The Offering Is a Great Teaching Moment

Students and student ministers of mine know that I like to emphasize the fact that the Offering is not a throwaway moment that should be dispensed with as quickly as possible in the service so that we can get to the “real” religious stuff. Stewardship is (or could be) as spiritual as prayer, and I believe that ministers should put as much care and thought into making the offering words meaningful as they do their prayers and sermons. If people hear the same phrase week after week, their giving can also become rote. What a shame that is, for the offering is part of the liturgy during which we actually mingle our life energy in a tangible way, through the sharing of our financial gifts. There’s no reason to mumble something brief and euphemistic (The wag in me always wants to look around in exaggerated consternation when visiting at churches where they do this and say in a stage whisper, “Excuse me, is this the part where we’re supposed to throw money in the basket?”) and “get it over with.”

The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver, so I like to start my Offerings with jokes, when I can get a good one. SweetieBang gave me this one and I’m using it tomorrow. You have my permission to do the same, just please attribute:

“A time-share salesman and a priest die at the same time. The time-share salesman gets hit by a bus; the priest dies in his sleep of natural causes. When they end up at the pearly gates, St. Peter calls forward the time-share salesman and says, ‘What did you do with your life?’ The time-share salesman guy says, ‘I sold time-share.” St. Peter checks his notes, he looks in a big book, he says ‘I see here that you are correct’ and he says, ‘You see that mansion made of solid gold, with the crystal blue sea on one side and the purple ski mountains in the back? You go there.’

So the priest is thinking, ‘Wow, if the time-share salesman gets that, I’ve got it made.’When St. Peter calls him up and asks, ‘What did you do with your life?’ the priest says, ‘I gave food to the hungry, clothing and shelter to the poor’ — he goes on for half an hour about all his good works. St. Peter looks in his book and says, ‘I see that this is true. You see that stone cottage in the meadow with the sheep in front of it? You go there.’ The priest says, ‘Well, begging your pardon St. Peter, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how come the time-share salesman guy gets the gold mansion and all that?’

And St. Peter says, ‘Oh, he only gets that for a week.’

Jesus said, ‘Where your heart is, there shall your treasure be also.’ Our hearts are with this community – not because it is perfect, not because it is easy to be in community, and not because we are always happy here, but because here we are called and recalled, again and again, to our highest aspirations and ideals. The Church at its best provides not only the comfort of fellowship and care, but the spiritual stretch we need to go beyond the littleness of our own lives and grow in moral maturity. Let us now share our a portion of our financial treasure where our hearts are. Pledges and free will offerings to [name of congregation] will now be gratefully received.” – (Rev. Victoria Weinstein, Norwell, MA)

11 Replies to “The Offering Is a Great Teaching Moment”

  1. Oh, so perfect! My well of good jokes has been dry of late. I’m preaching tomorrow about living and making choices about how we spend our time in relation to what is eternal. Will use, and attribute. Smooches!

  2. Some day, I will have to go into great detail about why the Unitarian Universalist emphasis on and sacrilizing of the offering drives me up a wall.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this. I definitely agree that if the worship leader does not treat the offering as a sacred and important moment, the members of the congregation may not either.

    But I think that we’re in trouble when we begin to see the offering words as a “sales pitch,” because it displaces the responsibility for the congregation’s generosity onto the worship leader.

    I once led a summer worship service at my congregation, including the offertory. While I didn’t tell a great joke as you do above, I did put thought into the sentences that I choose for the offertory.

    Afterwards in a discussion, a fellow congregant mentioned that he did not give because I had not provided an adequately lengthy and solicitous offertory. I was a little taken aback, because he seemed to place the responsibility for his generosity (or lack thereof) on me. While of course worship leaders ought to craft the best offertory possible, the responsibility for giving generously lies with the whole congregation.

