Shave a few centuries off the experience, and the offering, perhaps a lamb, pigeon, or bag of grain, was a central aspect of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the journey, the whole family participated in the experience of bringing a gift to the house of the Lord for worship. Anxious worshipers sang on the long, dusty journey. The reading of the Law was prominent in the festivities. However, the offering was essential to the entire worship experience. Imagine the little boy who carried the doves. What a responsibility! The gift belongs to the Lord. It requires special care, for it is not like other animals. It is sacred. It is an offering unto the Lord.
What about giving is worshipful for today’s cash-driven culture? Recently, Grace and Peace Magazine asked Donald Lain, senior pastor of Coshocton (Ohio) Church of the Nazarene, and Tracy Ogden-Johnson, senior pastor of Ravenna (Ohio) First Church of the Nazarene, and Mark E. Lail, Stewardship Ministries Director, about their thoughts on receiving the offering and worship.
G&P: WHAT MAKES RECEIVING AN OFFERING WORSHIPFUL?
LAIN: The offering time is every bit as important as worshiping through song or any other part of the gathering of God’s people. It requires preparation to be other than routine. The act of giving, either tithe or offering, is a demonstration of our covenant with the Lord. The Lord gives generously to us. Our response is generous giving as well. Giving tithe is like signing a contract for a blessing. I don’t believe in a prosperity gospel. I believe in a blessing gospel. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (NIV). The gift is a reflection of a relationship between God and his people. Offering gifts to the Lord is a privilege rather than an obligation. This is a joyous time of the worship service.
OGDEN-JOHNSON: I refer to the giving of gifts as worship in every service. We worship with our voices when we sing, “Lord, you are wonderful!” We worship in prayer when we pray, “Lord, you are powerful.” We worship in truth when we acknowledge that “Your Word is truth!” Giving gifts to the Lord is a worship experience because in giving, we acknowledge, “Lord, you are owner and provider of all!”
G&P: HOW DO THOSE WHO GIVE ELECTRONICALLY EXPERIENCE WORSHIP?
LAIN: Once per month, I remind everyone of electronic giving opportunities and indicate that this is worship, too! Since the world has readily adapted to the electronic transfer of funds, electronic giving is natural. It is as meaningful as any other type of giving, but there is an opportunity to connect the online experience with the worship service simply by raising awareness. Some electronic givers like to drop a card or an empty envelope in the plate in order to participate in the actual offering plate experience. I personally feel very complete with recurring, online gifts. It keeps me consistent and accountable and gives me a sense of preparedness for the worship experience. Approximately one-third of our giving comes through electronic methods.
OGDEN-JOHNSON: I avoid the word “offering” and prefer to say “gift” or “gifts.” These terms seem to fit the non-churched culture better and clearly depict what we are actually doing. We are taking some of our possessions and giving them to the Lord. We recognize that God has blessed us, and we are simply giving back to God a portion. This is something that everyone can do, from the richest to the poorest. Everyone can bring a gift to Jesus.
LAIL: Preparation for offering time is easy to overlook. This part of the worship service can become routine and nearly meaningless. Avoid anything that is awkward about the process. The activity of the ushers should be smooth and never a distraction. It is a great time to commend the congregation for their faithfulness, and a lousy time to talk about this week’s bills. This moment is not about the money. It is all about the Lord.
It should be clear that people are giving to God rather than the church. Obviously, the church is the instrument for the gift, but the gift is the Lord’s. That should be evident from the language we use. It is spiritual when money comes into the church. And, it is spiritual when the church utilizes the money to accomplish its mission. Transparency is crucial. The congregation should have confidence that every penny is being handled as a sacred possession of the Lord.
LAIN: I never get in a hurry at offering time. A rush would undermine the privilege of giving. This is an opportunity to worship that everyone may enjoy. The moment is to be savored, never rushed.
G&P: HOW DO VISITORS EXPERIENCE WORSHIP THROUGH GIVING?
LAIN: This is what we do; we give. In years past, for the sake of seeker-sensitivity, we encouraged visitors to let the plate pass without obligation. I now prefer to let visitors know that they are welcome to participate with us in every form of worship. Certainly, there is no obligation. However, there is a fine line between welcoming folks to participate and conveying obligation. We have learned that when exceptions are created, visitors feel less welcome. We want visitors to experience the Lord’s presence to the fullest extent. So, we open the door of participation to everything: worship, prayer, sacraments, and even the offering. We never want to communicate, “This thing that we’re doing is just for the insiders.”
OGDEN-JOHNSON: We want our guests to be free to let the offering plate pass. However, we have learned that the more we grow and love the Lord, the more we want to give. That’s a message that our visitors deserve to hear from day one. Nothing about our joy in giving is hidden or reserved for some future membership class. We are givers, and we give joyously. It is an expression of our love for our Lord. We refute the idea the church is all about money, so I explain often that the motivation is not money. Regular attendees hear it often, but it is important enough to repeat; it is not about money, it is about loving the Lord and responding to his blessings.
G&P: WHAT MESSAGE DOES THE CHURCH SEND AT OFFERING TIME?
LAIL: It is critical to demonstrate how the mission of the church is accomplished through the gifts to the church. Personal testimonies show the effect of the offering on the Kingdom. Testimonies get us beyond the generic “Lord’s Work” and into the specifics of “The Lord’s Work.” Teaching stewardship is a comprehensive activity, not just an annual tithe-talk or a presentation of the church budget. Testimonies, specifically at offering time, help connect the dots between the gift and the results. This is essential for younger Christians, who tend to be generous givers but quite attentive to the effectiveness of their gift. Testimonies demonstrate that the mission of the church is being accomplished. Donors want relationship with their church and desire to see their gift in action. Offering time is a great time to communicate that the church is a team, fully engaged in the mission of the kingdom of God. The message must not be, “Please give money to our church.” The message must be, “We are on a purposeful mission and giving is crucial to accomplishing that mission.”
LAIN: People come to worship with a variety of issues. The offering plate may invoke a wide range of emotions, from the joy of obedience to the weight of conviction. Our expectation is that the Lord will address every individual at the point of their own need. At offering time, the Lord will speak to hearts and nudge believers into responsible stewardship. The Lord is interested in building us, not invoking shame. While it seldom involves an altar call, the offering can be a time for repentance and renewed commitments.
We continually teach personal finances and offer individual assistance. It does no good to create a conviction without a remedy! So, very practically, we teach how to handle money and include giving. Creating a budget is a spiritual exercise. It helps the Christian to get God’s priorities in the proper perspective. Our culture has become comfortable with financial irresponsibility along with selfish spending. Regular tithers have developed a happy discipline, but they probably endured some pain to get here.