NEW SERIES: "Dear Pastor…"

This is a series of articles about real world problems that churches often find difficult to handle. They are presented in the form of emails for ease of conversation but can come in many different ways.

Disclaimer: All the names are made up and in no way identify actual people nor does the author assume responsibility for the opinion expressed in the response.

Dear Pastor 1This first request happens regularly in church everywhere. The concept seems very logical to the request maker and that is what makes them so difficult.

In this case the response is actually easy. This is illegal and contrary to tax law so the solution is easy.

“Sorry this is against the law, we cannot do this.”

A more nuanced response might be to open a conversation about scholarship funds for worthy folks but that donations may never be given to a specific individual designated by the donor. It separates the generous person from a person looking for a way to deduct college expense from their taxes.

Charitable giving can never be for the benefit of the donor or specific persons. Giving is given to the institution of the church and the church decides how to spend it. The donor may direct the category but not the specific recipient.

This goes beyond just the tax code but to our understanding of giving from a Christian perspective. It becomes an opportunity or teachable moment to help folks understand the value of generosity...

(Content written by our new contributor, Rev. Paul Johnson, CCA)

3 thoughts on “NEW SERIES: "Dear Pastor…"

  1. Yes, but they’re onto us. They come in with a package of paper to create a scholarship fund that doesn’t designate anyone, but requires the church to create a panel on which they and their friends in leadership sit, and a process designed so that the funds will go to their grandkids and one or two other kids (but not enough to overtake the amount saved in the tax deduction). If your church doesn’t have a pre-existing set of policies as to how and who scholarship funds are handled, they will tie you in knots — with three-fourths of your board sitting baffled, confused, and wondering why the pastor is being resistant to someone “who wants to give money to the church.”

    Sadly, having posted this comment, I can’t share the post on my Facebook feed. The wounds are still healing from the last two rounds, and most still simply don’t see what’s wrong with this strategery.

  2. I work at a church, and a similar request I have heard multiple times is when a generous and usually well-to-do member calls to say they want to give a Christmas gift (or Thank You gift, or Anniversary Gift, etc.) to the pastor, and they plan to do it as an offering (designated for the pastor) through the church Finance Office so the gift will be tax deductible. Just like the people wanting to give the scholarship funds as mentioned above, they do not understand why this is wrong and cannot be allowed.

  3. It is helpful to have on hand pre-printed copies of the IRS tax code addressing this issue. Sharing the written tax code with the person requesting that strategy takes the heat off the administrator and can educate the donors for future giving guidelines. Church board members are responsible for the church’s actions, and if they are made aware of the legal guidelines for accepting donations they will back you up. Over the years, our members have been understanding once they know the tax laws.

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