With so much focus on the “big issue” we often forget that the General Conference does all manner of other things.  Perhaps one of the most overlooked changes regards an addition to paragraph 340: Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors.  Currently 340.2.c.(2)(c) reads, “To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation.”  Beginning on January 1, the new paragraph shall read “To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation. To ensure membership care including compliance with charitable giving documentation requirements and to provide appropriate pastoral care, the pastor, in cooperation with the financial secretary, SHALL have access to and responsibility for professional stewardship of congregational giving records.”

In other words, it is now the responsibility of the pastor to know what people give to their local church.  The new language was overwhelmingly approved 761-21 which could cause one to think that this change will be uncontroversial.  Well, perhaps there was near unity at the General Conference (on at least this issue!), but I doubt if in practice the new pastoral responsibility shall be so warmly received.  No doubt, many pastors already are given access to giving records.  It may come as a surprise to those churches that some clergy do not know what members and constituents give.  But to many more local churches this new duty may be less than welcomed.

The rationale for the Disciplinary change was as follows: “Giving is part of our membership covenant with God and the Church, which deserves careful stewardship by pastors and financial secretaries. Pastoral leadership for member care, congregational vitality, and mission capacity improves significantly when congregations include the pastor in stewardship of donor relationships and share knowledge about congregational resources.”

As clergy navigate the consequences of this new responsibility, it seems to me that it will be very important to keep that rationale front and center.  Even though when I pastored it was not my practice to review the giving records, I have come to believe that there are important pastoral reasons for knowing.  Two come readily to mind.

First, changes in giving may signal more than how pleased (or unpleased) the giver is with the direction of the church.  Something much more important than “how do you like me now” may be at play.  Decreases in giving may be the clearest indication that some form of financial setback has occurred.  Perhaps there has been an illness or a job problem.  Perhaps an aging parent or a child is in need of money which the giver did not anticipate when they thought through their stewardship commitment.   On top of all this, the giver who has decreased their gift may feel guilty or even be ashamed of themselves.  These givers should not bear such a burden alone.  Good pastoral care may assure such a person that Christ’s love is not based upon how much they give.

Second, I have come to believe that giving is one of the clearest indicators of our Wesleyan understanding of what it means to be “made perfect in love.”  Our willingness to share those things which we value most (and for many of us, that certainly includes our money) is a very strong indicator of our seriousness to follow Jesus in the way of the cross.  It is most certainly not easy work, but pastors need to challenge their people to follow our Lord beyond what is easy and convenient.  Knowing what people give and their knowing that the pastor knows may very well create opportunities for people to assess how serious they are about the faith.  Now, what I said above, holds true here.  God does not love us more when we increase our giving.  God’s love for you and me is already complete; it does not wane or ebb based upon our response to grace.  In other words, Jesus does not draw nearer when we open our wallets!  But at the same time, when we do open our wallets wider, it may very well be the case that we are also opening ourselves wider to a more profound understanding of the depths of God’s remarkable love for the world.  And why would we want to withhold that blessing from anyone?

So, January 1 is coming.  Are you ready for your new responsibility?  If I or the Foundation may be of any help in this or any other financial matter, please do not hesitate to call on us.