Reflection #26 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 26 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #26: Churches do well to acknowledge that the giving of tithes and offerings is an important part of our overall corporate worship.

A book that is rearranging how my family and I understand and use technology is Andy 41Vj8HQRNkL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  The vast majority of us (everyone but the Amish) are so caught up in gadgets and gizmos that (purport to) make our lives easier, we need periodically to step back and assess the situation.  What is the price we are paying for all this simplicity?  Is life really simpler with this technology?  What does all this convenience do to our souls?  What Would Jesus Do with a smartphone?  Would He even own one?

A tangential question that comes out of this for worship leaders of late is, How do we best collect the offering in the day of online giving, Google Pay, and Venmo?  Clearly, more and more parishioners give online; a concept that would have felt Jetsons-like only a decade or so ago is now commonplace.  I imagine studies eventually will show that folks who give online give more regularly and give greater sums when they do.  More regular giving of greater offerings is good, but is minimizing the act of physically giving in corporate worship bad?

In our visits to numerous churches in the northwest Chicago suburbs, my wife and I have encountered almost as many ways to collect the offering as we have churches.  Rare is the church anymore that brings ushers to the front of the church, who wait for a pastoral prayer of blessing for the offering and then collect cash and checks, row by row, while musicians play an offertory or “special music.”  It still happens, of course, but not all that often in churches pursuing contemporary worship.

Instead, we have seen churches that practice weekly Eucharist put a basket by the elements, and those coming forward to eat at the Lord’s Table drop their offerings into that basket.  Other churches indicate, usually from the pulpit (although not always), that there are baskets in the back of the sanctuary where people can deposit their offering envelopes.  While these methods get the basic job done–collecting the people’s gifts–they don’t often allow for any understanding of the worship involved in bringing a portion of that which God has blessed you–bringing your “whole tithe into the storehouse,” as Malachi describes it–to return to Him each week.

Certainly the job of worship education vis-à-vis the offering is more difficult these days, but I like the way one church we attend fairly regularly has decided to tackle this conundrum.  This church, with a strongly upper-middle class congregation, probably receives more online giving than most, yet they still bring ushers forward to receive the weekly gifts, row by row, where we all pass the bags to the end of the aisle . . . even though a solid half of the attendees probably don’t put anything at all in those bags because they went online and gave the previous payday.

More often than not, as the ushers are making their way down the aisles, the worship leader asks the congregation to pray together a prayer that functions as both sacred liturgical action (the prayer before the receiving of tithes and offerings) and worship education for congregants.  After the prayer, and while the ushers are passing the bags, the congregation sings a song corporately, often one that somehow relates to giving, Christ’s for us (kenosis) or ours to God (out of gratitude).

Here are three prayers that we have prayed prior to the collection of the offering in the past several months at this church:

God, You are the maker and owner of everything.  We give you this portion of our income, but even what we keep belongs to You–our time and energy, our gifts and resources, our heart and mind.  It is all Yours.  Amen.

God, we give because we want You to use these gifts to change lives.  May the lonely find a home.  May the broken be made whole.  May the condemned be forgiven.  May the weak be made strong.  May the good news of Your kingdom be heard near and far.  Amen.

God, we give because You have given us the most exciting mission in the world.  Do not let our gifts go to waste!  Use them to make passionate disciples who are belonging, growing, serving, and reaching.  Amen.

Nothing too theologically profound here, but good reminders of why we bring a portion of our income to church and give it to God.  With our current technology, the strategy this church uses–corporate prayers that help us appreciate the theological essence of the offering–is an important one, especially for those who aren’t body-physical worshipers on Sunday morning because they were mouse-click worshipers earlier that week.

However you decide to navigate this interesting issue, the Lord be with you!

Coming next week, Lord willing: The use of videos in worship.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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