It’s common to hear a church leader struggle with the challenge of developing and discipling their givers when their church’s giving records are closed. My company, MortarStone Generosity, provides data analytics and intelligence software that measure the recency, frequency, volume and tenure of givers so that church leaders can encourage givers to take steps toward a lifestyle of generosity. But the elephant in the room is that dollars are associated with names, which can create heartburn for church leaders who are unaccustomed to privileged information.
Many, if not most churches have strict rules about who has access to information, citing Matthew 6:1-4 as the reason for strict observance of secrecy. Let’s look at it.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, NLT)
Jesus began this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with a thematic statement that would serve for the three points that follow: giving, fasting, and praying. So right up front, Jesus wants us to know that he assumes that his disciples will give, fast and pray, but these practices should be done in a way that is not self indulgent. The word hypocrite is featured in the text, and is borrowed from the secular world of theater. Actors in Greek theater would wear masks (think “comedy and tragedy”) and assume the role of whichever character they would play. So the word simply means “one who wears a mask,” but came to colloquially refer to a person who pretends to be someone they are not, or a hypocrite. Those who act with hypocrisy receive their apecho. Apecho, translated “reward” is a business term that refers to a receipt that is provided when a transaction has been paid in full. Jesus is literally saying that when we give in a way to be noticed by others, we have our receipt.
Having said that, Jesus instructs his disciples to not let their left hand know what your right hand is doing. Scholars are divided about what this means, but the general idea is to not give with both hands because in so doing, you draw attention to what you’re doing. If you think about how you may have passed notes in Jr. High School during class, you will get the idea of what Jesus is saying.
His admonition directly follows this instruction, where Jesus directs us to do our giving in kruptos (as in cryptic). Every English translation will interpret kruptos as “secret,” except the New Living Translation which translates the word as “private.” The word kruptos is used in the New Testament to mean secret when it is describing concealment. For example, Jesus said what we do in kruptos will be shouted from the housetops. (Luke 12:3) He also describes the person in the parable of the talents who took his one talent and buried (kruptos) it in the ground. (Matthew 25:14-30). But the definition of kruptos is not limited to concealment. It can also mean “to escape notice.” And this is how Jesus is using the word as it relates to our giving.
If you think about it, there are many examples in the Bible that describe the amount of a particular offering. Solomon’s gift offered on the day of the Temple’s dedication is itemized. Then there’s the woman who gave two coins, and in Acts we have Barnabas’ gift given as the result of the sale of real estate. Unfortunately in the next chapter, we know all about the size of the gift presented by Ananias and Sapphira.
The point here is that there is no single passage in the Bible that calls for confidentiality of giving. Giving confidentiality is a fiduciary responsibility of any not for profit organization who closely holds information that has been entrusted to them by contributors. Most not for profit boards routinely talk about both donors and the size of their donations. In fact, Pastors and church governing boards who are ignorant of their members giving are among the exception to this generally accepted practice. But however this is practiced within churches, it should be based on the church’s governance as fiduciaries. Whatever you do, don’t say “this is what the Bible says.” Because it doesn’t.