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FIRST-PERSON: Whatever happened
to the offering?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–In the rush to become “seeker-sensitive,” some churches may lose one of the most sublime expressions of worship — participating in the offering. A phrase that is becoming all too familiar is: “This time of offering is for our members. It is their obligation to take care of the needs of the church. If you are visiting, just consider this service our gift to you. Do not feel obligated to participate.”

Some churches have eliminated the worship with tithes and offerings altogether. They simply place a box at the entry to the worship center for people to use for their giving. I wonder how many visitors think it is the “poor box” or a suggestion box?

The de-emphasis on giving could breed two significant errors. First, members may believe that their giving is to “pay for the needs of the church.” As a minister, I am keenly aware of the financial needs of the church. However, when I place my envelope in the offering plate, I do not give in order to meet the needs of the church. I give as an act of worship to the Lord who saved me, called me, and is gracious enough to provide for my family daily.

I see my tithe not as a contribution or a donation, but as the “first fruits,” holy to the Lord. Giving is an act of faith in and worship of God. I am delighted that the Lord uses those gifts through the ministry of the church and the missions supported through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program. However, that use is a blessed result, not a motivation.

If the church member sees the offering as “supporting the needs of the church” but does not like some aspect of the church’s ministry, that person may feel that he no longer is obligated to give. On the other hand, if I give as unto the Lord, then I give consistently, whether or not I agree with something. There are other ways I can express my opinion concerning the church budget. However, once the body of Christ has decided on that budget, I give because it is an integral part of my worship of God.

The second error is the denial of a blessing to visitors. Yes, visitors should not feel pressured to give. However, by defining the offering as anything less than a worship experience, visitors are given the impression that the offering is not for them. Every person who enters the house of God should feel encouraged to participate in all parts of the worship experience, including worship through giving to the Lord.

Unfortunately, the demotion of the offering is often found in traditional services that have a musical offertory, prayer and passing the plate. When the offering is simply a custom or a convenient way of getting visitor information cards, it loses its luster and becomes boring and commonplace rather than joyful and vibrant.

Let us elevate the place of the tithes and the offerings to its rightful place. Surround the offering with an atmosphere of worship. Emphasize the nature of giving as to the Lord. Have someone prepared to pray deeper than what often is much like “grace” before a meal. Let the spirits of the people soar in song as they worship the Lord in giving.

When I leave the church on Sunday, I not only want to have worshiped through music, the Word, and commitment at the invitation; I also want to have worshiped in my commitment of giving. Lift it up so that people might lift him up as they place their love gifts before him.
Phillips is associate professor of practical theology and director of the practical missions office and denominational relations office at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tenn., and former executive director/minister of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.

    About the Author

  • Jere Phillips