothing at all, or that the young teacher, just out of grad school, is one of the church's most faithful and biggest donors. There were people I knew needed a call from the pastor based on their giving trends - but the pastor did not want to know. Beyond that - I needed some pastoral care in how to process being the holder of this knowledge. I needed to be able to talk it through with the pastor.
It's not about being patronized or patronizing. It's about building a trusting and loving community within the Body of Christ. It's easy to see the lack-of-trust issues among members who don't want the pastor to know what they give. I think there are issues there, too, for pastors who want to stay out of the loop.

You really do need to know

Would you appoint a worship committee chair you never see on Sunday morning? Or an education chairman who knows nothing about education and hates kids? Of course not. So how are you going to appoint a finance chair or a stewardship chair without knowing his or her financial connection to the church? The most effective piece to a stewardship campaign (You DO do a stewardship campaign, don't you?) is for a member, a peer in the congregation, to explain why he tithes. How will you find that person?

I watched a pastor I was consulting with open the list of his top givers for the first time. The Finance Chair who owned many businesses and threw his clout around (and incidentally cancelled for the consultation at the last minute) was nowhere on the list. And his second largest giver had no other position in the church than washing dishes after funeral dinners.

I asked why the one was the Finance Chair and why the other wasn't involved in finance and stewardship. His answer, "I didn't have all the information I needed to make a good decision."

Do you have all the information you need to make good decisions?

Thanks, Brian.

Thanks, Brian.

Yes, I've been a pastor for 16 years. Of course, I've been a part of stewardship campaigns. (The churches I've served have had significant budgets...what an odd question....) I have been at the helm of successful capital campaigns as well. I have been a part of effectively raising the giving by significant amounts in every congregation that I have served. And, so far, I've done it without knowing the particular amounts that individuals have given. Many effective pastors don't know... and we have enough information.

Again, I respect your need to know, but pastors have encouraged people in stewardship for many years, and have overseen healthy campaigns without getting into the particulars.

I don't want to know

I don't want to know what most people give. I don't want to church to become like a political party where your donation level determines how much influence you have and whether or not your suggestions are accepted or rejected. Some people are very fortunate to be able to give and not ask for much if any pastoral care other people have very little money but should still be given pastoral care courtesy of those who have money. I will happily donate to the church and ask for nothing so that those who have nothing may receive.

You make an excellent point

You make an excellent point about money in politics... it's become quite corrupt. I'm not saying that all pastors who know are corrupt, but I'd rather not be in that position.

Giving to God through our church

Para church groups surely know. My thought would be the pastor might feel free, if complicated reasons suggest it, to ask the finance chair about anyone's giving. Have info at her fingertips in all areas of the church. It could at times help in pastoral understanding. I would feel as you do, but not rigidly; yet I understand it could take discipline to keep such inquiries infrequent. Maybe you're right after all ( ! ) and best wishes.