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In my recent series, Moving Beyond Playlist Worship, I talked about the importance of utilizing creative elements of worship and helping people be more participative in worship. Just recently, I read an article by Mike Farley, Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Saint Louis, Missouri, where he talks about the way their church treats the offering time in worship to make it much more impacting. As he states, “The primary purpose of this practice is to cultivate our spiritual growth by making the offering a more meaningful act in corporate worship.” I love his ideas, and thank Mike for reworking this article for me to share with you.

Kenny

By Mike Farley

In our Sunday worship services, the offering can and should be much more than merely a time for giving money. In the worship service as a whole, and especially 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. Understanding that worship embodies this kind of holistic renewal can provide a foundation for broadening the scope of the meaning and practice of a time of offering in the liturgy. At the church where I serve, the heading we use to describe the offering 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 (see chapter 9 in the book Work and Worship by Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Willson). 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 worship service, the only material product of our work that the church usually 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. Some churches do sing together during the offering. According to the most ancient and widespread Christian orders of worship, the offering historically followed the ministry of the word as a response to it, and in my own church we sing congregational songs during the offering after the sermon to express our collective response to God’s word that we received that day. But without something more tangible to give or do, the offering can still feel a bit abstract and hollow as an act of worship in that moment.

How can we make the offering in worship more meaningful? In the church where I serve, we have broadened the offering by adding a written response. At the beginning of the offering, the preacher invites 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 row of seats, there are offering cards that people can use to write down a short, specific item that they want to offer to the Lord from some aspect of their 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 us to follow him; a renewal in our relationship with God. Finally, when ushers pass the offering plate down the row, people place their cards in the offering plate as an embodied act of offering themselves to the Lord.

Why do we do this, and how is it helpful? 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 are not read or recorded. No one from the church contacts anyone about anything that they write on the offering portion of these cards unless they specifically mark the option to request it. (The opposite side of the card has 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 this practice 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 more deeply 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 bringing 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.

Mike Farley

Mike Farley is the Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Saint Louis, Missouri where he directs ministries of adult education and discipleship and helps to plan and lead worship. Mike received an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2000 and a Ph.D. in historical theology at Saint Louis University in 2007 with a special research focus on the history and theology of worship. Mike teaches courses on worship at Covenant Theological Seminary as a visiting instructor in practical theology, he has served as chair of the Biblical Worship section of Evangelical Theological Society, and he has published articles on worship in journals such as Studia LiturgicaThe Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Calvin Theological Journal, and web-exclusive articles for Modern Reformation.

Discover other articles by Mike on their church’s blog.