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Should Others Know How Much We Give to Church?

I recently listened to a podcast about giving. In the podcast, the interviewee stressed the importance of thanking people who give to church.

He made the point that church is the only place where people give and don’t receive any form of follow-up or thank you. People give to lots of organisations, even Christian organisations, and receive a follow-up letter (and receipt), thanking them for their support and partnership.

In most churches, we can’t do this because we don’t know who is giving, let alone how many people are giving. Why don’t we know?

The usual rationale is that giving should be in secret. The oft-quoted passage for this argument is Matthew 6:3-4:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

What does it mean that our giving be ‘in secret’?

I find it interesting that Jesus uses the image of hands again – as he does in Matthew 5:

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Jesus isn’t arguing here for self-harm, in the same way that in verse 6, I don’t think he’s arguing that we don’t even know what we’re giving!

The point seems to hit home in the following verse, Jesus says:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

It seems that Jesus is warning against doing things for the reward and praise of others. Don’t do things to be seen by men. Do it for the reward that comes from God.

Perhaps the argument should be:

“Don’t give if you are doing it for the praise of others”.

instead of

“No one else should know what you’re giving”.

What do you think?

The problem when giving is known to none but ourselves, is that no one can keep us accountable. There’s accountability in every other area of Christian life – purity (“looked at porn lately?”), serving (“you’ve got gifts – why aren’t you using them?”), Bible reading (“how are your devotions going?”, etc.) – but when it comes to financial stewardship, we enter a ‘no go’ zone. This is particularly scary when Jesus warns so frequently about the dangers of money, greed, and being rich to ourselves, but not towards God.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Should we encourage people to share what they give, or even as a start, when they give, for the purposes of thanking people, and keeping each other accountable?

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Sandy Grant

    September 30, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Steve, I think the answer is that Matthew 6 warns us to be very, very careful about letting others know what we are giving, whether to the poor or to the support of our church and its pastors who as workers are worthy of their wages.

    Clearly Matt 6:3-4 is not an absolute prohibition on revealing your giving any more than the advice to pray in your broom closet is an absolute prohibition on praying in public. Paul reports his prayers in his epistles for example. 

    However nor is the passage much of an encouragement for Christ’s followers to go telling others what they give. The introductory warning to be careful about doing acts of righteousness to be seen by others and the threefold repetition advising secrecy in giving (v4), praying (v6) and fasting (v18) should make us very cautious before revealing our giving to others.

    And if you are a more godly pastor or church member than I and genuinely have no problem with temptations towards self-righteousness or competitiveness and the desire to look good before others, and I am sure some are not so tempted in this area, well then, don’t underestimate how hard it is for others and start urging them to do what the Scriptures warn us to be so careful about. 

    There are other good ways for pastors to teach about money and to model generosity than by revealing what they give. 

    Two other qualifications to what you said in your article, Steve. 

    1. I am sure people do get thanked for their giving at church, but it is done corporately. For example, almost every month when our church bulletin updates the financial situation of the last month and YTD, people are thanked for their support. Sometimes such general thanks is passed on in the service or at a congregational meeting too.

    2. You are wrong to say no one can keep us accountable if our giving is secret. That’s because God sees our hearts as well as what we give, and he will call us to account (bear witness to Ananias and Sapphira), and this is the most important form of accountability, far less fallible than human accountability, as Matthew 6 shows. 

    So I am not saying we should never reveal to others what we might be giving, but that we should be very, very careful before doing so, or urging others that they must do so.

  2. Steve Kryger

    September 30, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts Sandy, I really appreciate it. 

    I certainly wouldn’t advocate that everyone must tell what they give – that would go against the warning that Jesus provides, especially for those tempted to feel great about their giving. 

    However, self-righteousness can be just as rife in other areas of the Christian life – people can feel pride in their serving, preaching, up front praying, involvement in community activities. But this involvement remains public.

    Is money in a different category? If fasting, giving and praying are in the same grouping, I wonder why we don’t treat public prayer in the same way, or caution people in true same way that we do about money?

    Similarly, we thank people personally for the ways they serve and get involved in church. Why does giving only receive a corporate, rather than individual thank you?

    I agree that ultimately God will hold us to account. But in other areas of the Christian life, accountability is appropriate and encouraged – why is this particular area only suitable for accountability from God and not others? 

    Just thinking aloud – I realise others have thought this through much more than I have, and welcome the wisdom that others, including yourself, bring.

