December 13, 2017

The Evangelical Liturgy 13: The Offering

Photo of a Collection PlateAll the posts in this series can be accessed under the category “Evangelical Liturgy” on the sidebar. If you don’t know what I am up to, read the introduction.

Go up in the hollers of southeastern Kentucky, find a backwoods Holiness church where the shouting, “hollerin’,” jumping and “barking” style preaching seem to come from another world; a church where no one could read an order of service if they had one.

Right in the middle of the service, they will have the offering. It’s the same at almost any Protestant and evangelical church unless they have purposely changed the way the offering is done (which is the case in many churches that are rethinking their service along contemporary/seeker lines.)

Like several other points in the liturgy, the evangelical/Protestant worship service is still connected to its Catholic and liturgical roots, and such is the case with the offering.

In the Anglican liturgy, the sermon, prayers, confession of faith and giving of peace are followed by the service of Holy Communion, and in the rubric preceding that movement of the liturgy, you find the following:

Representatives of the congregation bring the people’s offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant. The people stand while the offerings are presented and placed on the Altar.

As long as I’ve been a Baptist, our sermons- the “sacramental” aspect of our service- have been preceded by an offering. Lutherans and others will tell us much the same thing: the offering of the people’s gifts comes at a “juncture” moment, with a sense of the movement of our gifts to God preceding God’s giving of Word/sacrament to us.

Perhaps when the offering of the people included bread and wine that became the elements of communion (as is still represented in the Catholic tradition in most places,) there was a more apparent beauty and connection to worship than simple bringing a bag/plate of coins, cash and checks to the altar. I, for one, have long found the Protestant offering (and musical offertory) to be one of the most awkward and sometimes distracting parts of a worship service.

In my own liturgical planning, I have sought to follow this order (following the lessons and preceding the sermon):

-the Prayers of the People
-silence
-Pastoral prayer
-The offering
-Musical meditation
-Prayer of Thanksgiving (brief)
-Doxology (or other sung response)

Is the act of collecting money in in plates and bags part of worship? Would it be better to place the offering outside of the liturgy, perhaps in a box as worshipers leave the worship space? Should churches put financial giving completely outside of public worship, handling it privately through pledges, etc? Is the negative aspect of an offering on seekers too large a price to pay?

The New Testament does not explicitly say how an offering is to be handled in congregational life, though it is obvious from letters like II Corinthians that money/offerings were not a topic to be avoided and the connection of money and mercy ministry to the poor was often prominent. But what would Paul have thought about our publishing of budget numbers in the printed order of service?

I have to confess real ambivalence in this area. I appreciate churches that are aware of the tendency of this part of congregational life to give the wrong impression of what is happening. An untaught person can easily assume there is a financial transaction going on between worshipers and God, or that the money is all going to the preacher. Is the offering that important in public worship in the times in which we live?

But I also believe that financial life is near the core of many of our deepest values, including worship. The offering, for all it’s potential for misinterpretation, gets down to the center of how we live, who and what we love, and how we understand discipleship and worship.

I vote for its inclusion in the evangelical liturgy, but I also vote we place a generous explanation, in print, in the materials given to worshipers so that potential misunderstandings can be addressed.

Comments

  1. Perhaps David’s word from 2 Samuel 24–I will not offer worship to God that costs me nothing–applies to the offering as well as all aspects of worship. I think it also emphasizes the point that worship is what we do for God, rather than what God does for us.

  2. But if you can get the deacons/ushers to bring the communion elements forward with the collection plates, it’s amazing how quickly people make the liturgical connection without your even saying much about it (or their using the word liturgical, for that matter).

    In non-weekly communing churches (but why don’tcha?), you can have the diaconate/ushers bring a loaf and chalice forward to place on the table between the plates, if only to “represent.” Same idea, same teaching moment.

    For weekly communion congregations, this is a great way to help the church reframe offering, and a way to lovingly counter the seeker-oriented “let’s just get that awkward awful practice out of the way of real worship!” Ack.

  3. One congregation I often visited had an offering box by the door of the sanctuary, rather than have an offering taken by ushers. But the preacher always pointed out the offering box, anyway.

    • Our church does this, but it is *never* pointed out in any way. The box is outside the sanctuary in the foyer and we just put our stuff in, but no one draw any attention to it at all. Some visitors say they didn’t realize we didn’t “take” an offering until they noticed the box on their way out.

      • That’s the way my church fellowship used to do it (back when we had a building with a foyer), and I liked it that way. You could give anonimously according to your convictions — and without that awkward,self-conscious moment when the offering plate is passed to you and it feels like everyone is looking at you and measuring you up by the size of the wad you drop in it.
        And what’s up with the carpeted offering plates? Where on earth did that tradition come from?

