“Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?” (1 Chronicles 29:5)
In this scripture King David is inviting the people to bring precious metals and jewels to contribute to the building of the temple. To David, the brining of these gifts was not just about the building up of the temple or the impact the temple would have on future generations, rather he wanted to make it clear that by offering these gifts the people were offering themselves to God. The people, not their gifts, were the true offering.
Grace Pomroy recently shared an experience she had when she was working at a Bible camp during college. At the camp the campers and counselors were divided into villages, and the counselors were tasked with creating multiple worship services for their campers. Each service had to include all the portions of the liturgy – including the offering.
Initially, Grace found herself a little perplexed by this idea since it was camp policy that no camper was allowed to bring money with them to camp. How do you do the offering with no money? This question forced the counseling staff to understand the original purpose of the offering as a way to tangibly respond to God’s love for us. So, they came up with lots of creative offering ideas for the campers to consider.
What were the talents they had to offer? How can you offer them to one another during the camp week? Campers were encouraged to give specific affirmations to other campers to remind them they are children of God. Grace said it was during these moments of offering that she felt that both the counselors and the campers experienced offering as an act of worship that tangibly allowed everyone to express their love for God and for their neighbors.
Now let’s fast forward a few years. As a Millennial churchgoer, Grace found that the offering time in worship had lost its significance. She gives exclusively online and doesn’t ever carry cash with her. The offering became an uncomfortable experience. Having the offering plates come by her and not putting anything into them was awkward because she knew people noticed and thought she wasn’t giving at all.
Over the past year and a half this issue has been compounded by the addition of online worship. Church leaders have struggled to translate “the offering” into an online worship setting, some opting to leave it out of the service. The majority of those who did choose to include the offering in the worship service, did so for the sake of church sustainability. It became a sort of “infomercial” 1) invite people to give; 2) share a list of the many ways to give; and 3) tell a heartwarming story about how these gifts are making in impact.
What if we made “offering as worship” the main goal and saw giving to the church as just one way to respond?
The offering should provide all of us with a way to tangibly respond to God’s love for us. Our finances offer us one way to do this, but it’s certainly not the only way. Here are some other ideas:
- Stories: Invite people to share a story of a time when they have felt God’s peace or seen God at work. They can write them down or, better yet, share them in the chat during online worship or with a neighbor sitting next to them during in-person worship. Especially as we emerge from this time of communal trauma, these can be really uplifting reminders of how God is present.
- Vocations: Invite people to bring something to worship that represents their vocation(s) and bring it out during the offering to invite God into this work and consider how they might use these skills in response to God’s love.
- Time: Invite people to consider how they might use one hour this coming week to love their neighbor. This might be through a pre-existing volunteer commitment, helping a neighbor rake their leaves, praying for those who are sick, calling a loved one who is lonely, etc. Share tangible daily life examples, not just church volunteer opportunities.
- Privilege: Invite people to name any privilege they have. This could be due to their gender, race, ethnicity, employment status, socioeconomic status, etc. Invite them to consider ways they might work to dismantle these systems of oppression and live in solidarity with neighbors in need.
Some might wonder if people won’t begin to think that giving money to the church isn’t necessary if there are so many other ways to respond. In fact, what Grace has found is that people are delighted to see that God (and the church) wants to use all of them, not just their wallets. Restoring the offering to its original position as an act of worship increases our responsibility to tell the story of the church’s mission and vision.
As our congregations begin to find a “new normal” this fall, there’s no better time to experiment with breathing new life into this important part of the worship liturgy. How has your church creatively approached the offering, and how will you continue some of these new practices in the coming months? What are some of the most inspiring ways you have observed the offering as an expression of giving our “whole” selves to the act of worship?
POJ Associate for Stewardship