How do you respond when someone in your church is ready to give of their talents to you, Pastor, as part of their gift to the church? This week, a pastor is blessed by an offer she might have to refuse. Or does she? Let’s hear her story:

Dear Matriarchs:

There is a very wonderful, good-natured retired man in our church who is one of those treasures we all hope for. He organizes the monthly men’s breakfast. He seems to be where help and support is needed, and he is actually helpful and supportive! His wife is also a jewel.

As he and I sat together during my community office hours, he confessed to me that they don’t feel they are able to raise their pledge to the church. So, what he has done in the past was to offer to do simple home repairs and “work around the house” for the pastor as a way to give to the church. He also said his wife has done baking and sewing for pastors and their spouses as well.

I had no response, but now I’m thinking: There is so much right with them, yet there is so much wrong with this. 

Help, Matriarchs! How do I sort this out? How do I affirm their faithfulness and generosity while keeping appropriate boundaries as their pastor?

Sincerely,

 Very Blessed Pastor

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There are a few layers to this question. Let’s hear from our Matriarchs:

Dear Blessed,

Talk about a both/and situation! I came out of seminary in the high season of boundaries, and I didn’t want to take *any* help from anyone in my congregation. I remember suffering over the need for help with a flat tire on a car that was a loaner – so, mom of 3, car in shop, loaner gets a flat on Sunday, church member offers to help – I was in a jam and accepted the assistance, but I felt bad about it.

I wouldn’t feel bad about that today. The problem is not whether it’s okay for people to be generous, but whether we have the sense to know how much is too much. 

The interesting thing in your story is that the couple sees service to the pastor as a way of supplementing a financial gift to the church. Once upon a time people did a lot of that. They brought the pastor eggs or chickens, or cut the pastor’s hair for free at the local barber shop, or supplied firewood to the parsonage, maybe even worked on the pastor’s car. It sounds old-fashioned and maybe rural, but it wasn’t really all that long ago that it was common practice. Given the barter economy millennials find necessary, we may be headed back in that direction. 

The bottom line in your scenario is this: what’s your gut saying about Mr. and Mrs. Jewel? Not your intellectual, boundary-trained mind or your pastoral heart, but your gut? Trust your intuition. If you decide it’s wise to redirect their gifts for service, do it by inviting them to participate in a mission that requires similar skills. If they do, then later on (possibly much later on) say, “Isn’t it wonderful that your gifts are being shared more widely?” I would recommend that gracious redirection as a form of telling it slant. If you directly said, “I can’t take your help, but you could cook for ___ or do chores for ___ as part of your ministry to and on behalf of the church,” you might well hurt feelings, which doesn’t feel like what you want to do here. 

Bless you and bless the Jewels, too,

Martha Spong

Executive Director, RevGalBlogPals

http://marthaspong.com

Dear Blessed One. 

Huh. How sweet. 

 I am wondering if there is a way to redirect their generosity to the greater good of the congregation?  Are there small projects around the church he can tinker upon?  Could baking become part of pastoral care ministry?  Like, maybe she could provide baked goods that you could take to visit parishioners, or a whole lay ministry might be formed out of that.  Possibilities are endless, and I know that if they are your treasures, they will be delighted to see how the stewardship of their gifts can be a blessing to all!

RevKarla

Dear Blessed-

In the way back when, gifts of these kind were more typical than they are today. However, in the 1980’s all the house repairs on the parsonage were done by members and I received some very interesting gifts, including ground meat, from parishioners who could only afford to give “in kind” gifts at the time.

Clearly this couple understands that their stewardship of time and talent has value.  It sounds like the dilemma is whether or not you feel comfortable receiving what feels like personal gifts as a professional benefit. To refuse the offer completely would probably jeopardize your relationship with two very active and committed church members. So how can you accept their offer while maintaining your sense of professional boundaries?  Would it be possible to ask that these same kinds of gifts be given to the congregation rather than the pastor? Are there choir robes that need mending?  Can the wife be on call to prepare food for funerals or other events when the need arises? Are there repairs at the church that have gone unattended? Or even just an assessment of what “might” need to be done?  Are there classroom tables that need some new bolts or screws? Is there a bulletin board that just needs to be taken down?  Or bathrooms that need to be painted?