  4. So the one liturgical element still retaining is collecting money? 😉

    I don’t really know one way or the other what the best way to do the offertory collection is – way back, when I was a child, the custom was that an usher or maybe two stood in the church porch at a desk or table, and everyone put their money offering on that as they walked in to church.

    Somehow it transmogrified into passing round collection baskets to the people in the pews after the sermon and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist proper started, when the priest read the notices. We’ve even got offering envelopes in a nice box of a year’s worth handed out to each house in the parish, which you can fill as much as you like at home and then put in the basket, instead of having to root in your purse/wallet/pocket for change in the middle of Mass.

    There’s pros and cons for any way of doing it; it does feel strange to be digging out coins in the middle of the service, a definite break, but on the other hand I remember as a child being very upset when I had no money to put on the table in the porch because I thought they wouldn’t let me in if I couldn’t pay, so there you go 🙂

    One element, however, that will always remain foreign is the notion of “tithing” or adhering to a recommended minimum contribution. I honestly do not know how some pastors can tell their congregations to fork over this much of your money or else you’re not obeying God’s will – if a priest tried that here, people would just laugh at him (and go to another priest’s Mass instead).

    • The 10% idea is bad but I think it’s good for a parish to say “Look, our weekly expenses are roughly X. There are roughly Y familes here. You should be giving X / Y every week, adjusted according to income.”

      It’s shameful for a parish of well-to-do parishioners not to be able to pay the bills or to have a handful of families paying way more than the rest. And easily avoided, in most cases.

    • Martha – I think you’ve understood the purpose of the tithe. At least in the instances I have seen it presented, it was not “this is the minimum for you to be godly” but rather “here is a concrete number to get you started, as an example of what God has asked of his people in the past.”

      I also find it hard to believe or follow a leader who says “give” but is not doing so themselves. Can you really call your congregation to give sacrificially when you don’t do it yourself? It is not the number that is important, but the concept. However without the number the concept quickly loses meaning. “God doesn’t really want me to give that much every month, does he? 5% is still good enough right?” “I mean, Bono only gives 1% and everyone thinks that’s awesome!” etc.

      I have practiced tithing through both thick and thin, and do not find it laughable or impractical. It is a discipline with has strengthened my faith and weakened the hold of material possessions in my life. I would encourage everyone to think of 10% as a great starting place, and work from there…

  5. One element, however, that will always remain foreign is the notion of “tithing” or adhering to a recommended minimum contribution. I honestly do not know how some pastors can tell their congregations to fork over this much of your money or else you’re not obeying God’s will – if a priest tried that here, people would just laugh at him (and go to another priest’s Mass instead).

    Oh come on Martha, don’t you want the curs….ahem, I mean BLESSINGS found in Malachi 3 ?? Yeah, on this side of the Tiber, we fall for all kinds of razzle dazzle….

    Greg R

    • What I have heard of back in The Old Days (but never experienced myself) was the time of the Easter Dues, when the priest would read out the parishioners’ names and amount of contributions (with commentary on how generous/mean each had been) from the pulpit.

      This, I am given to understand, was *extremely* resented, and I’m not surprised it was dropped. Any attempts at “You all are expected to give X amount of your wages” would go down like a lead balloon.

      We’re going to be painting our parish church soon, which was last done years back and does, in fairness, need to be done again – actually, there are going to be renovations done as problems with damp, etc. were found – so I imagine that there will be a lot of begging – er, requesting of donations and exhortations to generosity – going on from the pulpit in weeks to come, but that’s about the size of it as far as financial guidelines go 🙂

      The one priest, God rest him, who used to go on about giving (and was often criticised for it as “The Canon thinks of nothing but money!”) was a parish priest here back about twenty-five years or so (he’s dead since) and to be fair to him, he was always asking for money for the upkeep of the schools and the church, and explaining where it was being spent and what it was being spent on, and he did a lot for renovation and expansion and so on that was necessary.

      As an aside, we get the announcement of what the total of last week’s collection was every week at Mass e.g. “Last week’s collection amounted to €1,478.56”. I think this is for financial accountability, but does it go on in Protestant churches too?

      • Yes, we have 2 lines:

        Amount Needed Weekly: X (Based on budget we voted in at annual meeting/52)
        Amount Collected Last Week: Y (Does not include special offerings or benevolent fund)

  6. Just for contrast, an Orthodox service doesn’t have any collection of offerings. Rather, there will usually be an almsbox near the entrance, plus (in Romania and other “old countries”) often a kiosk just outside selling devotional materials such as candles, which are virtually required for going into the church.

