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This is a very hard question that many in and out of church leadership ask. Although there is no explicit biblical position, I believe it is implicit because of at least two New Testament passages. Certainly it's not a precept, and there are Old Testament examples where people did know what other people gave and there was encouragement to follow the sacrificial giving of leaders. On the other hand, there are principles that suggest confidentiality is the wisest course of action.

One of the reasons arguing for giving confidentiality is the human tendency toward favoritism and elevating men. Giving "special attention" to the wealthy is viewed as "discriminating among yourselves" and becoming "judges with evil thoughts" (James 2:4).

We tend to do this with the wealthy anyway, but especially if we are aware of them being the ones from whom we can most benefit financially. We have vested interests in them in a way we wouldn't with a poor man. To a certain extent, of course, the temptation toward this is inevitable—but to a certain extent it is avoidable. It would present enough of a temptation to church leaders to be shown the annual income of every church member.

Of course, there's no way this would happen, but if it were an option I think we should refuse it—the temptation to sin with partiality in the sense of James 2 would be too great. But in my mind this temptation is much greater when we choose to make ourselves aware of how much people give. It is high givers more than high income people to whom pastors will have the greatest temptation toward kissing up, honoring, impressing and giving extra time.

You see this in Christian colleges where buildings and wings and dorms are named after big givers, not only to honor them but to foster more of their generosity. Also common is adding rich people to boards and building committees and putting on special luncheons to court them and let them hobnob with us and each other. But in the church, where a sheep is a sheep, and it is important to not have first class sheep, second class, third class, this is particularly dangerous.

The danger of leaders consciously or unconsciously favoring the big giver over the small to the detriment of the church family is huge. Big givers are also hurt because since their leaders know how much they give they will be tempted to fall into the pride trap Jesus addressed in Matthew 6:

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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."

The more others know about our giving to the church, the greater temptation there is to please and impress others rather than God. The Bible tells us of three good things which we're specifically told to do in secret—give, pray and fast. So the proper analogy, in light of Matthew 6, would be this: If we are going to monitor people's giving, will we also monitor their praying and fasting, which are equally matters of obedience? No, we would not, and hopefully not just because it isn't practical and as measurable, but because it isn't right, it isn't helpful and it isn't biblical.

It isn't good for church people for their leaders to know what they give (Matthew 6), and it isn't good for leaders to know what people give (James 2). In either case, it isn't an absolute prohibition, but it is an extremely wise practice, so much so that I think it is clearer than it appears at first glance. The upside of holding people accountable by knowing what they give I think is biblically outweighed by the downsides of their temptation to give to impress us (thereby robbing them of reward) and our temptation to elevate and court and give special attention to them because of their financial value to our salaries, church building project, etc. (thereby robbing us of reward).

In each case the temptation is to take our eyes off God, the Audience of One, and put them on men who become the objects whom we try to impress or please (instead of God) or on whom we depend for financial provision (instead of God).

Sure, there are some potential benefits for knowing who gives what. But most of these are accomplished by general giving patterns that don't identify individuals and therefore don't expose them and us to unnecessary temptation. This information is enough to say "40 percent of you give nothing, and another 30 percent give less than what would be a tithe off minimum wage. This tells us there's a disobedience problem; now let's address it."

In fact, even if leaders weren't tempted to honor big givers and slight little ones, and even if people weren't tempted to impress others by their giving—and both of these are certainly the case—there would be a huge problem in the interpretation of the data. Since we don't know people's income and expenses and giving to other places, we're left to guess in our appraisal of someone's obedience and spirituality.

I knew a church family with multiple children that lived on $12,000 a year. If their giving for the year was 20 percent, a double tithe, it would only be $2,400, not nearly enough to make it on any "big giver" list. In fact, leaders might notice their name wasn't on the list and draw the conclusion "I guess they're just not committed."

Another family gave $20,000 to the church one year, so they come out high on the givers list. But their income is $400,000 a year, plus they received an inheritance of four million dollars that year. Their $20,000 is not generous; it isn't even close to obedience. It's pocket change that offends God—yet it impresses us, and we might ask them to serve on the building committee or invite them to a special big givers' party! Since there's no way to know all the facts, we misjudge people terribly.

