Make Your Generosity Automatic!

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When you go on vacation this summer, who will pay the bills while you’re gone?

If you’re like me, you probably don’t think much about your bills, because most of them are paid automatically. They are scheduled to come out of your account on a particular day of the month, for a particular amount.

The church faces a different challenge during the summer; we still have to pay the monthly bills, but so many of you are gone throughout the summer, that our income isn’t even.

A year ago, a small team of church members and I began a course on “Year-Round Stewardship” sponsored by the Texas Methodist Foundation. Missi Mulligan, Ken Kelley, Cindy McSpadden, and I spent four long Saturday mornings in Rockwall listening to perspectives on fostering generosity in congregations.

We have slowly been integrating the lessons we learned into our approach to finances, and so far, the results have been extremely positive. We are honestly grateful for your faithfulness and commitment to the ministries and people of KPUMC.

One major piece of the training was an emphasis on automated giving. Research and experience with American congregations shows that churches with a high percentage of giving that is automatic and recurring have an easier time weathering seasonal storms.

Everyone who has ever served on the finance committee of this church knows that we typically have much less income during the summer months. We always seem to make it up by the end of the year, as December tends to be a very good giving month. But the summer can be quite stressful. Sometimes this results in a cash crunch; at times, we have asked staff to hold off on making purchases until our cash flow is positive again.

One way that this summer slump can be averted is by increasing our number of givers who make recurring, automated payments. When you do this, you won’t have to think twice about your pledge, even when you know you will be on vacation or have to miss a Sunday service. And we can know with greater certainty what to expect and what we can spend.

You will be receiving a mailing shortly with more information about how you can do this, whether by setting up a bank draft through your own financial institution, or by going online through the website and setting up monthly debits on a card.

I urge you to consider your own giving habits. If you already have set up automatic payments to the church, thank you so much! If you haven’t yet, please give it a thought; click here to go to the giving page on our website. Not only does it benefit the church, but it will make things a little easier for yourself.

No, fulfilling your pledge to our church is not the same thing as paying the electric or water bill. It’s actually far more important. So why not afford it the same care and concern that you give to the other things you pay for?

Graduating Words

As I look forward to Matt Bell’s graduation from Perkins School of Theology this weekend and Mallory's high school graduation next week, I am reminded of my own graduation ceremonies, and have begun to wonder about the efficacy of those commencement speakers, some of whom manage to stir up a great bit of controversy.

Just this week, Senator John Cornyn was dis-invited from speaking at the Texas Southern University graduation because of the fear of protests. That was a likely possibility given the reaction that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received when she addressed the graduates of Bethune-Cookman University. A large number of students booed and turned their backs as she spoke.

My own commencement ceremony at SMU was memorable for a controversial, but apolitical reason, too. Perkins grads have to attend two different commencements. The first one is the proper SMU ceremony, which takes place in Moody Coliseum at 9 am in the morning. The second one recognizes only seminary grads, and takes place in the sanctuary at Highland Park United Methodist Church at 2 pm.

The event at Moody Coliseum was an utter disaster. The celebrated graduation speaker, whose name I have forgotten, spoke so long that the restless grads finally broke into spontaneous applause to force him off the stage! Unfortunately, I don’t remember a thing he said, except that I wished he was finished saying it.

My high school commencement speaker was Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Gene Stallings, which I remember being sort of exciting at the time. Again, I don’t remember a thing he said; it does not strike me as being particularly motivating or inspiring. Incidentally, Coach Stallings was about to embark on his own “graduation” of sorts. The year after he spoke to my Allen High School class of 1985, he took over his first and only head coaching job with the St. Louis Cardinals. In four seasons, he never managed a winning season. So much for inspiring pep talks!

I have never been asked to be a commencement speaker myself, but I have preached one baccalaureate sermon. In my first year as the pastor of Valley View United Methodist Church, I was invited by the pastor of the local Baptist Church to preach, since a good number of the graduating seniors were members of my church.

