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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — Our relationship with stewardship

When last we met, we were talking about the phenomenon of helping someone whose pledge checks are bouncing. This week, we shift focus slightly to the matter of whether *our* checks--or those from our churches--might bounce as well, and whether we should be expected to "pay our own salary."

Okay, so I know stewardship season is past for most of us. We are finishing a tally and discovering that we are well below last year's numbers. I have not turned in a pledge card yet because it feels a little bit awkward—knowing precisely that my pledge is one that could make up some of a gap in basics (like, say, my own salary). Should pastors pledge to their churches? Should we be a leader of the giving in our churches? (a tricky question, since no one will know where the money comes from!) I can't make up my mind about how to approach this, since I know that I'm basically paying myself when I pledge to my own church. I have other charitable organizations to which I give during the year, and another church (where I used to be a member before the whole being-a-pastor thing) to which I contribute, but I'm just not sure how to approach this pledging thing, especially this year when I'm so aware of the gap we have in current pledges and budget needs. Help!

Karen says:
Several years back I was in a similar uncomfortable position. The church board was discovering that actual money received was lagging a certain amount behind what had been pledged. A quick mental calculation on my part told me that my household's unpaid pledge balance made up for nearly half the gap. We had sustained a financial blow midyear and were not able to give what we'd planned. Only I and our treasurer would have been able to connect those dots, but still it felt very weird.

Regarding pledging to your own congregation--I do know several clergy who pledge to our denomination's general mission fund directly rather than to their own church, for the reasons you state. I feel differently. Rather than seeing our family's pledge as "paying my own salary" I look at it as contributing to the overall mission of the church--only part of which is paying staff to facilitate that mission.

Ann says
(note: I'm paraphrasing her slightly):
I think the pastor should pledge a percentage to the church where one is the pastor. It should be for your own spiritual health, not for other reasons, such as the budget gap—otherwise it's not stewardship, which is a year-round thing that is entrusted to you: Time, talent and treasure, as the saying goes. Decide the percentage first, rather than when you see the gap that exists.

Have any insights on this matter or the side concern that comes up--how do you meet the shortfall? Share them in comments, or if you're so inspired, write something up in your own blojavascript:void(0)g and share the link here.

We're looking for questions for upcoming weeks, as well. Send them to


  1. Previous pastors here have tithed (10%) of their salary back into the local congregation as a matter of course.

    It's not required - but it is encouraged. After all it's hard to preach on tithing if you are unwilling to do it yourself.

    I liked what Ann said - we should commit howmuch without looking at the budget because it's NOT about filling the gap or making ends meet. If the church is going better than expected would we slack off.

    Ourchurch also encourages giving - as God leads to other churches, projects, mission etc - over and above the tithe - and our previous pastor (now in another town) used to organise mission lunches as she loved making soup and it was a chance to hang out with people in the kitchen - we always raised a lot for charity (our project in Kenya) when we did that - but the fellowship was the best bit of all of it. We also received a lot as we worked together - also washing up. And we were men and women in the kitchen!!!

  2. OK, I'm not a member of the clergy, but I'm a licensed mental health counselor LMHC working for NY State as a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor CRC. I worked in private industry for 15 years before I got a masters degree and as I like to say, I was downwardly mobile. Way...
    I wanted to do a job with meaning.
    I got that and a big pay cut.

    I looked up salarys for pastors, and I know that you're not all pastors, and I used Ohio and NY for the states and I got 35,000 to 41,000 for average salaries. Girls, how do you live on this? Your parishioners should be making way more than you do. You are employees. Do not give money to your job. Give someplace else. You give time, heart, love, a lot of stuff that other employees only give to family.

    I've worked for a lot of non-profits and I've been tempted, but never done it. When I worked for NOW, I even gave up my membership.

    The Jewish folk have the right idea. They charge membership and pay their clergy a living wage.(In my partners shul over 6 figures for the head rabbi! The rabbis at my partners shul even have discrectionary funds that the membership can contribute to in lieu of, say, flowers for a funeral.

    You did not take a vow of poverty and you have familys-I've seen and heard about some of them. They have to eat, be sheltered and go to college.