    But that doesn’t mean the liturgical action of bringing in the gifts has disappeared! Instead, it’s taken on a more formal character. The Holy Gifts of bread and wine are brought in before the liturgy and kept near the altar on a side-table for the first part of the service. After the readings, the priest takes the Gifts and goes to the entrance of the church, then processes to the altar and places the gifts on top to be consecrated. This being Orthodoxy, there’s a suitable amount of incense and bowing and chanting that accompanies this procession, which is known as the Great Entrance.

    • Dana Ames says:

      JS,
      there is a collection taken in my church, between the end of the Anaphora and The Lord’s Prayer. The older elementary children walk around with baskets, and people put in their money or envelopes. There is an almsbox in the narthex. Or if you want to be relatively anonymous, you can give your envelope at the candle desk, or send it via USPS.

      Dana

      • Interesting. None of the churches in America that I’ve visited do that, and I’m pretty certain that no churches in Romania do it.

  7. The offering is also the one place where some churches – who are otherwise not “liturgical” – have their one moment of traditional style liturgy… The offering is taken, the pianist and organists hit “the chord” – and the congregation stands up and sings the doxology. I’ve often wondered, to visitors, does it make even less sense than a full blown liturgy would? I mean why did we have that one concession to such things in the middle of the service?

  8. I attend a Willow Creek-influenced church. We have offering boxes outside of the sanctuary. It’s pretty rare that our pastor ever refers to them. His stated attitude from the pulpit is that he wants for folks to think through their decisions about what they will give. He doesn’t want someone throwing God “a tip” as they put a buck in the basket. I have a lot of respect for that. Then again, our giving is pretty low compared to how many folks come through the doors each week.

    • Our church who also does this is most definitely not a Willow Creek type place, but it works for us, too. However, our offering is robust and healthy despite the fact that many of the families are single-income. It’s a blessing.

  9. I know what you mean about the offering being an awkward time during the service; due to moves for work, I’ve attended various churches through the years and it’s pretty much the same at all the ones I’ve gone to. But I also agree with your point about our financial life is at the core; Jesus said that where your treasure is, there will your heart be.

    I’m always amused by the argument over the tithe. I honestly do not see it as a New Testament requirement, but have noticed consistently that those I’ve met who argue against it, never give that much. I want my life to be characterized by the knowledge that everything I have is God’s in action; that I give generously (so a tithe is just a beginning). I’ve noticed over the years that I give and God blesses in numerous ways; I could relate lots of accounts of God meeting, and going beyond just our bare needs.

    So I do think giving is an important part of worship.

  10. If you have weekly communion, then the offering is best taken before communion, it becomes a bridge to the eucharist.

    You can preface it by saing, “At this time we are taking an offering for continuing the work of this church and God’s Kingdom. It’s an opportunity for us to give back to God a portion of what he has so richly given to us. it is for members and regular attenders. If you are visiting with us, pleas feel under no obligation to give.” Simple and sweet. That’s all. No mini sermon on giving,.

    It’s a great time to have an offertory, a hymn sung, etc.

    Then the offering is collected.

    Then the congregation STANDS and sings a doloxology.

    While this happens, the ushers present the offertory to the minister/priest and then he blesses the offering and actually OFFERS it to God. In one church, I saw the ushers put it in a reg bag and the Priest would lift it up during the last stanza of the doxology.

    Then he would go into the Sursum Corda, which is beginning of the communion service…

    Minister: The Lord be with you!
    People: And also with you!
    Minister: Lift up your hearts!
    People: We lift them to the Lord.
    Minister: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
    People: It is right to give him thanks and praise!

    SHAZAAAAM!!!!! Tell me that doesn’t get at the heart of worship.

    It has such lift and power and velocity that leads to the Eucharist!

    Peace,

    Theoden

  11. There is a box at the back of the room, and there is not a reference to it during the worship service. We give as we can, and there is always enough. As a church, we give toward the regular monthly financial support of 4 missionary families and underwrite the expenses for local outreaches that we sponsor. We don’t own a building or have any paid staff, so our own expenses are rent, utilities, “household expenses”, and Christian ed materials.
    I do have a question about other forms of “giving” that I’ve seen practiced–automatic monthly bank withdrawals and credit card readers. What is your take on those?

  12. At our church there seems to be a weekly offering, then special offerings, bucket offerings (They have the children walk up and down the aisles with buckets, this is for the building maintenance. ), Sunday school offerings, “faith promise” offerings (towards Nazarene missions)–which the pastor points out are supposed to be “above and beyond” your regular tithe [that’s 10% off of your gross pay, not your take-home!]….

    The focus of church seems to be more about fund-raising than anything else….

