This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
Rev. George Harris, in presenting a system of weekly contributions now in quite general use in the State of Rhode Island, urges the necessity of a system and meets some of the objections in the following manner:
"The preacher may unfold with the utmost skill the principle that obligation is measured by ability; he may urge his hearers to set apart a fixed proportion of their income for the Lord, and if one man in the congregation adopts his eloquent advice, he thinks he has not preached in vain; but let the sermon be accompanied by a concise little card which contains figures and directions, so that a child can understand, and there will be hundreds in every congregation who will respond. Precisely this course must be adopted, if giving throughout our congregations is to be mea-sured by ability. Every church must put an actual, definite system, explained in a few printed words, into the hands of every man, woman and child, before any considerable number will give according to their ability. Good intentions cannot be trusted; there must be an existing and visible system, and the principle, whatever the details, must be the pledge of some amount to be given during the year.
"When new plans of any kind are proposed to a church, opposition, or at least reluctance, is sure to be encountered. The people are naturally and justifiably shy of experiments. Yet, some experiments must be made, and this experiment of systematic giving must be made. If the pastor is timid, the system will not be introduced, or if introduced, will have only a moderate success; but if the pastor exercises good-natured determination, he will soon gain the support of the church, and then if he presents the subject faithfully he will be astonished to find that so many in the congregation are ready to respond, and will blame himself for neglecting his duty so long.
"The earnest support of the pastor is necessary after a vote of the church has been given in favor of the new system. He will need in his preaching not only to state strong reasons for adopting the plan; he will also need to meet objections which different individuals will bring forward to excuse themselves from making a pledge. More than one will say or think: 'It is difficult to decide how much to give. I do not know what my income will be next year, nor, indeed, if I shall have any; it is almost impossible in a large business to separate twelve months and compute the gains, because so many transactions cover a more extended period. Unforeseen expenditures may be necessary. I do not know what percentage I ought to give, at any rate. The pastor, either in his sermon or in private, must be ready to reply. He will say: 'If you are convinced of the correctness of the principle, it must be that there is some amount which you are morally certain you can give. For example, you are doubtful whether or not you can give one dollar a week; but you are certain you can give half a dollar - then give that, and make additions if you are able. Or, if you can decide in no other way, give as much as you have been in the habit of giving; get the whole amount and divide it by fifty-two for your weekly pledges. If you say, I do not know how much I have been giving, the remark proves the need of a system; you ought to know. Almost any one can make an estimate of usual income and necessary expenses, which, if not exact, will be nearly accurate. At any rate, whatever yon give, you probably will not err in the direction of excess. The phenomenon has seldom been observed of a person who became embarrassed by giving too much.' A very good rule to recommend to such persons, and indeed to all, is that they make such a pledge as they honestlv think is sufficient, and arrange their other expenses accordingly. First make some proper pledge, and then bring other outlays into conformity with it. "Some will object that it is too much trouble to make these estimates and pledges, and to bring the money every Sunday; but it will vanish, perhaps, when the pastor says: 'That objection I consider to be a recommendation; we have not taken nearly trouble enough; the Lord expects us to take just this trouble, and to find it a pleasure. My only fear is that you will not take the trouble you ought to take, that in some careless fashion you will put down fifty cents or a dollar without any thought at all. If ladies will take as much trouble as they take to match the trimmings for one dress, to which they patiently devote two or three mornings, the question of how much would be settled, and rightly settled; if gentlemen will devote as much time to it as they devote to selecting cigars or to choosing a new coat, proper decisions would be reached.'
"Some will object, saying, what I can give is so little that it is not worth while to take the pledge and keep the account. But the cheery pastor reminds them that one of the chief recommendations of the system is that it swells small gifts into a large volume, and adds: 'Can you discover that your obligation to give a little, if it is all you can afford, is any less real than the obligation of one who can give largely? In the parable of the talents, which servant was condemned? It was he who had but one talent; so little that he went and hid it in the earth! Among those who cast their gifts into the treasury while Christ looked on, who was commended? It was the poor widow who cast in two mites, which make a farthing.'
"The pressure of hard times will be urged as an objection, to which the undismayed pastor will reply: 'Don't limit your retrenchments to your benevolence. It is not very consistent for a Christian to stop giving, and keep up all other outlays to the old standard.'
"For those who have had losses and are in debt, if they can give anything, it should be with a system, for such persons, above all others, should systematize their expenditures and benevolence.
"Any plan that may be proposed will be met with some objections. This plan has fewer objections and more recommendations than any plan of which we know; but so good a system as this, especially at its introduction, must have the unhesitating support of the pastor, or it will meet with little favor. But can any pastor be satisfied with the shiftless, casual habits of giving which so commonly prevail? Is it not worth all the trouble he may take to develop the latent resources of the congregation? Any pastor who despises the details of practical Christian work in his church, and devotes himself, as he says, to the pulpit, has sadly curtailed his opportunities as a Christian minister. The people wait for their pastor to take the lead in every good work; they often wonder why he does not devise plans of Christian benevolence, and appeal to them in behalf of suffering missionaries and of perishing men and women who need the gospel. It is a shame for ministers to let their churches go on in the old ruts, giving but a fragment of what they might give, while our missionary societies are struggling with debt, and are obliged to withdraw their workers from important fields. And so I say that the essential condition for introducing a plan of systematic beneficence is the unequivocal influence of the pastors in its favor. Another important condition is the co-operation of those who have been the large givers in a church. If they hold aloof, success will not be so certain; but if they adopt the system for themselves and encourage their children to adopt it, there can be little doubt of signal success.
"If the pastor is an earnest advocate of it, and if those who already give adopt it, the system can easily be introduced to supplant the careless and unequal giving which is now so common."