Pledge or faith promise?
Part of being a good steward, or manager, of God’s possessions is giving back to God a portion of what He’s entrusted to us, His stewards. It’s not that God needs our money. Rather, giving serves as an external, material testimony that God owns both the material and spiritual things of our lives. It also supports the greatest, most enduring work on earth: the work of the Lord.
One of the first standards of giving in the Bible is the tithe, a word which means “tenth.” Although the tithe is mentioned in the Law, no punishment was indicated for not tithing. Consequences for not tithing included withholding of blessings, but this is not generally viewed as punishment. Tithing has been, and always will be, a voluntary act on the part of God’s people. Even though not tithing brings about a withholding of God’s blessings, tithing with proper motives invokes God’s blessings (Malachi 3:10).
Like every other facet of serving God, all giving—including tithing—should be done with the right attitude. When giving is viewed as a rule and is done out of a sense of duty, it becomes legalism. Like tithing, giving beyond the tithe should be an outward material expression of a deeper spiritual commitment and an indication of a willing and obedient heart. Just as the Macedonians did, Christians should give out of a grateful heart, with an attitude of joy (2 Corinthians 9:7), and because the Holy Spirit is prompting them—not as an emotional response.
In today’s world, especially the Christian world, many churches and ministries appeal to the emotions of their supporters and potential supporters to give by pledging a specific amount of money to be paid over a certain amount of time. Other churches and ministries ask their supporters to commit to a faith promise that they will give as the Lord provides. Is there a difference between a pledge and a faith promise? Although most Christians will agree that commitment is an important ingredient in giving, confusion exists when it comes to distinguishing between faith promises and pledges.
Pledges are vows. They can be identified as “earnest promises that bind one to perform in a certain manner.” Repeatedly in the Bible the words pledge and vow are used to refer to promises that are binding, regardless of future circumstances. Few scriptural principles are clearer than that of keeping vows—literally keeping our word with God as our witness. When we give our word, we are obligated to do it. When we obligate our finances, we are obligated to pay. So, financial pledges are absolute commitments (vows) to pay a fixed amount. This type of giving is presumptuous, unless we have the resources currently on hand and uncommitted, and it often constitutes surety because in most instances there is an obligation to pay without a certain way to pay the commitment.
In addition, pledges can be legally enforceable commitments to pay fixed amounts of money, during given periods of time, that churches and ministries can opt to resell (at a discount) to lending institutions, so they can get their money right away.
Faith promises are commitments to give a certain amount if the Lord provides it. This allows churches and ministries to prepare good, logical budgets for the year. With faith promises, people make commitments to give if the funds are or become available. It is understood that if God doesn’t provide the funds there is no obligation to give (Hebrews 11:1). Committing to a faith promise is scriptural and acceptable to the Lord. All ministries and churches must have a sense of how much money they should expect in the coming year so they can establish a budget (spending plan) and financial accountability. Faith promises give ministries this ability.
When giving beyond the tithe—especially when giving for specific ministry causes or projects: parachurch ministry, church debt elimination, church building program, missions trip, and so on—people need to give and commit to an amount out of their abundance (2 Corinthians 8:14) and not out of emotional appeal or guilt. God doesn’t want us to give until we are poor, unless it is to improve our lives spiritually. Faith promises represent a balanced approach to giving that encourage people to commit to giving but at the same time provide financial guidelines for future ministry funding.