  13. I have never liked offerings during service or offerings period. I also dislike the association that money is somehow given for “God’s kingdom” or some other great reason. It is difficult for me to somehow look at a twenty dollar bill U.S. and say that a piece of paper with ink on it belongs to God or that God wants it. Ultimately, financial offerings serve the individual congregation’s need to have a place to worship and the means to carry it out.

    Let me be honest and say that I do not believe money has any real spiritual significance other than making sure the church has a survival rating in the economy. Money goes to a church, not to God. Such is the case with organized religion. It’s a business, like everything else. It may sound cynical, but that is what I see.

    Genuine offerings and givings come in the form of taking of one’s time and energy, one’s own life, and giving to others in need. Then we gather for worship in a building or a home or a field to thank God that He has granted us enough life to give to others.

  14. In Wheat That Springeth Green, J.F. Powers has a priest make a deal with his congregation: if they will honor the budget by pledge, he will NEVER mention money. Ever. It works beautifully till the bishop ups the diocesan cut. But really, it’s a great idea.

    The inimitable Gene Scott knew how to do an offering. The announcement of the offering would trigger two minutes of applause.

    My fave Dr. Gene offering was an episode where he demanded $200k in pledges from the audience before he would preach. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

    • L. Winthrop says:

      I saw Gene Scott on TV late one night, back in the 1980’s. He had made some kind of music video called “Let’s kill us some peons for Jesus,” and was showing it over and over. I gathered that this was somehow meant to be religious, but could never fathom what sort of theology it represented.

  15. One thing about my fundamentalist Baptist upbringing that I am proud of: EVERY dollar the church spent came from the congregation via offerings.

    I refused car washes, etc and most of the churches I worked for said no to them as well. When I was at large churches, the mission trips were funded by the kids or the church in cooperation.

    When I see bake sales, fish dinners, bingo, etc. I’m embarrassed for my friends. God’s work should be funded by God’s people, not raffles. Really, what theology is being presented when a church has to have bake sales, etc to pay the bills?

    • “Really, what theology is being presented when a church has to have bake sales, etc to pay the bills?”

      Um – Exodus 12:35-36 ? 😉

    • I couldn’t agree more Imonk, Amen

      My position as pastor as far as youth stuff goes is that if it is important enough for us to think they should do it, if they individually can’t then the church should

  16. This was always a bone of contention for me when I pastored. I probably infuriated my congregation by consistently changing the location of the offering just because I wasn’t sure theologically and aesthetically where it “fit”. Worshiping at St. Pat’s helped clear up some of my misgivings about its location; it is indeed a way we worship God, and the works spoken by the priest back that up. It doesn’t seem out of place because it’s a response to God’s faithfulness to us, just as we receive the elements.

  17. Sometimes the offering can provide some unique sounds of worship, such as when the rambunctious 6 year old hits the plate with his head as he jumps up from his prone position and sends plate and contents flying over several rows of pews. The sounds of coins hitting the floor almost remind me of the bells in a Lutheran Church, and the soft flutter of dollar bills make the distinct sound of doves in flight. I can guarentee that no one will forget that offering.

  18. For the past couple of years I have attended an international Baptist church here in Vienna (originally a SBC/FMB church plant) here in Vienna, Austria. About 35-40% Nigerians, similar proportion Filipinos, the rest other Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and a handful whites from Europe and North America. Every few weeks the Nigerians will decide to do the offering their way: instead of passing the plate two elders will stand at the front with the plates, the worship team breaks into a lively African song, and everyone files out of their seats and dances to the front, in procession, to place their offering in the plates. When we’re done, one of the elders prays over the offering, including a prayer for those who were not able to give, that God would bless them and enable them to give next week. Unlike most of the international churches in Europe, this one is not primarily diplomats and international business people but working class folk, some of them refugees, with many struggling financially, so giving takes on an aspect of sacrifice.

  19. I think the principle and word “tithe” should be removed from the process. Yet I believe we need to be regularly taught and be given opportunities to live our whole life as “living sacrifices” to God, which means letting the Spirit and the Word guide me in concrete ways to be generous with my time, energy, material posessions, spiritual gifts, etc. for the building up of the body of Christ and caring for the poor. It is one of Loves many facets. Giving is from our abundance and our lack. It also can be for us a spiritual discipline both personally and corporately that frees me to hold lightly to temporal things. I think when this is taught and practiced by example in terms of how and where the church itself focuses its spending we may change the culture of giving. And this begins with me.

    • Mick, I agree. In the NT, there are no more tithes. They are “offerings”. Not tithes. And Paul said to give generously, basically, trusting God to tell you what to give and where. Tithing, whether considering Malachi 3:3 or not, is about keeping score and playing the Slot Machine God. God doesn’t keep score. If He’s supposed to be the perfect and loving Father, why do we think we have to earn His blessing?

