Does Your Pastor Have a Secret Bank Account?

by Brad Harmon on January 10, 2011 in Stewardship

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/bluestocking

Perhaps the first thought that popped into your head after reading this question was “No, my pastor would never have a secret bank account.”  There’s just something about the word “secret” that brings a negative connotation to the idea, isn’t there?  National headlines about televangelists committing fraud, or pastors misusing their church’s funds, have certainly played a major role in creating these negative feelings over the years.

The truth, of course, is that most of our religious leaders carry out their roles with the highest ethical and moral standards.  Even so, should they have a secret bank account from which they can write checks without having to report on their expenditures to the church or some committee within the church?  I might surprise some of you with this answer, but I say unequivocally YES.  Not only should they have one, but you should strongly consider setting one up for them.

Jesus Said to Give to the Poor in Secret

Okay, let me explain.  This isn’t some sort of a hush fund or playing around money for your pastor, but rather a tool you provide your pastor to help those in need.  When Jesus talked about giving to to the poor, He said we should do so in secret not drawing attention to ourselves.

1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. – Matthew 6:1-4

Your church may operate differently, but the churches where I’ve been a member have always had a monthly business meeting where the finances of the church are discussed in some detail.  Some have had benevolence funds, and some have given a certain amount of leeway to the pastor to make these expenditures from the general fund.  In both cases, the details of these expenditures where either made available or specifically addressed in the business meeting.

I’m a strong proponent that church finances be as transparent as possible, but I’m also sensitive to the embarrassment recipients must feel by having their name and circumstances trumpeted before the congregation.  I wonder if Jesus wasn’t also thinking about this when He said to give in secret?  Think about it.  If you were in need would you want it announced at your church’s business meeting?

Why Hand Over Your Purse to Your Pastor?

You could just make these expenditures directly to the person in need.  How would you find those in need though?  Pastors have a unique opportunity to find the needs of your congregation and the surrounding community.  They receive phone calls and visits from people in need on a daily basis.

These requests can be as simple as needing groceries to last until a paycheck arrives, money to keep the utilities from being shut off, a new tire for the car so they can get to work, or an air conditioner for an elderly person in a 100 plus degree heat wave.  Maybe the request is more complicated like money to travel to a loved one’s funeral, help with paying someone’s rent to avoid eviction, or paying the copay for someone needing medical assistance.

How it must grieve your pastor’s, and God’s, heart to turn these people away in their hour of need.  Your church may already have a fund in place for these types of needs that also protects the dignity of the recipients.  If so, great.  I would venture to guess that most churches do not though.  Talk to your pastor and see if these types of requests are being met in your church.  If they’re not, a secret bank account for your pastor would be a great tool to meet them.

Who Should Set Up a Secret Bank Account?

This type of giving should be above your tithes and offerings.  It should not take their place.  If you’re a successful business owner, or just someone whom God has blessed financially, then you are an ideal person to provide this tool to your pastor.  You also should have a good relationship built with your pastor as this tool involves a lot of trust from both of you.

Have a candid discussion with your pastor about what types of requests are being turned away, and how he would respond differently to those requests if provided this tool.  Some pastors will be leery of using such a tool because of the strings that are generally attached when someone offers money.  This is why having a good relationship is critical.

You will also need to be able to commit to a periodic deposit amount to the account for a specified period of time.  If your pastor has to constantly check to see if there’s any money in the account then it’s not going to be an effective tool.  I’d suggest starting at $500 per month with a one year commitment.  This won’t be a tool that many in the congregation will be able to provide your pastor.

Secret Bank Account Guidelines

Here are some suggestions about creating and maintaining this secret bank account to keep in mind:

  • Remember, it’s a secret.  Don’t go blabbing to everyone about this great tool you gave the pastor.  Don’t blow your own trumpet (Matt 6:1-4).
  • Make it simple for your pastor to use.  Open a checking account just for this fund, make deposits on the same day every month, and make your pastor an authorized signer on the account.  Provide your pastor with a checkbook.
  • Discuss what type of expenditures you would like to be made from the account, but give your pastor discretion to use the account as God directs.  Avoid asking about direct expenditures or the specifics of someone’s financial situation.  You have to trust your pastor for this tool to work.
  • Meet with your pastor on a quarterly basis to discuss the effectiveness of this tool, any needs the pastor sees that are still unmet, and to pray together that God provide wisdom and bless how the fund is used.
  • Pray daily for your pastor and for potential recipients of the funds that Christ may be seen in a very real, and tangible, way in their lives.

Another way to implement this would be through the use of gift cards.  You could purchase $50 gift cards to your local supermarket and give those to your pastor to give away.  If you wanted to give your pastor the same freedom as a checking account then you could use prepaid $50 or $100 AMEX, Visa, or Mastercards.

If you’re a pastor, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this tool.  Would you use it?  Is there a need for something like this in your congregation?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

David Rupert January 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Brad

i like this idea … They need to have a little discretionary fund, instead of making everything run through the bureacracy of the church leaders

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Brad Harmon January 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

It’s a great tool that business owners or financially blessed people can give to their pastors, but the gift card option is something that anyone could do. Giving your pastor the option to grant these material needs is a great way to show Christ’s love and open the door to their spiritual needs. Allowing the freedom to just be able to write a check on the spot is a tool I think a pastor would love to have.
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DiscipleshipGuy February 18, 2011 at 1:51 am

Very interesting idea. I really like the idea of having congregation members taking the lead on this and setting it up. It seems like there are always people in need, this would be a great way to meet some of those needs.
DiscipleshipGuy recently posted..Matthew’s Mind- Who do You Think God is

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Brad Harmon February 20, 2011 at 1:03 am

It’s such a great way for a pastor to show God’s love instantly when the Spirit speaks. Thanks for the comment.
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DiscipleshipGuy February 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Brad,

I was talking to a pastor the other day, right after I read your blog, and he told me that his church tithes off of their tithe. We never talked about your blog post, but his point was that they use 10% of whatever incoming tithe they receive, as a way of the church tithing. Now you could set this up anyway you want, but their church usually uses this money on their own congregations needs first, then other churches/ministries as they are led.

I think that this would be a great way to set up an account. Say for larger churches you could use 10-20% of incoming tithes for the pastor to use on his congregation, without the tape. This is of course if your church is not already tithing. Many people may question whether a church should tithe or not, but I strongly believe they should, this idea would help keep some funds for people in house who are struggling. If your church is already tithing on their tithe then there may not be room for this, and maybe you go with business owners funding this account. This was yet another creative way to allow a pastor the freedom to meet the needs of the church.
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Brad Harmon February 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

It seems like fewer churches have benevolence funds set up anymore, Matthew. It’s always nice to hear about one that does. Big churches seem to do a great job with this, and the Catholic churches have always had strong charitable giving outreaches. I just don’t see much of this in the average <1,000 member protestant churches across the United States.

It’s an interesting idea, but I wonder how many churches would allow up to 20% of their budget to be spent without oversight or reporting.

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david December 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm

The pastor has a secret account. It’s a personal checking account and I bet the church makes regular deposits to it already. You are taking Matthew 6 out of context. Matthew 6 is talking about benevolence as a means to be seen and admired. There is no harm in a small benevolence committee handling benevolence needs so that everyone handling money is accountable AND protected. A certain number of churches who implement this policy will have it blow up in their faces through misuse or perception of misuse, and there is no reason for it and no value in its operation.

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