  3. Arthur

    October 1, 2011 at 3:10 am

    Hi Sandy

    Isn’t financial obedience the big issue here?

    Put it this way: do we really think that our generosity is our most deadly source of pride? I mean, in the Eastern Suburbs church scene I’m familiar with (Adelaide and Melbourne), we struggle to be generous: churches periodically face financial problems, struggle to appoint new staff positions, and have congregations flush with six-digit incomes that rarely manage to give double-figure percentages. 

    Generosity isn’t exactly one of our strengths. Our idol is money, not our own generosity.

    This is precisely where secret giving can just end up being a bit of a farce. “Your decisions about giving are just between you and God… And the Spirit keeps us all accountable.” Now that’s a sure fire way to gloss over our idolatry and keep our self-serving financial attitudes under wraps (and prop up our individualism while we’re at it).

    Since when does accountability have nothing to do with other people? Why would we want to look for some work of the Spirit apart from his corporate temple?

    I feel the weight of Jesus’ words as much as you do, and pride and self-righteousness is insidious indeed — but secret giving can actually end up protecting this when we should be unravelling it.

  4. Gitanajava

    October 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    You ask, “Should others know how much we give to church?….In most churches, we can’t do this because we don’t know who is giving, let alone how many people are giving. Why don’t we know?”  Perhaps the accounting system for churches &/or nonprofits is done substantially differently in Oz than in the U.S.?  In the states, if a church is to preserve its federal nonprofit status, it *must* keep precise records of contributions made and by whom.  

    Most, though not all, churches and denominations here put strong emphasis on modelling good financial accountability (“financial transparency” in Episcopalian & Anglican circles) to their members and supporters.  Although this practice could be interpreted by cynics as a nonprofit simply meeting its federal obligation to provide contributors the required annual statement of their gifts for tax purposes, many churches, depending on their staffing levels and protocols, also provide supporters quarterly or semi-annual individual thank-you notes cum financial statements showing the person’s YTD contributions.

    Even donated goods and services are accounted for in the systems, usually with a separate Statement of Contribution (SOC) which is provided the donor, at delivery of the goods or services and based on a dollar value stated by the donor.    The value of the donated goods and services are also included, albeit separately from financial gifts, in the annual thank-you note and statement.  Some examples…

    Example 1 – an individual who provides the church’s Autumn Festival substantial materials for building exhibit booths will receive an SOC.  Most churches have a standard form which is completed and provided the donor.

    Example 2 –  a tree-trimming service owned by a church member donates it services for 1 year, to help maintain the church grounds.  At the end of each month, the tree-trimming service sends a bill with a valuation of the services clearly stated.  At the bottom, where the tear-off portion would be removed for payment, the company’s owner has stamped and initialed “Gift to church”, and follows this with a notation “in memory of ___” or “for property maintenance”.

    Customarily, within Episcopal and Anglican churches, a parish’s Treasurer (who is usually a vestry member) and/or the parish business manager are charged with the responsibility for maintaining precise records of individuals’ donations and conveying the parish’s thanks.  Further, they are expected to protect this information from being shared with anyone other than the donor.  Neither the parish priest nor the Senior Warden (the vestry president) know the individual gifts; they and the congregation will only have access to the weekly, monthly, &/or annual totals.  Annual audits, when conducted by outside, independent chartered accountants further guarantee timely acknowledgement is made of contributions.  In the event a parish is too small to hire an outside auditor, the ECUSA self-audit guidelines ensure contributors receive an annual thank-you note and statement, at a bare minimum.

    Other churches get governance from the  Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (http://www.ecfa.org/), a nonprofit “accreditation agency dedicated to helping Christian ministries earn the public’s trust through adherence to Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship”.  Among other tasks, ECFA provides oversight and guidance for financial accountability within its member churches.  ECFA’s seventh standard of responsible stewardship governs “Stewardship of Charitable Gifts” and as one of its corollaries states, “Every [ECFA] member shall provide givers appropriate and timely charitable gift acknowledgments.”  The corollary’s discussion provides extensive guidelines for accomplishing this (http://www.ecfa.org/Content/Comment73).

    All this to say, U.S. federal tax laws and generally-accepted accounting principles have settled for churches and contributors the question of “Who donated what and how much”.