      Further, I’m tired of every evanglical ministry (including churches) telling me to give to my local church first. I can make $200 go a LOT further in the kingdom by giving 4 single moms an extra few bags of groceries a month than paying for the A/C in the church to run an extra hour in August.

      I’ve done several things, in the past year since leaving brick and mortar church, that I felt God leading me to do out of love and generosity. And I don’t regret a one of them.

      Whether large gift of small (and some have been on either end of the spectrum), I do it because He asks me to. Not because someone tells me I need to or suffer the lack of a blessing.

      True story: the last church we attended had numbered offering envelopes. You wrote the $ amount on the front and the treasury would write the # and the $ on a sheet to total them up faster – and to keep the books on giving. The envelopes were used to “gently remind people to give weekly”. The church was in the red at one point, so I suggested we save a bit of money on printing the 80 boxes of envelopes. I was shot down by the pastor’s wife who said that the reminder induces guilt and guilt induces giving.

      I’m all for ACH payments, BTW.

  20. After years of never having an offering during the service, my church has recently (not reinstated…instated?) an offering during the gathered service time. We had not done an offering before, I believe, out of a sense of seeker sensitivity and “coolness” (only those lame fundy churches have offerings, right?) and we were repenting of that “we’re better than other churches” attitude. This also happened to come after several quarters of not making budget (and I don’t say that cynically). What we do with our money is certainly a reflection of what and who we worship. Is it not the the purpose of the Church to encourage us toward better worship of God with all our faculties and resources? All the same, I do find the offering time to be the most awkward part of the service.

    So now we have baskets passed during the offering, giving boxes in foyer, online forms for using credit card, or you can set up automatic deduction from your bank account. Whatever works best for you, go for it.

    • Listened to Driscoll talk about giving at Mars Hill in Seattle one day. Said less than 20% of attenders ever gave a dollar.

  21. I still don’t understand what the musical “meditation” you mentioned is supposed to be. I see many people in various liturgies referring to these “meditations”, but having never seen one, I have no idea what it is. Can anybody point me to some resources where I can find some examples or explanations of one?

    • Usually instrumental music played while offering is taken. Some churches mayhave a group, solo or choir also.

    • I just found it again, this time in the Book of Common Prayer.
      When doing the noonday office, I came across this line about halfway through (after the reading): “A meditation, silent or spoken, may follow.”

      Is this referring to meditating on the lesson just read or something different?
      I don’t think this instance means instrumental music, as that cannot technically be “spoken”.
      Any Anglicans? Help?

  22. Matthew 22:21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

    In the minds of a lot of folks, this lets them off the hook when they think about what they should give. But if you are to consider the truth that all things that we have are a gift from God, and we are merely stewards of it, then the act of ‘giving back’ becomes a statement of where these things that we ‘offer’ originally came from. As the church is the bride of Christ, and as the husband cleaves unto his bride to be of one flesh( Matthew 19:4-6 )the church can be identified with Christ and therefore giving back what God gave you to the church is giving back to God, ultimately because it is a sacrifice on your part to no longer possess this which you were watching over. Do I go too far here in stating the conjoined nature of the church and Christ? or is this just something we like to forget about because our own lives have priority in our minds, or because we don’t truly care for or trust that our clergy/staff of our church are going to utilize the funds like we would ‘want’ it to be done?

  23. M Stephens says:

    Alms and offerings should not be given publicly or during the church service. Christ said that alms given publicly are often given in order to be seen of men, and said that was the only reward of that type of giving. But the REWARD for giving privately is given by God Himself and given openly.

    Private giving allows everyone to give according to their true feelings of charity, without feeling public pressure or worrying that they will look stingy. (It also helps quell the nasty pride that leads to showing off in giving.) This is a necessary part of true Christian freedom.

    Giving money should be given in envelopes so that the amount is private. The money should be given only to individuals authorized to collect it, and the counting and accounting, and depositing should be done with at least two individuals present to minimize the risk of dishonesty. Individuals who give should have a receipt, and there should be an accounting at the end of each year to make sure that the church has actually received all that the individuals have given.

    Individuals should be able to specify on a form how much of their offering is tithing, and how much goes to other various funds.

    When money is given with real feelings of charity, it becomes sacred and must be used very wisely and not frivolously.

    Money is not the only offering that can be given, as MWPeak said. Giving time, talents, and energy is also significant. Money itself is only a way of translating our labor into something that is more easily exchangeable.

    Tracy is also right, paying tithing brings special blessings, and it is only a beginning. Malachi 3s promise is just as valid today as it every was. I’ve seen it in my life as well.

    Clergy should preach tithing and giving, but should preach according to the scriptures by teaching about the blessings that come from it.

    • How can you justify tithing as a new covenant practice? Guideline, yes. Law? No.