Pastors and board members of your church would never see on a list the poor widow of Mark 12, but they would see on the list the rich men who clanged in their big offerings before her, as well as the rich fool of Luke 12 (who probably tithed but spent the 90 percent selfishly). What does that tell you about how God views the people on the list and not on the list?

While we cannot avoid all temptation (e.g., toward lust), we are always wise to avoid what temptation we can. Yes, we will always have temptations to judge and misjudge people in the Body of Christ. But why set up leaders for unnecessary temptation (of the sort of Matthew 6 and James 2) by knowing who big givers are and aren't? In my mind, the upside is minimal compared to the downside. As Luther said, "You can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair."

Bottom line, though I know it isn't explicit, I think the clear weight of New Testament principles, when it comes to money and giving and avoiding partiality in the body of Christ is that church leaders should not know who gives what to the church.

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Richard Scotland

commented on Nov 12, 2014

I came across a church with a giving board and I am not sure I had a single good thought about it. Our giving should be as anonymous as possible, though in the UK there are tax reasons which mean at least one other person can with good reason know what you give. I would rather not know what others give, though we did a survey once where people were grouped into bands. That was illuminative!

Bob Almond

commented on Nov 12, 2014

Interesting - I'm minister of a Baptist church in the UK, and I've been in ministry 30 years; I don't know of a single church here where the pastor knows what individual givers are giving. If that happens in the US, then I certainly wouldn't want to know.

John Gerlach

commented on Nov 12, 2014

Well thought out case. However, the major thrust of the argument is that knowing how much a family gives is a temptation too great. 1 Cor. 10:13 reminds us that God will provide a way out of our temptations. Immature Christians should probably be kept away from this type of information, but for mature Christians it is important to know the Spiritual Health and Maturity of those we are placing into leadership positions in the church. We inquire about prayer life, worship attendance, small group attendance etc. when selecting leaders - these help us understand the spiritual maturity of our leaders. Financial giving as a percentage of income also helps us understand spiritual maturity. It's important information that must be used carefully and discretely.

Michael Dissmore

commented on Nov 12, 2014

I don't know what our attendees give and have given instruction to the treasurer not to tell me. I also tell the congregation from time to time that I don't know and don't want to know. The only exception is with board members. If a member is not tithing, they shouldn't be a board member for a variety of reasons. I chair the nominating committee and run the list of potential candidates past the treasurer to see if they're qualified in this regard. Without giving details, the treasurer will approve or disapprove each one. I don't like that part of the process, but I don't know any other way. Does anyone have another suggestion?

Byron Sherman

commented on Nov 12, 2014

Good plan! Thanks for the insight.

Keith B

commented on Nov 12, 2014

Why? The tithe is not a New Testament concept.

Darin Stambaugh

commented on Nov 12, 2014

yes it is, Matt 23.23

Keith B

commented on Nov 13, 2014

No...Matthew 23:23 says nothing about tithing. It actually says that the Pharisees were good at giving, but neglected the work of God. Yes--we SHOULD be giving...but the NT does not prescribe a tithe.

Darin Stambaugh

commented on Nov 15, 2014

It has the word tithe in it!!! how can it not be about tithing? You can't rewrite the Word to suit your theology. We must read it and teach it as it is, not as we wish it would be.

Keith B

commented on Nov 15, 2014

Darin, do you understand the difference between a prescriptive and a descriptive text? If you think Matthew 23:23 is telling us to tithe, do you instruct your people that they should also do it in mint and dill?

Tim Richards

commented on Nov 12, 2014

I have always subscribed to the point of view you argue in this well thought out article and my congregation knows that I don't know what they give and don't want to know. However, I've known other godly pastors who believed that we need to know because we shouldn't put a person into a leadership position if they aren't giving at all, or are giving well below even a title on a basic income.

