And so it is...
One Sunday morning worship to the next we gather the offering (or the returning we might could better say) in the midst of worship. It is our impassioned calling of returning thanks unto God. And more than likely the offering/collection envelopes read like a set of instructions, parsing out how the offering, as given and returned unto God, is to be parceled out for the ministry of the church and the work of the kingdom. Some goes to the general fund. Some goes to a memorial fund. Some goes to help pay down a church debt. Some funds are designated toward our personal favorite ministries. It's what we do in worship and this practice is quite common. Could you imagine, then, this prayer of thanksgiving following the offering on one of these Sundays?
Pastor: Our Almighty God,
Congregation: Use these gifts, that you have first given to us, and for which we have returned to you with specific direction, for the glory of your kingdom by way of the areas we desire, so that your will may be done, in as much as your heavenly will aligns with our own personal preferences, both now and forever more. Amen!
Admittedly this is quite a stray from the humble offering prayer of thanksgiving most common in many of our churches, but is this revised version a little too truthful? Is this not the reality of our modern times when it comes to our sense of giving or generosity. We hear God's calling to be generous and our answer is to somewhat accidentally step into God's shoes and provide direction with what we return unto God.
An uniformed observer might be led to assume that the one holding the power in this offering exchange is in fact the congregants returning thanks and not God who is the receiver. After all, the givers are providing all the direction by way of designating their gifts. Would that observation be incorrect?
Designating not to Designate
What if we were to rethink this whole idea of designated giving in churches? Is designated giving our most faithful way of returning thanks? What might God say about our modern sense of directed giving?
Ultimately, the greatest trouble with designated giving in churches is in the way it assigns power in the act of thanksgiving. When one is called to thanksgiving, the power is recognized in the one receiving the thanksgiving. It is a transfer of thanks which empowers the receiver and acknowledges the givers appreciation.
However, in our modern sense of giving, our humanity and need for power have quietly corrupted the otherwise pure notion of giving thanks and of giving. Our brokenness has broken down our faithful sense of trust and inspired us to hold on to power wherever possible. And so it is with our offering at church. Rather than give unto God and purely recognize his glory, our tendency is rather to give in such a way as to inform God as to how he is to utilize our thanksgiving. It could easily appear that what we are giving somehow originated with us and not with God. The formula, by our actions through the offering, has become backwards.
So why do our churches permit designated giving?
Statistically, it has been proven that people will give more if they are provided the opportunity to direct their giving. When we feel empowered to show our appreciation based on what areas we value the greatest, we are more likely to give more generously (mostly in support of our preferred ministries or values). In other words, we like being able to choose our winners and supporting areas that give us fulfillment. Designating our giving yields unto us a sense of joy and we therefore can enjoy giving more to our favorite causes, ministries or areas of focus.
If we were to take away designated giving, it is quite likely that overall giving would decrease. This, unfortunately, makes sense. If we take away designations, we take away the ability to choose our winners and the joy in supporting specific areas of greatest desire to the giver. The natural result, by way of our broken humanity and our craving to maintain power is that people who can't designate will indeed give less.
Our church leadership has been tuned into this reality for many years and the tendencies among our churches is to encourage, or at least tolerate, designated giving. After all, the more that is given, even under stipulation, is somehow better than the less given without it.
Is This Faithful?
It is our calling to seek the will of God and to follow. We are at our most faithful when we seek to adopt the will of God as our own. After all, God is almighty and his love for us is overflowing. Push come to shove we would always want God's loving will to supersede our broken will. May God's will reign supreme.
To be faithful to this calling comes at a price. We can't have it our way, and God's way, when the two of those are different. It is God who holds all the power to designate all aspects of: ministry, his grace and how he calls us to serve. We cannot serve our will and desires and apply them unto God. Our thanksgiving can only be at its purest when we recognize God's glory and return our appreciation unto God for God's divine work in his kingdom.
Giving up our quest for power to accomplish God's will
Therefore, our faithful calling is to designate not to designate. Yes, this will come at a price and could leave us at first feeling stripped of our power and influence. But the larger result that comes with embracing this action is a greater worship of our creator, passion for service and a deeper sense of appreciation.
It's not a bad thing for us to be reminded that God is almighty. We do well to acknowledge his glory by handing over our need for power, including our broken desire to designate or determine our giving, so that God may go about receiving our returned giving and using it as our Heavenly Father determines across his kingdom.
The Tough Sell, The Freeing Joy
The great challenge with an appeal against designated giving is that it will, at first, likely be resisted. We've been engrained in our culture to maintain power. Handing over the power to designate and determine will seem like a sacrifice; and a scary one at that. However, there is a reality to this type of appeal that is quite freeing. To not designate is to worship and glorify God and to open our hearts to his will. This seeming loss of power is replaced with a sense of eternal trust.
An invitation into this way of trust opens us to see the beauty of God's larger work in ministry. Unlike Burger King's slogan, "Have it your way," our joy is found in returning unto God our thanksgiving with a united desire to "Have it God's way." In God's way there is no corruption by human brokenness. In God's way there is no selfish need on our part for the mirage of power that ultimately rests with our almighty God. We begin to resonate with God's grace in trust and our excitement grows as we seek what God has in store for the work of his kingdom.
Most of us have never truly considered the many ways we've tried to inform God of how his way is to be. We do it innocently and often ignorantly. To become aware of how our hunger for power affects our relationship with God and our acts of thanksgiving is the first step to invite change. Working to give thanks, in trusting God and without direction or designation then follows. Knowing the freedom of God's grace and seeking his will opens us to a deeper sense of appreciation and unites us as eager disciples, ready to serve and embrace God's work in his kingdom, "God's way!"
Hidden Truths in Pastoral Ministry
Pastors: Let's Eliminate the Offering
Financial Rules of Thumb for Clergy
Why Don't People Give More? Here's Why!
Clergy: Wisely Negotiate Your Call
Church Budgeting in a More Faith-full Way
Reconsider Your Clergy Pension Elections (Now!)
Consider Again Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for Clergy
Clergy: Talk to Your Churches About Wills
Clergy & Financial Compensation Guidelines
About the Author
Hi, I'm Pastor Andrew, an ELCA pastor with a love for sharing empowering personal stewardship for fellow church leaders. I enjoy researching the financial wisdom of the scriptures and of fellow church leaders and I hope to share my findings in a way to help clergy of all types!