      And how is giving to be blessed not the prosperity Gospel?

      • M Stephens says:

        Tithing was a covenant practice even before Moses’s time. Jacob promised to give 10% to God (Genesis 28:20-22) I know that tithing is a true principle. It requires revelation to know that it is a new covenant practice. It is part of my covenant practice.

        I don’t know what you mean by prosperity gospel.

        It is wrong to say that we will be blessed for keeping the commandments? Then what about the man who said blessed are the meek who shall inherit the earth? Who can say in what form those blessings come or when?
        Is it wrong to say that God provides for His children’s needs?
        Am I saying that God wants to us to lay up treasures on earth? No. Similes about camels not making it through needles have settled that.

        Let us take the statement “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”. Every good investment advisor will tell you that in order to save for retirement, you need to save and invest a set amount every paycheck. (Often they say something like 10%). Now, if we want to be as wise in spiritual things as the children of this world are in worldly things, we need to set aside a set amount every paycheck for God. If the children of this world can say 10% for retirement, then can we not say 10% for God?

        • Okay, gobsmacked here. I thought the “lay up treasures in heaven” reference was specifically in opposition to the scrabbling for gold and silver here on earth, and that we were to make the connection that you can’t buy your way into eternal life.

          Michael, straighten me out here: didn’t you guys have the Reformation over this very thing (well, okay, amongst others) – the notion that by almsgiving and/or ostentatious donations of money to the church, the rich man could dodge the eye of the needle and purchase salvation?

        • L. Winthrop says:

          I am suspicious of the whole concept of “tithing.” To begin with, prudence is often more praiseworthy than generosity–if you can’t afford it, don’t give it. (Churches may protest, but they are hardly disinterested parties.)

          Beyond that, didn’t the biblical tithe combine the roles of tax, charity, and religious fee? Since we do not live in a temple-dominated society, and probably pay tax of more than ten percent anyway, I see no reason to make churches the special objects of our philanthropy. (Jews today often fulfill the requirement through secular philanthropy.)

          • Suspicious of tithing? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say you’re suspicious of those asking for a tithe?

            No one has suggested that the church be “special objects of our philanthropy.” Rather, we are to support those doing God’s work among us, as a way of showing thankfulness (see: the writings of Paul). We are also to care for the needy among us, which can (and should) be accomplished both within and without the church.

            I see no more reason to be suspicious of tithing than of the ten commandments. No, we are no longer bound to the letter of the law. We are not required to give precisely 10%. But we are required to give sacrificially and joyfully, which (as a previous commenter noted) is rarely objected to except by those who do not like giving any of their money away.

          • L. Winthrop says:

            Melissa (below), I understand the concept of “tithing” to mean the belief that we have a duty to pay ten percent of our income to our church. I do not agree that we have such a duty, either to pay ten percent, or to pay so much more to the church than to other charities.

            If we are in financial difficulty, our duty may well be to give nothing, the widow’s mite notwithstanding. (Prudence is a virtue.) Of course one could contribute non-financially.

        • Margaret Catherine says:

          “It requires revelation to know that it is a New Covenant practice” – could you explain that a little more?

  24. Dana Ames says:

    Years ago Leonard Sweet wrote a terrific article on tithing. According to his research, if you added up all the requirements for giving in the OT, it came to about 22%. It wasn’t just a tithe. His point was that it *all* belongs to God.

    I can’t find any percentage number in the NT. The only guideline there is: give weekly as you are able according to your conscience (and, at least some of the time, sacrificially).

    20 years ago at my Vineyard church (not Anaheim), we had Agape boxes at the back of the auditorium. People were faithful, and we very rarely had to go to the savings acct to pay the bills. John Wimber was convinced that the offering should be part of worship somehow, and we switched to bags (quieter, no one knows how much anyone puts in) handed ’round during the last worship song. Giving increased.

    Dana

  25. @ Miguel,

    I think the rubrics in the prayer book for the noonday office that you mentioned (“A meditation, silent or spoken, may follow.”) refer to the readings from Scripture. Traditionally at the divine office, a period of silent meditation would follow the reading of Scripture. The prayer book keeps this option but also allows a spoken meditation (homily) on the lessons if the service is a comunal celebration of the noonday office. However, most churches don’t offer the noonday office because it is not one of the “major” offices (i.e. morning or evening prayer) so probably the best way to understand the rubrics is to silently meditate on the Scriptures.

  26. Dana Ames says:

    RE bake sales, etc.

