This is a question every pastor and his church needs to think about: Should pastors know if their congregants are faithful in tithing? Here is my answer.
Today’s question comes from Trent. And he’s asking this: should pastors know if their congregants are faithful in tithing? Now that’s a good question, it’s one I’ve thought about quite a bit, one we’ve had to ask ourselves at Grace Fellowship Church. I’ve got an answer for you. I’ll give it to you right after we run this quick intro.
Should pastors know if their congregants are faithful in tithing? There’s a lot wrapped up there. I expect the question is actually something more like, should pastors know if their congregants are unfaithful in tithing? Right, should pastors know if people are not giving money to the church? So, first let’s say, the tithe, I think most Christians agree the tithe is no longer in effect. The tithe was related to Old Testament Israel, to living in a theocracy. There was a lot bound up in it.
Today we believe the tithe has been done away with and instead, Christians are to give, to give generously to their church. So yes, there is a responsibility upon believers to give and I think most agree that the foremost giving should be to their local church. That, as a sign of our gratitude to all that God has given us, we support His work, especially through the church. And we give to the church first because it is the center of our mission here on earth. It is the community of Christians. And so, as much as we give to other things, to other charitable causes, to other ministries, I think most of us agree the church should be at the forefront of our giving, well and good. And then we give generously, we don’t generally hold people to ten percent. We might say that’s a good starting point, or give as the Lord has burdened you and so on. But then, should the pastors know if somebody is or is not giving to the local church? Okay, a couple of things to think about.
I think we can group this under care. Pastors are charged to care for their church. Part of that care is spiritual, knowing if they’re living obedient lives. And we could say that not giving at all, not being generous at all is a sign of not living a faithful life to the Lord. We could also say that it relates to physical care, to maybe people aren’t giving because they have nothing to give. Maybe people aren’t giving because they’re actually living in abject poverty and we’re just not aware of it. Or they have some serious need that the church could potentially help out with. So, in both of those ways, I think we could say that knowing if people are giving, knowing if people are not giving, it falls under the burden of care the local church wants to deliver to the people who are members of that church. So maybe there then we could say, there are good grounds for pastors to know if the church, if members are or not giving to the local church.
On the other hand, we as elders, as pastors, as leaders need to be very, very aware that we can judge people on the basis of if they give and how much they give. We can even give care to people or prefer people who give more. You think about preaching a message that may be unpopular in the church. If we know there are people in that church who are big givers, we may want to scale back our message. We may be tempted to sinfully scale back what we believe the Lord would have us say so as not to offend them, thinking, well what would happen if they remove their tithe? What if they no longer give to the church? How would we survive? Meanwhile, we might not do that if we know that the person who would be offended gives very little. So I think we need to be aware of our temptations as leaders, as pastors in the church.
So what do we do, how do we find balance between those two things? I think there might be a couple of solutions. One would be to have somebody in the church, other than the elders, report on people who are not giving. Or just tell the elders, here are people who have not given at all in the year that was, or people who have given just a very, very small amount in the year that was. And maybe then the elders could approach those people and say, is there a need we’re not aware of that we can meet? Is there something we could have the deacons help you with? Or, is this an area of struggle? A temptation of sin in your life and we could help you through that. So now I think that might be a way that you could care for people as their elders, as the ones who are charged to care for them, yet also, not know who is giving what. As an elder at my church, I have no idea who gives what and I’m very, very comfortable with that. I don’t want to know that.
Another thing is if you’re relating to your members well, and I hope most churches have something in place where the elders are meeting with the members of the church and just having pastoral conversations with them, then that could be a very good context you could bring this up. So I grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition and we know every year, we knew every year, the elders were going to pay a visit, and they would just be asking questions about how they could care for us and how we were doing spiritually, how we were doing as a family. And we’d expect that question would come up and so we knew in that context, they would ask that question as part of their pastoral care. I think that was tremendously helpful.
So there’s a couple of ideas on how you can know something and yet not know too much. Whatever you do, I think you need to be up-front, make sure the members know what the elders will and will not know. I think that’s tremendously important that you don’t suddenly just spring that on people. If you’re not relating to your people, you’re not really pastoring them, I think it’s unfair to suddenly then spring the money question on them if you’re not pastoring them in other ways. So be upfront, let them know the expectation, let them know what you’ll know and let them know if you do approach them, you’re very much concerned, not for their giving, but for their hearts and what the giving or lack of giving then says about their hearts, about their relationship with the Lord or about some needs that you may not be aware of. I hope that helps a little bit. I’ll talk to you again soon.