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A More Meaningful Offering in Worship

by Mike Farley on May 03, 2024

In our Sunday worship services, the offering that follows the sermon is not merely a time for giving money. Through the reading and preaching of Scripture, God speaks to equip and call us to renewed trust and love for him and to renewed desire to live out his mission in the world. And our first collective response is the offering in which (as the heading in the worship folder says) “we offer ourselves in gifts and song.” God’s covenant relationship with us in Christ encompasses every aspect of our life, and so we offer nothing less than ourselves to him as whole people.

This idea builds on biblical foundations. In the Old Testament, the system of worship required God’s people to bring tangible gifts for the liturgies of sacrifice. No one came to worship empty handed. Rather, they came bringing animals, grain, and wine, and God took these gifts of his grace and used them as means of grace to renew the spiritual life of his people in worship as they offered God’s gifts back to him with loyalty and trust. Likewise, in the New Testament and the early centuries of the church, the Christian churches collected not only money but also concrete gifts of food, clothing, and other material items to offer to God in their Sunday liturgy to support the church and its mission in the world. This practice of offering was an embodied way of expressing faith and love toward God because these material gifts represented the people and their work, energy, time, knowledge, skills, and investment in the world. By offering ourselves to God as a concrete act of worship, God forms us through the liturgy with a faith-filled posture of heart, mind, and body overflowing in acts of generous self-giving for God’s glory and the good of the church and our neighbors.

In our worship services, however, it can be hard to experience the offering in corporate worship in this manner. In the liturgy, the only material product of our work that the church receives is money. And because many of us give our regular tithes and other financial offerings electronically, large numbers of us do not have anything concrete to put into an offering plate as an embodied expression of our faith and love for God in worship. We do sing together during the offering, and the songs for the offering are chosen to express our collective response to God’s word in the Scripture reading and sermon for that day. But without something more tangible to give or do, the offering can feel a bit abstract and hollow as an act of worship in that moment.

How can we make the offering in worship more meaningful? Starting on May 5, we are going to add a weekly opportunity for everyone to give something very tangible during the offering. At the end of the sermon, the preacher will invite the congregation to reflect in silence for a minute or so to collect some thoughts about how to personally respond to the Lord. In each pew, there will be new offering cards that we can use to write down a short, specific item that we want to offer to the Lord from some aspect of our life. Prompts on the card include these categories: praise (offering gratitude & joy to God), lament (offering suffering & pain to God), petition (offering requests to God), and commitment to act (offering my life to God). These written offerings could address many different things, such as a situation, success, or challenging project in your work; something about a relationship with a friend or family member; a person to serve; a situation of suffering or injustice; a joyful achievement or blessing to celebrate; a sin to put to death or a pattern or habit to change; a new spiritual discipline to practice or a new way that God is calling you to follow him; a renewal in your relationship with God. Finally, when ushers pass the offering plate down the row, we can place our cards in the offering plate as our embodied act of offering ourselves to the Lord.

Why are we doing this, and how will it help us? First, let me clarify what these cards are not. The new offering cards are not a means of collecting information about anyone. The responses on the cards will not be read or recorded. No one will contact you about anything that you write on the offering portion of these cards unless you specifically mark the option to request it. (The opposite side of the card will have a space for prayer requests that are collected and sent to the pastors, elders, and the team of intercessors who pray for weekly prayer requests submitted by the congregation.)

The primary purpose of the new approach is to cultivate our spiritual growth by making the offering a more meaningful act in corporate worship. By taking a moment to reflect before the Lord about how he is calling us to respond personally and specifically to him, we are engaging our hearts and opening up to God to discern how to apply his word in our lives. By writing something down and putting the card in the plate, we are engaging our minds and bodies to offer ourselves to God in a tangible act of worship. By doing this week after week, we are learning that we are active participants and not mere spectators in worship, and we are cultivating an expectation and habit that we will actively respond to God in worship by bring our work, our relationships, our joys, our sorrows, and every other aspect of our lives before him. It is an amazing gift that God invites and gladly receives us as we offer all the dimensions of our lives to him in Christ, and we pray that our written responses each week will make the offering a more meaningful and formative act of worship for all of us.

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