A Newbie's Guide to Pledging


If you are new to the church, or have never made a pledge to the church before, this column is for you. Because the church “stewardship campaign” can be intimidating. You might wonder why we spend a couple of weeks talking about money so much.

You should think of it like a public radio pledge drive. It can be annoying to have NPR’s Morning Edition interrupted by pledge requests; and I don’t like hearing about pledges in the middle of This American Life, either. But it’s better than the alternative!

Like public radio, we aren’t a market enterprise. Thus, you’ll never hear commercials in the middle of a worship service. (And no, we’re not going to ever consider it. Even if you’re looking to promote your new pop-up goat yoga studio …)

And we’re not selling anything. If you haven’t heard me say it before, the grace of God is free. That’s the whole point — God’s love is freely given, freely received. We have nothing to sell, and we’re not planning to operate as if we do!

So the primary way the church funds its ministries is through asking people to pledge, just like the radio station. You could call it “crowdfunding.” In other words, we ask our members, friends, and visitors to help us do what we do. We always go through a budget process to plan for the coming calendar year, and attempt to finalize it before the end of the preceding year. The budget includes all the necessary items, such as property maintenance, utilities, office supplies, program materials, and, of course, personnel. Plus, we include strategic pieces and new missions that we would like to initiate.

A key part of the budget process is assessing how much income we can expect to generate in the coming year. That’s why we ask members to pledge. We need to know how much you all expect to give, so that we can plan our ministries and pass our budget.

Every year around the month of October, then, we spend a few weeks asking you to make your pledge. We accumulate the pledges and fine-tune our budget based on the total pledged amount. This is why pledging is important to the church; it is the way in which church leadership assesses how to proceed.

But a church pledge is only that — a pledge. It’s a matter between you and God ultimately. It’s not a contractual agreement. And we’re not going to send a bill collector after you.  We will send you a quarterly giving statement, which will let you know how much you have paid on your pledge year-to-date. But we won’t keep bugging you about it, like a public radio station might.

We can also make giving to the church an easy matter. On our website, you can make your pledge an automatic monthly or weekly payment. Just follow this link to automate your giving.

So far, I’ve described the pledge campaign in a purely functional and practical fashion — we’ve got to pay the bills, and this is how we do it.

As your pastor, I need to let you know that giving is about far more than just making financial donations. When you give to your church, you are not merely helping pay bills, pay the pastor, or even fund a particular mission of the church; you are literally performing an act of service to God. When you give to the church, you are giving to God, and you are giving to God’s mission in the world.

One of the most common images found in the Bible to describe the church is “the body of Christ.” Christ is still present in the world, but he is incarnated in the church; he lives and moves and has his being, in us! That’s not mere hyperbole, either. There is something very real about the concept that Jesus is alive and working through us.

It’s not really like making a pledge to a public radio station at all, in the end. For one, we don't give away tote bags ... I love public radio, and I think everyone should support it. But Kessler Park UMC has a greater mission to undertake, and a greater God to serve.

So I hope you will consider making a pledge for the first time. Let’s kickstart God’s work by Kickstarting KPUMC!

Decision Time

This Sunday is a special day for our six confirmands. After special classes, trips, and a retreat with Matt Bell, the six preteens will be ready for confirmation.

When I take part in a confirmation service, however, I always have a few questions in my mind about the rest of y’all.

I know that many of you never went through confirmation. If you were raised in a church or tradition which does not “do” confirmation, then you didn’t; instead, you were probably baptized as a young person or adult. Often, I get lots of questions about confirmation — what does it mean, what is its purpose?

Let me briefly explain the Methodist understanding of baptism and confirmation. Baptism is a sacrament of joining, and being joined to, the body of Christ. Therefore, we will baptize any adult who makes a conscious decision to be joined to Christ, or any infant or child whose parents wish to make that decision on his/her behalf.

In the case of an infant, obviously the decision is not the child’s own until such time as he or she makes it personally. Confirmation is the formal process by which the church invites the child to do so. We usually make it an educational and social program, with classes and experiences that help someone learn more about what it means to follow Jesus, so that they can make an informed decision.

When they are confirmed, they are taking responsibility for the baptismal vows that their parents said for them. They are owning it for themselves. They willingly take on the rights and responsibilities that go with following Jesus.

My first question to the rest of you, then, is, “Have you ever owned the faith for yourself? Have you made a conscious decision to follow Christ?” This is an important part of the journey of faith. As I said in a recent sermon, we are not born Christian, we are made into Christians. It is an act of the will, an intention, a choice. Too many people have never made a real choice to follow Jesus, but instead rest on the laurels of their baptism, as if it were a magical ritual that saves them from hell. That’s not the point of it at all, though. Baptism is a joining of our lives to Jesus.

Now, while the intention to follow Christ is an important part of the confirmation ceremony, it’s not the only piece. We believe that baptism is a means of grace for the follower of Jesus. In other words, it’s not so much about what we do, but about what God does on our behalf. We are joined to Christ, not by our own efforts or worth, but by the free gift of God. We are given new birth, a new start in life, by the mercy of God. As the baptismal liturgy reads, “All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”

So my second question to all of you is, “Have you received the grace of God for yourself? Have you found that the power of the Holy Spirit lives in you, and gives you a strength that is not your own?”

If you have never been baptized, then perhaps it’s time to think about making the plunge (pun intended) for yourself. You are invited to a new relationship with God that begins with the forgiveness of sin and a renewal of your spirit in God’s love. I would be happy to talk about baptizing you.

If you have never been confirmed, then it’s up to you to answer the two questions above. Have you accepted the baptismal vows that were made for you, and have you received God’s grace? Perhaps you simply would like to learn more about what the faith journey is all about. I encourage you to join a Sunday School class or a small group, where you will have the opportunity to learn more about the Bible or the specific shape of the Jesus-centered life.

I certainly hope that all of you will be present on Sunday morning, as we listen to the witness of our newest confirmands, and as we celebrate the next steps they are taking on their own journeys.