    I know it sounds like a rant, but it's just the humble opinion of a Vocational Counselor.

  3. Hey, rant on, counselor in process, I'm all for arguing that clergy should be paid a living wage. I do not agree, though, that we should not be "giving money to our job." We are not giving money to our job, or paying ourselves - we are returning a portion of our earnings to God via the vessel of the local church. To me, this is a matter of faithfulness, trust, and gratitude. And also leadership.

    I believe in the tithe, which apparently puts me in a very tiny minority in my congregation. And dh and I give our tithe to our church - anything else we want to give to other charities would be over and above our tithe.

    To me this is absolutely a spiritual issue and not a budget issue. And because I want my congregants to learn this, I feel it is important for me to quite literally put my money where my mouth is. (not that they know who gives what - though the budget chair, treasurer, financial secretary, and statistician all do!) To me, it is a matter of integrity that I do the same thing I am hoping my parishioners will do.

    DH and I always do turn in a pledge card - we are the first, along with the stewardship committee chairperson. But our pledge is based on a tithe of our income - NOT on the church's budget needs. It's hard, b/c our budget/stewardship people always like to encourage people to raise their giving in proportion to whatever increases in budget needs there are. I don't care for this, since our giving is not about meeting budgets but about making our grateful and faithful response to God.

  4. I'm with you Earthchick. I also believe in the tithe, not for budget reasons, but for my own spiritual health. I suppose you could tithe to other organizations. I tithe to the church I serve - it makes it a lot easier to preach on tithing when I know I'm doing it. We've spent so much time hashing out giving as a spiritual discipline and not as a budgetary issue. I feel compelled to follow-up to all those sermons and discussions in the way that I hope my parishioners will. And, I have noticed a change in our treasurer's attitude - he's much more likely to listen to me about money because he knows what I give.

  5. I give to the church where I serve, as a matter of spiritual health. Also, why should anybody listen to what I say about stewardship unless I practice what I preach?

    Recently, the treasurer put together the stats on how many households give certain amounts. No names--just cold hard numbers. This way people could see where they fall in the giving continuum.

    I got some shocking news: Only two other households give as much we do. This is a congregation that is replete with luxury cars (many people have "winter cars" and "summer cars") and second homes. At any given moment I have at least one family that is vacationing on another continent.

    It was so telling, I can't even tell you.

  6. I confess that this was my question--and I too am all about giving as spiritual discipline. This year I was slow about getting my pledge card in (for a variety of reasons, most involving forgetfulness and a large pile of mail to procrastinate over) and so I knew about the problem before I handed mine in. However, we have a breakdown not unlike Cheesehead's, and SP and I are among the top pledgers and givers...which makes this a strange-feeling situation, I guess.
    We do not have the culture of giving-as-spiritual-discipline that I would like and I'm not sure how to cultivate that. I do pledge to my church and to my former church home, and to many other causes and organizations. This is the first year it's felt weird. I can't explain it, really....just a feeling.

  7. Maybe I'm the odd woman out on this, but I just don't feel right tithing/giving to my source of income. I do give a percentage of income, to other ministries of my denomination. And maybe I'll feel differently once I'm in a congregational leadership position -- right now I'm in seminary, and my diocese & congregation are providing some financial support.

    Actually, maybe I'll feel differently when I have an income.

    I don't know, though. I think there's part of me that feels more comfortable not giving into my own budget. It's not a discomfort with giving, per se. I don't know why exactly. Ideas?

  8. I have never had a paid ministry position and likely never will...but from the other side I can understand the weirdness about pledging to the church you serve. I also know I have great admiration for those of you that do and for the one RC pastor I knew that did so in my church in South Bend. As has been pointed our here, it puts credibility in preaching this as a moral obligation to others (though giving elsewhere does too, it's the example of giving that means most).

  9. I should also say I am in awe of anyone that tithes, which we haven't done in a long time--though we have spent large amounts of money toward my recovery from clergy sexual abuse as well as funding my ministry as both priest and theologian, both virtually completely unpaid, which counts for something.

    This makes me want to keep discerning how to increase our giving and simplicity of life, though, as we have been making efforts toward especially in the past year. So thank you.