    I agree that bake sales and bazaars and such should not be for the day-to-day expenses. But heck, they’re fun! At least where I’m from, the proceeds usually go to “above-and-beyond” giving or expenses. Where else do you get to sample people’s food or hand-work “specialties”? Before “Hawaiian bread” ever came to the grocery stores, my mom was buying it homemade by the Portugese ladies at the church bake sale. In the small town where I grew up, everyone would go to everyone else’s bazaars. It was viewed as the “neighborly” thing to do. Doctrinal distinctives never entered into it; you were helping the good work your friends were trying to do.

    My church puts on one large ethnic food fundraiser per year, open to the community. A chunk of that money has gone to retiring the mortgage, and as far as I know we are debt-free. Even folks in the community who are rank secularists/atheists/Godonlyknowswhatelse come to our fundraiser, and by doing so they are supporting the church, where prayer and the Eucharist are offered “for all mankind”- this makes me smile…

    Dana

  27. L. Winthrop says:

    I think it should be okay to talk about money, and pass the collection plate / hat / basket / fishing net. After all, this is reality. The congregation should be somehow informed about the basics of the church’s budget, and their role in it.

    On the other hand, I am opposed to the concept of “tithing” (which, theology aside, is probably too much money in any case), or other means of pressuring churchgoers to donate fixed amounts (as certain denominations are famous for doing–someone mentioned “Word of Faith”, for example).

    I believe that all churches have a responsibility to participate in actual charity, such as help for the poor. (And not just as marketing, either.)

    One liberal Episcopal church handled the collect like this: As the plates circulated among the congregation (the people were standing, so the plates were easy to avoid), the priest said, “If this is your first time, you don’t have to put anything in the plate. It’s on Jesus. But if this is your second time, or more, we accept all major credit cards…no, really!” A funny appeal, but I approve of its tone, which both respects individual autonomy, and reminds the congregation of their responsibility. Oh yes, and they did also donate to / participate in various charitable causes.

  28. My wife and I have led worship in a variety of situations where the job of announcing the collection or offering was incorporated into our worship time. Sometimes I would remind people that giving is also an act of worship, or go into a prayer in which we thanked God for blessing us that week and making it possible for us to give to support the work of the church and to help others; thus signaling it was time for the offering; while at the same time moving into the next worship song.

    In one church however, they insisted on keeping to an instrumental ‘offertory’ while the collection took place. Not only that, they somewhat spiritualized this by saying that it was wrong to sing because “it did not honor the offering.” Of course I wouldn’t go along with this and just led the congregation out in a simple worship song, sometimes one for which we didn’t need projected lyrics.

    On other Sundays, they had a rather lame instrumental piece; people started whispering and then talking with their neighbors; and the whole thing had a kind of “seventh inning stretch” quality about it, as only Evangelicals can do.

    I’d rather sing and combine two worship elements into one moment.

  29. In the Episcopal Church of my youth, when the gifts had been presented, the congregation said, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” I always like that.

  30. I kind of like the way that the church in Jerusalem gave their offerings in the fourth chaper of Acts. The wealthier members sold pieces of property and then laid the money at the feet of the apostles — who then distributed it all back out to the people according to individual needs.
    Funny how you don’t find many churches that still follow that scriptural precedent for giving within the church — not here in America, anyway.

    • I don’t know RonP where you are coming from. For one I have seen many hand outs given within the church over time. I have seen seminary educations funded for men from overseas. I have seen money pour out of American coffers and go to Christians and non Christians suffering all over the world. I have even seen this done despite the financial mess the church might be in at the time. I have seen millions flood New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. I have seen churches give lots of money to members in need. What churches do you go to?
      But as a pastor who has seen much of this kind of criticism I am tempted to ask: Are you mad that you didn’t get a hand out? Or did the church reject your money after you sold all and tried to leave it at the feet of the pastor?

      • You’re right that most churches in this country are more giving than I gave them credit for in my comment. I apologize.
        I guess it’s just this stale little corner of the Bible Belt I grew up in. Around here, we seem to have primarily two kinds of churches: those controlled behind the scenes by a small circle of first-class members, who keep the pastor on a short leash and use church funds to ensure that they get to worship in comfort and style in seats of honor; and those ruled by annointed pastor-kings, who keep their congregations on a short leash and employ church funds toward their personal vision of moving up from the backwoods to the big time. And the remaining few churches are usually so poor that keeping the lights on and the pastor paid is about all they can manage.
        And, no, I’m not mad because I got turned down by some church for a handout. Quite the opposite. Several months ago, I found myself temporarily unemployed and without any savings to fall back on, and, if it weren’t for the compassion and generosity of my church family, I would probably be homeless right now. And I didn’t even have to ask for their help. They just observed my needs and met them.
        But, even though I am very thankful to be a part of such a loving and giving group of people, I still think that even we fall very short of the bar set by the teachings and example of Christ and the apostles. I know that I fall miserably short when it comes to putting the needs of others before my own selfish wants and desires — which means I should probably keep my mouth shut on this issue. But I can’t help but see that the NT writers instructed the early church to focus their finances first and foremost towards caring for those in need. And I can’t help but notice that (for the most part) modern Churchianity seems to regard caring for widows and orphans as what the church should do with whatever money is left over after all the necessary and important business is take care of. Not that we don’t do a great deal to meet needs, both at home and around the world. But imagine what we could do if we all really set love and compassion for people as priority number one in both our church and individual finances. It would transform the planet.
        But, maybe, that’s just a pipe dream.

