Eliminate the offering? Are you crazy? How will our church survive?
Quite well actually, if we're willing to fully reconsider how unfortunately misguided this worship practice has become in modern church stewardship.
First, let's recognize that in one way, shape or form, all of our churches have an offering. It's perhaps a more formal passing of the plates or a basket left around the sanctuary. We've even tried to modernize as churches and have an offering available to our parishioners electronically or through some other cutting edge and convenient giving method. In truth, though, these methods are not the problem. From passing the plates to giving by text, all these forms provide a great convenience for giving and indeed giving is important.
Further, our church structure has for decades been built on the expectation of people making their offering. Ministry is funded and outreach occurs, all based on the offerings of congregants with invitations to give regularly (or tirelessly) provided by church leaders.
As churches, we're even quite guilty of trying to connect the offering with our struggles to balance the costs of ministry. How often have we felt the nudge to somehow inform parishioners that they just aren't giving enough in their offering? These stewardship efforts, connected with some level of guilt, have only ever been moderately effective in increasing giving for a time, yet often have huge negative long term effects. Rather than inspiring generosity, these efforts more commonly result in harbored frustrations about stewardship to the place where this (stewardship) can become the big bad word in church. "Pastor," have you ever heard, "you talk too much about stewardship and money." A simple translation could be, "Pastor, every time we talk about money and my offering in church, I'm made to feel guilty and it makes me feel like a bad Christian, so please, let's just not go there anymore."
In truth, the biggest problem with the offering is the modern use of the word itself - the "Offering."
In modern terms, an offering is something that we give of ourselves.
But here's the problem: the modern understanding of the offering doesn't jive with God's understanding of the offering.
Consider Deuteronomy 26:10, which sets forth how one is to make their offering in the midst of worship:
"And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God."
And again consider from Deuteronomy 16:17 of God's instructions to the Israelites:
"All shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you."
It's subtle, but there is an incredibly different understanding of the offering in these texts than in our modern, more common, usage.
In both cases, the calling is not that individuals offer to God of what they have, but rather they RETURN to God from among what God has provided them.
There it is. Did you catch it? The offering isn't about giving to God of what we have, but rather it's all about returning to God from among what God has provided us. You and I have nothing to offer that isn't already God's. We can only return in thanksgiving what is already his.
Let's eliminate "The Offering" and instead, in worship, share in "The Returning"
The modern notion of an offering, even in worship, suggests to us that we are in charge of determining what, or how much, we will give to God from among what we have. We are, it would seem, being called upon to offer OUR stuff unto God.
But it's all God's. It's not ours, it's God's. It always has been God's and it always will be.
God, by his grace and love for us, has provided us with what we have, for our benefit and for the work of his kingdom. Of all we have, God is the giver and we are the receiver. To further welcome us to know his joy in giving and to bring balance and focus into our lives in stewardship, God has invited us to return to him from among what he has provided. This, in the biblical sense, is to say that our offering is our returning unto God in thanksgiving.
When we gather in worship, our generous desires to give are based on our thankful recognition of all God has first given us. Since we have nothing that isn't ultimately his (sorry for the double negative - thus - everything is God's), we are giving to him not of our own, but of what he has given. We are not offering in the modern sense, we are returning in the biblical sense.
Thankful hearts return to God
Let's get rid of the offering in worship and replace it with "The Returning." When we invite our people to consider what God has provided them and to return unto God with thanksgiving, a natural disassociation begins to unfold between the notion of that which is ours and the understanding that everything is all God's.
God has given and we have received. Thankful hearts recognize all God has provided and are eager to return thanks. Giving of what is God's is a joyful and appreciative response that unleashes generosity.
Imagine if we started freeing our people of the notion that they needed to give an offering, as they've come to understand it, and instead welcomed them to know God's gifts in their lives and to return of God's bounty in thankful giving. Let's unleash "The Returning" and together embrace the joy of God in a deeper and more meaningful walk in stewardship.
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!