Donald L Herrick

commented on Nov 12, 2014

I strongly disagree with the advice given, at least as it applies to a small church where the pastor is of necessity involved with the budget and nominating committee processes. I am full-time pastor of such a church in the inner city. I know what each person gives every week and have never been tempted to spend extra time or give extra honor or attention to those who give the most. In fact, over the years I've found that it's almost always the poorest people who require the most time and attention. I don't resent that as my goal is to minister to each person as they have needs. I attempt to know everything possible about every person and family in the church and daily my wife and I pray for each of their needs. If one of their needs is to be more faithful stewards, we pray about that too. God answers those prayers with the result that we have very high per capita mission giving and can afford a full-time pastor. I recommend people for certain offices with their percentage giving (not dollar giving) in mind. If I had a capable person who was not a giver, would I want him as treasurer, financial secretary, finance committee member or deacon? Of course not. But I can avoid that mistake only by knowing what he gives and approximately what he makes. The more information a pastor has about every aspect of his people's lives the better intercessor and pastor he can be.

Doug Knox

commented on Nov 12, 2014

Amen. I agree completely. I have known pastors who insist on knowing what their members give. While I cannot say categorically that such a practice leads to manipulation and coercion, I have not seen anything else to be the case. By all meas, preach responsible giving, but remember that the laborer's primary duty is not to be rewarded. It is to serve.

Jerry Chiasson

commented on Nov 12, 2014

If it's gray stay away.....as one pastor put it to me ...now as a pastor I pass it on.....

Keith B

commented on Nov 12, 2014

I don't know how much each family gives, nor do I really care. It's not something that a pastor needs to know, in my opinion.

Richard Scotland

commented on Nov 13, 2014

I have not read any comment that makes me think that knowing who gives what is a good idea. The idea of checking if a person tithes, meaning I need to know what they give but also what they earn, seems even worse!

Jeff Ecklund

commented on Nov 13, 2014

I don't know who tithes/gives in our congregation, but if we are considering adding an Elder, a lay pastor etc I will ask if they are partnered with us financially. It's lack of integrity to put someone in a position of governing and stewarding the churches finances if their "nickel" is not in the pot. I also believe tithing is a New Testament principle. Mathew 23:23 does address tithing. Jesus said "these things you SHOULD have done without neglecting the others" (tithe reference). A couple other observations regarding N.T. principles...One is that people did know in the Jewish culture who was tithing....How did they know and accuse Jesus of hanging out and eating with un-tithed food unless there was some recognition? Also, the N.T. church was primarily a Jewish congregation and the concept and principle of tithing was well established. So basically things that were problems were addressed, and tithing was not one of them! Finally, Jesus never lowered the bar or standard. Before if you committed adultery it was sin, now if you THINK it is is sin...etc...

John Fitzpatrick

commented on Nov 13, 2014

Great article and discussiondiscusdion, it is great to have differing perspectives. .I do ascribe to the idea that knowing my leaders are tithers..how can teach others to tithe but my leaders don't...also I am mire concerned aboutthose who don't tithe and would want to know why? Perhaps more teaching is required etc... How do you say you have the heart of the mi iatry and the vision of he church but don'tdon't tithe..where a mans treasure is there is his heart..as for the tithe issue my version of Bible in math 23:23 says tithe not "giving"..further..tithing is not an old testAment or new testament principle its a biblical principle. A kingdom principle...thebiblical tithe was in the beginning and has Remained

Keith B

commented on Nov 15, 2014

Do you instruct them to tithe mint and dill?

John Fitzpatrick

commented on Nov 15, 2014

they were agricultural then and some only had crops so we dont go to banks know with mint and dill our currency is money.. just like the scriptures that deal with barns and vasts.. we know today thats our bank accounts etc..

John Fitzpatrick

commented on Nov 15, 2014

we can learn from both prescriptive and descriptive.. also..and reach the same principle.

Keith B

commented on Nov 15, 2014

But the text does not say that believers should tithe. It only says that the Pharisees DID tithe. You're reading into it.

John Fitzpatrick

commented on Nov 13, 2014

Great article and discussion, it is great to have differing perspectives. .I do ascribe to the idea tha we should know if our members (my leaders) are tithers..how can I teach others to tithe but my leaders don't...also I am concerned about those who don't tithe and would want to know why? Perhaps more teaching is required etc... How do you say you have the heart of the ministry and the vision of the church but don't tithe?..where a mans treasure is there is his heart..as for the tithe issue my version of Bible in math 23:23 says tithe not "giving"..further..tithing is not an old testAment or new testament principle its a biblical principle. A kingdom principle...thebiblical tithe was in the beginning and has Remained

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