The Ministry of Counting, Really?

Stewarding all gifts for ministry

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You would not really think of him as a church person, but he rarely missed a Sunday. I have no idea what his prayer life was like or if he read the Bible. He never mentioned it. Yet, for years, he was dedicated to a crucial church ministry. This distant relative of mine was an offering counter. And for years, although he did not go to worship, he almost never missed a Sunday, arriving just as worship was ending.

I am sure that he did not see it as a ministry and perhaps no one else at the church did either. He was just “helping out” and everyone else probably saw it as a nice way to “do his part.”  Nevertheless, it was in church that he would be, Sunday after Sunday, regardless of the weather.  When I was a pastor, I must admit, I did not really look upon the counters as doing ministry. I only saw a job needing doing and how nice it was that some folks would “do their part” in this way. But ministry it was and ministry it is.

Stewarding Trust

The counting of the offering is one of the most crucial ways we faithfully steward God’s money and deserves careful thought about how, when, and where it is done. It is a ministry of establishing trust with the congregation to enable a more generous community. A lack of trust is one of the primary reasons people have for not giving to church. I have heard some scary stories about an Aunt Millie or Uncle Bob who would take the offering home and count it on the kitchen table by themselves. (Not necessarily a best practice!) Good practices around the counting of the offering steward the gifts of the offering counters and honor donors’ gifts by giving them confidence that that their gifts will be used in the way they intended. 

Here are some practices that steward trust.

  • Rule of Two: There should always be at least two, unrelated people, doing the counting. Counters should also be rotated periodically. Now I know that can be easier said than done. However, the rule of two is one of the most important ways to establish trust with donors. 
  • Separation of Duties: It is the counters who should take the money to the bank, and that is where the counting ministry ends. Counters should not record the gifts or reconcile the bank statements. Their only job is to count and make the bank deposit. Recording gifts and reconciling bank statements should be the work of other ministers in the church. Again, it is this separation of duties (let us call them ministries!) that is crucial in helping people trust the system. 
  • Give Thanks: Remember to say thank you to your offering counting ministers each week. Be sure they know how much you value them as people and the gift they are sharing.

Naming Gifts for Ministry

I often wonder about my distant relative who is long deceased now. I wonder why he kept doing his ministry. There are two things in particular I wonder about. 

First, if someone had named what he was doing as ministry, as taking part in the work of Christ, would he have become curious about what happened in the sanctuary before he arrived? To name what seem to be mundane tasks as ministry – as participation in the life of Jesus – really does have a way of transforming how we think about what we do. What was commonplace and ordinary for us can become incredibly purposeful, important, and wonderful. 

Second, were there generous people stewarding what God had entrusted to their care, for my money counting relative to witness?  Was he ever impressed or surprised by the giving of those with very little, like in the story of the widow’s mite? Did he ever encounter a wealthy person, who faithfully gave and stewarded the gifts God entrusted to their care for the good of the community? Or did he draw the conclusion that when it comes to lives of generosity, the church folks are often no different than anybody else. 

Perhaps, if we call a thing what it is – name those who count the offering week after week as ministers, we can begin to help people with all kinds of gifts know there is a place for them to do their ministry for the sake of God’s kingdom. I wonder.

  • Phil Jamieson

    The Rev. Philip D. Jamieson, Ph.D. is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a member of the Tennessee Annual Conference. After serving local churches for eleven years, he taught pastoral theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. There, he co-developed the course, “Ministry and Money” with his wife, Janet. Since publishing their book by the same name, the two of them have travelled extensively, offering seminars to clergy and lay leaders regarding the critical nature of financial ministry. Phil became President of the United Methodist Foundation for the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences in 2013. He and his wife are the coauthors of Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors (Westminster/John Knox, 2009) and the 2012, 2016 United Methodist Guidelines for Finance Committees (Abingdon, 2012). Phil is also the author of The Face of Forgiveness: A Pastoral Theology of Shame and Redemption (IVP Academic, 2016).

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