      • I’m curious if you know why seminary educations. Why not a trade for one of the unemployed men in the congregation or neighborhood? After all, I know plenty of missionaries who are overseas who have never seen ANYONE come to Christ through their mission time.

        • Derek,
          If I were to list all the examples of Christian charity I have seen through the church, I wouldn’t be able to stop typing.
          I have however seen men and women sent to a trade school, given jobs etc. I mentioned seminary education because that was a particularly striking one for me when I was at Seminary with about 20 Russians, and 4 or 5 Haitians, all who had their education paid for by very generous people who wanted to see that the congregations in these areas were fed by faithful pastors.

  31. I do believe that in the early church the offering followed “the doors, the doors” which was the signal for the elders/deacons to usher out all visitors and catachumens, who would not be allowed to stay for the service of the sacrament. If they weren’t members of the church, they did not contribute to the church’s offering, which is the responsibility and privilege of the members, not guests.

  32. Two contrasting services–and very contrasting contexts:

    1) I was just at a contemporary service in a suburban evangelical congregation. The music was pretty good, the prayer astonishing in its range and depth, the preaching so-so (I try not to critique other clergy, but my daughter agreed with my assessment). But the treatment of the offering was surprising. One of the church leaders got up and said–and this is the entire quote–“It is customary for us to take the offering now.” Not a single biblical word about the “cheerful giver.” Not a theological word about our gracious response to God’s even more gracious gift. Not a practical word about the program of the church. Just that “It is customary.” This may have been just the Sunday, I’m a little saddened at the shallowness of the presentation (of a piece, by the way, with the downplaying of communion that Sunday and the actual absence of Scripture reading). When did a church with a lively spiritual life become afraid of spiritual depth? When did they act with less depth than my mainline UMC? (Sigh.) It made me wish I was back at context number…

    2) A worship service in Peki, Volta Region, Ghana, where I think they have the kind of offering I want. It’s an Evangelical Presbyterian Church (very traditional German origin). But as the offering comes up, the pastor stands up and talks about the goodness of God. People are ill from malaria, they are heartbreakingly poor, they work hard and have almost nothing. But suddenly they are up on their feet, singing and dancing. And they *dance* their offering forward! The bills (the Ghanaian equivalent at the time of two mites would have looked like bricks of bills) are in their right hands as they dance and sing a song of joy and wonder–the right hand is the clean one. There are two plastic buckets up front: one for the men and one for the women. This is a competition!–and I’m told the women always win! The second offering (and the third that Sunday) has seven buckets, one for each day of the week, and congregants are to put their offerings into the bucket representing the weekday of their birth. I take part, of course, but I find that I’m swept up in the enthusiasm, find myself completely across the room from my friends, blessing and being blessed in the Ewe language. And when the Doxology comes, I am in tears. Something has shifted inside of me.

    I share some of your ambivalence about the offering. I’ve not done a very good job of sharing this experience with my lovely but very white-bread congregations over the years. It’s probably all a matter of context. (The divergent experiences in the comments on this post seem to reveal that. Maybe it’s good the NT is so vague!) But I do know this: I’ve given offerings in boxes outside the sanctuary, at a plain ol’ Sunday American Protestant offering tray, at a “customary practice” service, and in a plastic bin marked “Yawo” for “Thursday.” Only in the last have I been surrounded by brothers and sisters filled with joy at the practice. If I had my pick, I would choose that West African context in a heartbeat. But I think I’m called here, to rural Nebraska, to share a small drop of the taste of that joy with my brothers and sisters who may not believe such a thing could exist. Who knows what that drop might water?

    ===

    Only a slight change of topic: One of my UMC churches *has* started to take a special offering to support mission shares (new UMC-speak for “apportionments”). As part of the practice, we’ve made it a point to pray for this offering before it goes out the door and to the Conference. We pray for the colleagues that will use it, the people who will benefit, and for Christ’s people whom we may never meet but whom we will touch. A simple thing, but it fits wonderfully into worship, especially before communion. My farmers and business folk don’t dance yet–but they have begun to smile, maybe even be enthusiastic, when we talk about mission shares.