  10. Sistahs, OF COURSE you give to your parish! Yes, we don't make a decent wage. We didn't get into this business to make a living! We got into this business because we couldn't do anything else--by that I mean that God called us to it and we can't know God's joy unless we are doing the Rev.thing.

    Granted, we have to provide for our families and all that, but the witness of Christ is that he gave it all away! I tithe off the top to the parish and yes I give to other things as well. But the parish comes first. You are not giving to the parish--you are giving to the community that God called you to--the one that called you to give your all.

  11. We have always tithed on my husband's salary (non-church employment) to the congregation we are part of, and on mine (pastor) to the wider church.

    It came about after one of our children saw the check to the church and said, "they get you all the time, why do they get our money too?" I wanted them to think about the bigger picture of giving to God's work so we began including them in deciding where our giving should go. This then evolved into our current system. In general they have chosen things that the congregation also supports, so the dollars could go through the congregation and end up in the same place, but they loved sending the checks to their summer camp, or the couple they knew in Africa.

    I have great admiration for those who are able to tithe to the local congregation AND do other giving, but this is what works for us now.

  12. I always need to be a little careful when I get on my salary kick here in my small congregation.

    While my education and experience may afford more in the capitalist market, I am working in a non-profit where 3/4 of the people have never had this kind of steady income. Most of the world makes alot less than me.

    I thought for a while on how put this, and I don't intend to preach, but really, it's just money.

    Take it off the top of your check or give what you have left after the bills, pledge it or budget it, but don't memorialize it or worry over it. (think of it paying for the heat) it's just money, let it go.

  13. We tithe. When I preach tithing I can say, We tithe. I can say it's hard but it gets easier. Which is true. Yes, we give at the top end, and I think many families make a lot more money. But the giving has gone steadily up over 6 years. We now have other tithing families. I don't know, is this really such a complicated subject? Shouldn't we practice what we preach?

  14. Hey, I contribute to my salary since I am a taxpayer, and an educator.
    Don't know if that is a legitimate comparison or not.

    After church, we rotate as "tellers" at our church, and though I have no idea how much folks pledge, I get a very narrow look at what a sampling of pledges are. Again, I have no idea if these are weekly pledges, monthly, quarterly, etc.

    However, I am awed at the generosity of folks and, when I have seen our rector's contribution for that week, it gives me the feeling of completion, that all orders of ministry, from laity to clergy, financially contribute to keep the doors open. I would find it curious if they did not contribute and wonder why?.

  15. I don't QUITE tithe...we don't insist on it, sometimes I wish we did.
    But I have heard experienced clergy say that a parish is in trouble when the clergy are in the top ten percent of the identifiable givers.
    I certainly have parishioners that make 4 or 5 times what I make as full-time clergy. They don't tithe either. Their excuse (this is generic, not tied to specific individuals) -- "give away THAT MUCH money? do you KNOW how much I make? NO WAY I'm giving away 10% of that!" (and we don't need no stinkin' logic, gringo)

  16. Interestingly enough my 16 yo was just asking me why I pledged to the church that pays my salary.

    For me, pledging (and I'm working toward the tithe,at about 5% now) is about my relationship with God and my call to give back from the first fruits of what is entrusted to me. It's much less about paying salaries, etc. even though I know that's where the money goes.

    That's what I teach about stewardship and it would be hypocritical of me not to do what I say I believe about pledging.

  17. We did not tithe to our church when I was in full-time ministry for a number of reasons. Mostly because we lived paycheck to paycheck on my salary while my husband was in grad school. I always, always carried guilt around about that and my heart hurt when I talked to children about stewardship of their money because I wasn't doing it myself. Since last fall, we've been doing the same thing thatwhat who me? does and tithe on my husband's income and use whatever I bring in to contribute to charity. I agree that it's a matter of faithfulness plus it's only right that I practice what I preach.

  18. I agree with muthah+ that when we give to the parish we are not "paying our salaries" or even "giving to the church" but supporting the ministry of the congregation that we serve. And, if we are doing it -- that ministry goes out into the community and beyond.
    However, I hear the awkwardness for some...

