We recently completed our pledge card for 2010 for the local church where Marsha has her membership (bishops and other clergy are not members of local churches).  We typically tithe our income to that church, and then we also make a variety of other gifts – including offerings to every church where I preach each Sunday, gifts to various United Methodist agencies, and of course other appeals.

This year, for the first time ever, we had to make a decision about our pledge as we anticipated a decline in our income in 2010.  We bishops have voluntarily rolled back our 2010 salaries to the 2008 level, which means an actual decrease from this year to next year.  When we discussed this situation, Marsha and I both immediately agreed that we will not lower our pledge for 2010, and in fact we decided to increase it.

I share that story not to brag about our generosity, because I know many, many people are giving and being generous in ways that exceed ours.  I am not in the business of “bragging” or comparing my giving habits to anyone else.

I share that story because it illustrates for me the truth that our giving is not really tied to our income – it is tied to our desire to be grateful to God.  Of course our income is a factor in our giving, but it is not the essential factor.  The most important factor is our desire to express our gratitude to God.

Many congregations are discovering and sharing this truth.  I see lots of church newsletters and websites, and I notice that there is far less emphasis upon “giving to support the church budget” and more emphasis upon “giving as an expression of gratitude to God.”  I salute that shift, and I believe it is more healthy than the annual attempt to “meet the budget.”  Of course every church has to develop and follow a realistic budget, but our focus is better placed upon stewardship rather than just fund-raising.

So I pray that you will determine your 2010 pledge in a way that reflects your income, but also in a way that reflects your desire to express your gratitude to God.