9Marks recently received the following question:
I have grown up in a church culture where giving is always secret. Perhaps a trustee, treasurer, deacon or two know the giving of each family (someone prepares the tax receipts), but the pastors of the church remain in blissful ignorance. The reasons for this range from official policy to the pastor’s desire to avoid favoritism (James 2:1-13).
But is this practice biblical? Jesus teaches on money and giving more than any other topic except the Kingdom of God. Giving is such an important spiritual thermometer (Matthew 6:21, Matthew 19:16-26). And Jesus taught on the topic as he watched the widow give all that she had–her very life–at the temple (Mark 8:41-44).
When it comes to shepherding, it seems perilous to neglect one of the most important evidences of spiritual fruit, or lack thereof. How should the elders of the church handle this sensitive subject? What are the biblical and pragmatic reasons for and against pastoral oversight of the offering plate?
Here are a few thoughts.
Jesus tells us that what we do with our money speaks volumes about where our hearts are at. So shouldn’t we use our ability to track our members’ giving to help shepherd them? I’d say no. Here’s why.
Financial integrity is an important part of following Christ, but we don’t submit our tax returns to each other. Sexual integrity is an important part of following Christ, but we don’t put accountability webcams in our bedrooms. Why not? Because where our hearts are in these important areas of propriety are as important as our actions, and lie at the root of our actions. The same goes for giving. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
How then do we help each other follow Christ in these other areas of our lives? We build into our church cultures an expectation that we ask each other hard questions about our financial decisions and our sexual purity. For example, it should be normal when I’m traveling away from my wife on business for a brother to carefully and graciously ask me how I’m doing in my thought life.
And the same should apply to our giving. If we shepherd by opening up the financial database to see who’s giving what, we miss the opportunity to build transparency about giving into the fabric of our church culture. Instead, we should explain to people that we don’t look at individual giving out of a desire to not show favoritism.
But that does not mean that church members shouldn’t be talking with anyone about their giving. Instead, we should make it our ambition that questions about giving–and the heart issues associated with it–would be a regular part of living life together in our church.