  19. I am with cheesehead and others who find themselves in the top bracket of givers in the church (judging from the graphs the statistician puts together). It is discouraging, really, given how affluent our congregation seems to be. The congregation considers themselves generous, but clearly the vast majority do not tithe or we would never EVER have any problem meeting a budget (as we do for 2008 - we have already had to make cuts b/c our pledges didn't meet our projected needs).

    FWIW, I think the reason I am able to tithe as an adult is that I was taught to as a child. It was pretty easy to start tithing on my $3 allowance. Each time I got a bump in my allowance, I was expected to continue giving 10%. It would've been a lot harder if I had tried starting as an adult, with an adult income, b/c then a tithe seems like quite a lot. Makes me wonder what other spiritual disciplines our children would benefit from being steeped in from a very early age. Let's hear it for our Christian Educators and others who help form our children in the faith!

    [and p.s. to "who me?" - hey you!!]

  20. re: tithing -- there was a man who was poor and said to God - I will tithe if you make me successful -- so he started tithing - he got very rich - he said to God - can I stop tithing now - it is too much? God says - No but I can make you poor again so you can afford to tithe. Bad theology but it makes me laugh.

  21. I'm a quarter time local pastor in a very small Methodist church.

    I've been tithing quarterly until the end of last year when it was either give my tithe or pay for the Course of Study classes I'm required to take. The local congregation does not allow any moneys towards my continuing education or books in its budget. My COS classes and books that are required eat away 2-3 full months of salary for me.

    I'm in a quandry over this as I believe we should tithe. My husband does not believe we should tithe and end up paying my own salary and does not tithe to the church. He gives towards special things that come up, but he does not make a regular contribution.

    Becoming a pastor is a late life answer to a long-time call for me and we are looking at college for our son in two years. I'm struggling with the tithing issue...

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  23. I tithe as a spiritual discipline as a way to thank God for all the blessings that God has given me. A large chunk of my tithe goes to the congregation I serve and the rest go to charitable organizations.

    However my struggle is in how I paying the church as I do my monthly bill paying.

    Recently I had some unexpected financial difficulty, I had to fix the car and my cat got sick and I had to pay the vet - btw Cat has chronic kidney failure and I have to take her to the vet every couple of weeks for comfort care :'(

    I don't pay the church off the top and so for a few months I paid the church under my pledge amount. Fortunately at Christmas, I received cash gifts from my family and so I was able catch up on my pledge, but what do I do in the future when I bump up against this conundrum. Fortunately or unfortunately God doesn't have a collection agency.

  24. I appreciate the comments and the struggles you've had with tithing. Yes, we have been chosen for a vocation that is never going to pay top dollar, but then hey, if one goes into ministry with the same approach as one would a secular career, I predict burnout is already on the horizon.

    I'm a second career pastor, and I do tithe. Mine's a little different, as I serve four congregations, so I just divide the tithe by four and make one check to each congregation for the month. It's part of my partnership in ministry with them and my commitment to God.

    I'm also a single parent, one daughter in college, and one 14-year-old who still thinks money does grow on trees somewhere in the Amazon rain forest, and there's sometimes more month than money, but it always works somehow, and I trust God to be faithful with my life as I'm faithful with the gifts God's given me.

    For those of you on the revised common lectionary, we'll get to Matthew 6:24-34 on May 25th. Remember these thoughts as you approach this stewardship text.


  25. I'm not clergy, but I worked for a non-profit for over six years. The other staff and board wanted to make a rule that everyone had to contribute financally to the organization.

    I was deeply oppossed to that. I found it very wearing to work unpaid overtime (comp time) and then be asked to give a part of my salary back to the organization. I believed in their cause, but I also believe that the organization needs to be able to pay its bills without a subsidy from its empolyees. It is too easy for non-profits (and I inculde churches in this) to develop an expectation that staff will give in the form of time and treasure (they should be hired for their talent) and I found that to be soul-destroying.

    Doing something because you are called to do it is important, but so is a living wage.

    I did like the idea of giving based on the non-church employed spouse's income. Perhaps if I had thought of it that way it would have been less disheartening.


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