I actually do remember that sermon quite well. I used the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, and told the students that they would likely encounter a great deal of “wrestling” with God in college, but to keep hanging on, like Jacob did.

I also have a vivid memory of the Baptist preacher showing some discomfort. He must not have been happy with the end of the sermon, because he came up afterward and added an extended — and impromptu — altar call! I guess he wanted to make sure the Methodist kids were all saved before they went off to college and wrestled with God …

I’ve sat through enough commencements now to realize that they’re a lot like weddings — nobody cares about what is said during the ceremony; the only thing that matters is the status of the participants at the end of the ceremony.

But of course, I have my own graduating high school senior this year. And so I have been pondering what I might say if I were asked to address her group of peers, or any other group about to “commence” a new phase of life.

It might go something like this:

“May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big for something good;
grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth
and too small for anything but love.
So may God take your mind and think through it;
may God take your voice and sing through it;
and may God take your heart and set it on fire!”

The Seven Most Common Words in Church

Preachers like to joke that the most common seven words in the church are, “We haven’t done it that way before.” 

You may chuckle at that line; I think I may have even used it in a sermon.

But I think there’s a new “most common seven words” in the church. They are: “How do we reach the young folks?

I hear it all the time in conference gatherings, and in clergy circles, and even in various meetings at Kessler Park UMC. And with good reason. A few years ago, the average age of the United Methodist member in the pews was 57 years old, and that trend has been in an upward swing for years.

It should be obvious that an aging membership will eventually do what most aging things do — die. 

That’s why so many people in the church are worried. We rightly are concerned that the witness of Methodism in particular, and the gospel of Jesus Christ in general, would be diluted by closing churches and diminished denominations. We rightly want to share the saving and transforming power of Jesus with our children and their children. Jesus has made a difference in our lives, and so we want future generations to have the same experience.

So we ask, “How do we reach the young folks?”

I have a few opinions on this matter.

First of all, we need to stop asking this question. It’s awfully patronizing. I’ve never met a young person who wanted to be “reached” by a church. That terminology is a little creepy. Can you imagine walking into a church and being told, “Aha, we’ve been looking to find people like you …”?

Furthermore, nobody wants to be called “young folks,” or “young people,” or “millennials,” or “snowflakes,” or “whipper-snappers.” They would prefer to be known as what they are — your neighbors. 

Besides, think about how this question sounds to the other people who sit in your pews. How does this sound to those who don’t consider themselves “young folks”? What about the visitors who are on the other side of maturity, but are still looking for a church home? Are we not as eager to welcome them?

Second, the question itself indicates a lack of confidence in our message and mission. The problem, as framed by this question, appears to be that our age-old message has become a little old-fashioned and needs to be dressed up, modernized, and made more “appealing,” “attractive,” or “entertaining.” This approach treats the gospel as a religious “good” that we must package and market to the masses, like a consumer product. It frames the Methodist faith as a kind of “lifestyle choice” that one can choose amidst a long list of competing churches. It makes us want to improve our labels and spruce up the packaging — “Come see our fantastic children’s ministry!” or “We’ve got world-renowned music!”

In other words, when we ask, “How do we reach the young folks?” what we are actually saying is that we are afraid that the gospel of Jesus Christ is really not enough. We are saying that we are not sure that God is really doing something powerful among us and in us. We are basically admitting that we’re not sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in our church anymore. 

I believe that what young folks, and old folks, and everyone in-between, really want from church is an experience with God. That’s what I want. Isn’t that what you want?

And I want to be part of a church community that believes that every time we gather for worship, or work alongside the poor in a mission project, or sit around a table for fellowship, that Jesus shows up, and something powerful happens.

In the end, the only thing that will make our church attractive to anyone is the presence of church members who are fully alive in Christ, who have seen God at work in their world, and are in the process of being shaped and transformed by God. The reason why anyone will ultimately be drawn to KPUMC is because they see God in you and me.

Let’s stop asking, “How can we reach the young folks?” Please.

Instead, ask yourself, “What is God doing in me?”