Talking about Money in the Church (Part 1)
This is the first in a series of posts about giving, money and the church. You can follow this series of posts here.
For the last couple years, a little passion of mine has been this topic of talking about money in the church. You see, for most churches this is one of those things that we just don’t talk about publicly. We don’t want to offend anyone. In fact, we’re often slightly embarassed by the idea of “taking an offering” or taking a “collection.”
Many churches, including mine early on, respond to this feeling in a few well intentioned, yet unhelpful ways:
- We ignore the topic all together and “trust God that he will provide.”
What we’re really doing when we do this is we’re saying that what you do with your money is not a matter spiritual formation and keeping you happy and comfortable is more important than anything else.
- We put a “box in the back that you can give to if you want to.”
What we’re really doing here is making it as hard as possible to give. We’re still making sure we don’t offend anyone and that is our biggest priority.
- We do the offering but give it passing mention during a song.
What usually happens here is the worship leader will saying that during the next some some ushers will be by with the offering. It’s usually mumbled and not really communicated well. This, again, is because we’re embarrassed by it and don’t want to offend you. The message here is that its not really that important.
- We say you don’t have to give if you are a visitor.
This is very well intentioned and even true. They don’t have to give. And you just guarenteed they won’t. But, what you’ve really just said to them is that we can get by without you and that your gift to us isn’t really that important to us. The fact is, there are visitors in your community all the time who are probably really moved and blessed by your community and they want to give. We need to let them.
It’s true that the church has become known for “just wanting my money” but I am compelled to argue that this isn’t because we asked people to give, its mostly because we don’t do anything but that. We’ve become so obsessed with survival that we’ve forgotten about mission and just started badgering people for money.
I’ve become convinced that the church needs to get better at talking about money clearly, passionately and even prophetically. So, here are some reasons why I’m a proponent about taking offering.
- It’s great accountability for mission.
Each week I or another pastor have to stand up and invite people to give to our mission. When you have a compelling mission where people’s lives are being changed, that’s pretty easy. But, I can’t imagine what it would be like to stand up and invite people to give to something that isn’t doing much good for others or the gospel. The day all our budget/offering is doing is taking care of ourselves and maintaing a nice country club environment is the day I stop taking an offering because I would not be able to do it with integrity. This idea makes me stay focused on leading us to really live out our mission. Heck, if we aren’t living out our mission we may as well stop existing.
- It’s an opportunity to teach whole life discipleship.
Each time I stand up to lead our community in the offering I pray the same thing: “God make us a generous people.” I am sure my community is sick of hearing it by now but that’s what I hope for. The passing of the plate is a reminder that we are called to be generous in all parts of our lives, of which finances are a major part.
- I love the weekly liturgical act of coming together to share with others.
I think its a powerful statement when we stop and emphasize giving as part of our worship service. It’s not in the midst of a song. It’s not embarrassingly communicated. It’s hopefully not mumbled. It’s its own part of the service. Often before we pass the baskets we’ll take a few moments of silence to pray that God would make us generous people. Hopefully this liturgical act is a powerful statement that we think this is a big deal. Also, in our context, most people don’t get paid each week so its not realistic to expect that people will give every week. Some people write one big check a year, others that work on sales give more randomly when they get paid, others give monthly and some do give each week. Some people even give by electronic deposit. In spite of this, I believe its a valuable liturgical practice to remind us that the resources that we have been given are awesome opportunities to bless others.
- It is counter-cultural.
In our culture we aren’t supposed to talk about God, politics or money. This is usually become they are seeing as “private” matters. So by not taking an offering we’re basically saying that the culture is right and that money is relegated to a private sphere of life. I just don’t believe that’s true. Our taking an offering each week is an opportunity to say that how you handle your money is an issue that effects more than just you and we’re going to talk about it.
- It’s an opportunity for people to practically share in our shared mission.
We talk about “shared mission” all the time at The Well. Because that’s what it is. Part of the problem with offering is that it is often presented as “you give money to us.” That’s not what’s happening. At least I hope not. I hope what is really happening is that “all of us give financially to our mission together.” The first sounds like the congregation is a passive giver to the leadership who is doing all the “ministry.” The second sounds better becuase it says, “we are bringing our money together to get this mission that we share accomplished.”
- It’s an opportunity to thank each other.
Notice, I didn’t say its an opportunity for me to say thanks to you for serving me. Again, that’s not what it is. It’s an opportunity for us to say thanks to each other for sharing together in this mission together. Yes, that’s a lot of “togethers” but I am trying to make a point. Sometimes during our offering I’ll allow people to stand up and thank someone for how they have been a blessing to them and the rest of the community. This is really a beautiful picture of us saying thank you to each other and stating clearly that we are in this thing together. Or what I’ll sometimes do is say, “On behalf of all of you I want to say thanks to all of you for being so generous with your finances towards our mission.”
Okay, I’ll stop here. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing weekly posts on the topic of giving from II Corinthians 8. I’ll also be forming some thoughts on more helpful ways to talk about money than guilt, scolding and manipulation (Because, that’s what usually happens when I hear someone lead the offering).