  4. Right on, Shelby. That’s a nonsense bit of controlling, obnoxious feedback you got from that man (give me a break!), but I’m simply trying to recognize that, in the 21st century, people have terrible attention spans and also zone out a lot of moments that should be filled with mindfulness. My making the offering an engaging, memorable part of the service is my way of fighting against the low energy, “you one all know what to do” monotonal mutterings that communicate to me “This isn’t important, everyone here knows what the offering is about (they don’t), and let’s get this over with quickly.”

  5. When we lived in Boston we attended Union United Methodist Church. (I beleive you’ve visited them several times PeaceBang.) There are several things that they do that the Missouri Synod Lutheran churchs of my childhood don’t, but it all seems to be rooted in _celebration_! There is a real sense that Christ is a reason to be happy, and that church is a place where we can celebrate him.

    This point of view is brought to the offering as well. I know you wrote a post on it (in fact it was one of the first of yours that I read and part of the reason that I kept reading), but they break the offering into two: one for the community and one for the church. And we appluade the offering (literally) because while we can’t outgive what we have received, we can certainly enjoy giving our share back. AND it does make it feel a bit like we’re giving out of generosity and good will, rather than just obligation.

    The church that we’ve found in our new city far more traditional, “we attend church because it’s good, right, and salutary”, “we give money because it’s good, right, and salutary”. It’s full of good people, but it doesn’t *refresh* the way a good Celebration! does, and the offering has become a time when I had the check to my husband and slide to the back of the sanctuary with our young son to let him run around and get rid of energy. [Yes, yes, yes!!! That’s one of the things I love MOST about Union United Methodist! Thanks for reminding me! – PB]

  6. Well, Jesus actually said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He meant if our treasure (meaning) is with earthly stuff, including money, that’s where our heart is. And if our treasure is in heaven (he said much about building up treasure in heaven by getting rid of the earthly stuff), then that’s where our heart would also be. Fairly mystical stuff, but essentially, we need to let go our hold on earthly stuff and treasure — and that includes churches! If we’re more interested in other stuff, like feeding hungry hearts, then the treasure will also follow — but I do think someone needs to raise the point that we’re expected to give back 10% of the treasure (minimum) — even though it’s not all necessarily to the church. Not sure how I feel about the jokes before the offering. Giving back to God is a fairly serious thing, I think.

  7. “It is my job to ask you for outrageous sums of money and it is your job to decide.” A saying given to me by a colleague at last year’s GA.

  8. That’s a very deft way of putting forth the offering.

    When I attended a liberal Methodist church, they didn’t collect offering in the conventional sense at all. The referred to it briefly and said, as some early Christians did, kindly leave your offering at the front of the room in your own way.

    The idea being that money, while necessary, is something a responsible churchgoer will provide without having to be reminded or nagged.

    I admit that I feel awkward when offering is passed and maybe that’s because socio-economic factors become so evident. Some can and do give so much. Some can’t give much at all and give too much. Some have but don’t give. Some don’t have and don’t give what would be well within their means to provide.

  9. One thing I that I noticed about my church is that there’s a custom of putting offering envelopes in the plate upside down. You’ll see that I’m putting an envelope in the plate, but won’t know whether I’m putting in a dollar a week or a thousand dollars a week (and in my church there are some of each of those). Nobody ever told me to do this — it’s just what happens. I like it.

    As I see it, there are two levels of “why giving is important.” First of all, it takes dollars and cents to keep the lights on and provide a decent salary for the staff, not to mention feeding the hungry, etc. I’m part of the church, it’s my responsibility to do my part there. There’s also a second level of joyfully returning to God a portion of what God has entrusted to me — and in so doing reminding myself that everything I have is a gift and cultivating my conscious dependence on the Giver.

    These two levels overlap, but they’re not the same. While I recognize the “it takes dollars and cents to run this thing and that’s gotta come from somewhere” element is real and necessary. I appreciate churches that keep pushing me towards that second level.

  10. I need a joke for my canvass sermon, and remembered this post and came back to it in hopes it would jazz up my sermon on First Fruits and the Spirit of Generosity. This joke plays on the notion of just rewards, and that wasn’t where I’ve gone with my sermon. I love to put jokes into a canvass sermon because since people are anxious about money they laugh easily.

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