A few months back, I penned an article on whether the passing of the collection plate had run its course. Given the volume of emails, phone calls and one-off conversations I’ve received and had, it would seem that I got people’s attention. In fact, no column that I’ve written has garnered so much interest – both in support of and contrary to my comments.
Since then, I’ve paused to reconsider my original hypothesis. I don’t believe the offering plate should be dispensed with; rather, I believe we need to reconsider how an offering is received.
If we examine the practice of offering from the Old Testament, we see that different types of offerings were made – grain, first fruit and money. The experience of offering was a joyful one that often marked rites of passage: a newborn child, a safe return from a journey, a coming of age, a bountiful harvest. Often the various gifts were held heavenward and dedicated for God’s purposes. If you happen to have been in the temple at that time, you would have experienced a feast for the senses, including the burning of incense, sweet corn and freshly-baked perfumed breads.
There are very few opportunities in our secular society where the practice of making an offering has the potential to be as graciously received as in a church. For that matter, other than giving to the office’s United Way Appeal, we are less and less exposed to the whole concept of generosity. Churches still have the market cornered on this aspect of giving. So why don’t we endeavour to do a really good job of celebrating the act of intentionally putting something on the offertory plate?
The church service itself presents a wonderful opportunity to use the offering as stewardship education. As the offering is introduced, received and dedicated to God’s mission, perhaps we can reinforce important beliefs about our relationship with money, such as why we give, how to give joyfully, the importance the voluntarism, and how pre-authorized giving serves God’s mission even when we are absent from worship. The offering is an ideal time for congregational participation, and it should be encouraged from everyone present, including our children.
Typically, our offering experience has been reduced to the giving of money. Why can’t we reclaim at least part of the ancient practice that goes beyond this? The act of giving should be expanded so it includes more than what is in our bank account; it should be reflective of our whole selves. During the offering, we could offer words of encouragement to members of the congregation, get-well notes to those who are ill, requests for forgiveness, pledges of time, personal needs, declarations of gifts in an estate, and tangible items like food.
Just imagine how the offertory could be done differently in your church. What if this space of five minutes after the sermon was transformed into a joyful celebration of giftedness and thanksgiving? If you were new to church, how might a celebratory offering impact your experience of worship? Leaders often struggle with the feeling that the church is money-grubbing. If we included non-monetary giving – in the same way an offering was made in the temple – than an intimate connection is made between God and God’s people. Giving isn’t just about money: it becomes an opportunity to show that God cares about all that we have and are.
By receiving offerings, both monetary and non-monetary, providing stewardship education and celebrating individual giftedness, the offertory period could be transformed into an anticipated component of worship. By inviting us all to bring forward some gift, we are joined in Christ’s own offering of his self out of love for each one of us, and that could be truly transformative.