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Should pastors know what people give?

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A question on XPastor.org’s Google Group asked whether pastors should know who gives what to the church. Is it primarily an issue of privacy, potential partiality, or accountability and pastoral care?

According to attorney Frank Sommerville, churches “should examine job and committee descriptions to determine who qualifies under a need-to-know standard.” The reason: donor privacy. Those who have access “need to agree to a privacy policy requiring them to keep all donor information private and use it solely to perform their church duties,” he said.

Churches must decide whether the pastor needs to know, such as for providing specific counsel and spiritual development tied to members’ tithing. Once the church determines who has access, it needs to disclose this to the congregation so that donors “will have a realistic expectation of privacy,” Sommerville said.

Here is how three XPastor.org members say they handle this question:

“Our senior pastor has access to the giving records and may choose – or not – to look at them. Only accounting people have any other access. Our reasoning is this: It is good for a pastor to be able to not judge a book (or person) by its cover. Sometimes the most visibly prominent members of the community – the business owner, the state senator, the heiress – do not have a theology of tithing. So we decided that it was better for the pastor to know, than to allow public prominence, community status, and flashy signs of wealth to bias decision-making,” said Chuck Rettig of Barnard Memorial United Methodist Church in Holdenville, Okla.

“Someone needs to know who gives what in your church. While consulting for a church a few years ago, my task was to examine their business practices. A giving analysis showed that 80 percent of the church’s income was given by two individuals in their mid-70s. This was a church of about 300, and they were two funerals away from losing their cash flow. This information allowed the pastor to see the need to develop leadership, do more on stewardship, and challenge people with a vision,” said Joe Ward of Walnut Ridge Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas.

“The senior pastor prefers not to know what anyone gives specifically. He prefers this so he can preach to all without wondering if he’s offended someone or not. However, we have found a workable middle ground:

(A) He started challenging some folks to larger gifts in capital campaigns. He knows what they pledge and follows up as needed.

(B) He is notified when an individual up for a major leadership position passes – or not – a screening to determine whether they are giving to the church,” said Dave Patchin of Hope Community Church in Raleigh, N.C.

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