    As to who knows the amounts in question, that’s no mystery.  The taxman, the church Treasurer, your accountant, your family, your banker, your conscience, and your God.  There’s an abundance of accountability for you, plus a running commentary, from the voice in your head or heart that will not relent, to the wife or accountant’s slightly lifted eyebrow.

  5. Dave Anthold

    October 2, 2011 at 4:43 am

    I’m not sure I advocate that we go around sharing “how much” we give, but rather encourage people to start giving (whatever they have discussed with God) in their heart or up their giving in some way that they learn the sacrificial means of giving.  For some, 1-2% may be all they can afford to give — that may be their sacrificial giving point — and for others, it may be moving from 10% to 12%.  It’s different for everyone.  We, as believers, should be encouraging people to review the biblical scriptures and modeling what it means to give.  I think the simple act of people seeing the church leaders placing a check in the offering plate means a great deal to the congregation.  In addition, the leaders can do a sermon series on financial stewardship or offer a financial class such as Financial Peace or Crown Ministries – both teach financial stewardship. 

    Thoughts?

  6. Steven Kryger

    October 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I agree Dave, I think talking amounts often isn’t helpful, and it’s up to each of us to determine in our heart what we will give.
    However, I recall a conversation one pastor had with a very wealthy businessman at his church (not my church), where he rebuked him for his stinginess, letting him know that there were kids in the youth group giving more than he did. While I realise there can be numerous reasons why someone doesn’t give, in this case, the businessman had none – he was just not very generous, and was rebuked for that. It’s hard to rebuke people for their lack of generosity if you don’t even know if they’re giving.
    If church leaders give online, what do you think they should do when the plate/bag comes round?
    …Communicate Jesus
    http://www.communicatejesus.com
    Digitial Inspiration for Ministry

  7. Dave Anthold

    October 3, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Steven – you raise some very good questions.  First, I am an elder at my church, and I can tell you that I don’t even know how how much anyone at our church gives, and I think that is a precautionary one so that we don’t look at someone as a cash cow or demean someone for not giving.  I think the challenge needs to be put out there to the entire congregation or if the topic comes up between individuals you can encourage them to take a risk and give more.  God doesn’t need our money, but it is the act of giving back to Him for what He has given to us.  

    As for the online giving thing, I often think that if a church has that option, that a pastor can simply say that they give online. If they are lying that is a completely different story and that has some harsh penalties handed out from God, not from man per say.  In addition, every now and then a pastor could write a check and put it in the plate especially during those teachable times.  

    I think this is a tough concept for some to wrap their head around simply because some are not hard-wired that way, and then it becomes a teachable moment for the pastors and elders to help people see the blessing in giving rather than it being something I have to do.

    What are your thoughts on the online giving portion?

  8. Steve Boxwell

    October 4, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Hey Steve,

    Your exegesis is good. I’m with you, and I think we have the tools to share this information now in our post-cash society that preserve privacy and limit the potential for pride while at the same time helping to encourage generosity in our people.

    I’ve heard of staff teams at church sharing how much they give in a given week but giving the total figure from the whole staff team, rather than itemising it out. This way they cared for tender consciences, while at the same time leading from the front.  

  9. Steven Kryger

    October 6, 2011 at 6:40 am

    At church at the moment we’re thinking about how to encourage people to give. Like lots of churches, we don’t talk about giving a lot, and I’m thinking through what it looks like to speak about it, and model it, Biblically. Any ideas you have, I’d love to hear them!
    …Communicate Jesus
    digital inspiration for ministry
    http://www.communicatejesus.com
    http://www.twitter.com/communic8jesus

  10. david

    October 8, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    In one way you’re right – it’s about the motivation for giving, not about who knows. But in another way, Jesus is right. He knows how massively imperfect (and prideful) we are – and that the nanosecond we tell people how much we give is the nanosecond some of our motivation becomes to impress others (even if we cleverly try to re-brand it under the ‘accountability’ banner).

    Clearly the left hand – right hand thing is an expression/hyperbole. But if you ever try it (pretending that each hand can ‘see’ what the other is doing) you have to be pretty darn secretive. I think that’s Jesus point. If it’s not secret, how do we know motives are pure?

    Did you see Gruen Planet this week? It’s like the “pink” products. If companies just gave a portion of their normal product sales to cancer research (unnanounced) it would be because they care. But because they change their products to pink (in October) and thereby announce their giving, we know that they’re doing it to boost sales by enhancing their image.

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