To take things in another direction, what would Paul have done in a similar situation? Or Timothy? 

Blessings on your discernment!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath sometimes known as RevHRod 

Dear Very Blessed Pastor,

A lovely offer with a rather frayed boundary. Could you counter his offer to you to fix your house and mend your clothes with the request that you will pass along needs in the congregation as you come across them? Small repairs and house help could be wonderful for those in the congregation who could use a bit of help.

Grateful for your ministry, St. Casserole

Dear Blessed Pastor,

You are blessed to have church members who are so faithful and give of their time and talents. I think it is wonderful that your church member felt safe enough with you to share about his pledging and giving.

I do think it is a great idea to have church members give back to the church and community through  common acts of service and labor. And I believe it is more than appropriate to give talents instead of more tithing.

The conflict is, of course, that they want to do it for you, the Pastor. This does create a tension and conflict for you.

Maybe you could affirm the offering of his labor and gifts yet suggest that it be opened up to people in the church family or in the community rather than for you.

Blessings on your discernment!

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

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Thank you, Matriarchs, for your creative, wise and thoughtful responses!

What about you, dear Reader? What have you done in a similar situation?
Please join the conversation in the comments below.

Do you have a burning question, sticky situation or ministry dilemma? The Matriarchs are ready to help!

Send your question to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

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4 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Giving to the Church by Helping Out the Pastor

  1. Is there an unspoken assumption on the part of these members that financial gifts to the church are mainly to pay the pastor’s salary? Maybe a conversation about the many ministries people’s offerings support could open their awareness of more ways to help.

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  2. I see why you feel uncomfortable accepting their offer, but I also see that as long as you can persuade them to offer their gifts to the church as a whole, as well as you, it can be as well as, not instead of! You are, after all, a member of the Body of Christ just like them, and they are as much needed as you are. My husband, who is cynical, would say more so – he says ministers come, and ministers go, but the church goes on…..

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  3. i am wondering if there is some concern on their part that they are not able to give enough financially, and are trying to make up for that.

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  4. That’s my congregation! My thoughts align with Martha’s. It’s possible the couple doesn’t realize the complications this creates, because it’s a model that hasn’t entirely disappeared from small rural churches, especially those outside of structures that govern clergy compensation. I know of churches where such contributions still make ministry financially feasible, and where such informality enables the congregation to bypass much of the financial detail of ministry and just connect helpers to needs.

    For those of us in churches with more formal compensation package, when such contributions to the pastor go beyond token Christmas gifts and thank offerings, they sometimes create the perception (and occasionally the reality) of additional compensation and benefits that have not been negotiated or approved, and that can breed resentment as well as horrendous tax complications. It’s probably one thing to have someone laundering and mending the manse drapes annually, and another to send all your laundry to that person weekly for washing, folding and ironing. (Confession: I covet that.)

    Even when the efforts are directed toward the work of the church, they can create budgetary challenges, although that’s true of donations in general. Besides the obvious “model grace,” here are my suggestions, from a church that still slips into that mode:

    1) ) Try to formalize a pledge to the extent that’s possible, and then incorporate it into the knowledge of your governing body. Mrs. X will organize four funeral dinners per year, for example, or Mr. Z will work with the facilities chair (laughing here, but I know you may have those) to perform 8 hours of work per month. Or whatever. We try to pay for most kinds of service above and beyond what’s typical in a congregation, and then at least the cost ends up in our budget. That’s obviously a philosophical leadership decision, but it’s one that enables us to know exactly how much it costs to do what we do as the composition of the congregation evolves.

    2) I have also, awkwardly, agreed to pay for such services when I knew a person’s financial need was significant, but I still try to remove the service from the realm of the personal. For example, I pay a local young man to clear our walks and roof even though my husband and I could do it, because it serves the dual purpose of providing a little employment and freeing us from total responsibility. What members do with their payments, either from the pastor or the treasurer, is between them and God, but sometimes those small investments pay great dividends, and sometimes they end right back up in the offering plate.

    3) Finally, it seems important to this man that you are aware of their contributions, and that, too, may be more typical of a certain type of congregation. What’s up with that? Do they need to you to understand and affirm that they participate faithfully in the work of the church? Or is there some other dynamic at work? (And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the answer were obvious, just once in our ministries?)

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