Why Passing the Offering Basket May Rob Christians of Genuine Giving and Their Call to Sacrifice More
It was the first time I had visited this neighboring church, one which I had intended to visit for years. God was doing something in and among them. The church was growing and gaining influence over the community in which they lived. Such influence caught my eye, curious at how they run their services, what the speakers are like, and what sort of culture they are creating. I was impressed. The crowd was made up of young, energized, and excited Christians. I felt right at home. That is, until it came time to tithe.
Churches have various traditions and ways in which tithes, gifts, and offerings are collected. Personally, I am used to the tall wooden boxes at the back of the room. Little prepackaged envelopes which hold one’s giving could be slipped into the slotted boxes with little attention from others.
Still other churches, whether nefarious or not, have their members and congregants set-up automatic withdraws. In my youth, I recall such activity being harshly condemned by men I respected, claiming that such vices were only done by Mormons and greedy televangelists.
But the passing of the plate, wicker basket, or cloth bag with those funny wooden handles protruding out the sides, seems more abrasive and harassing than the rest.
As I sat in that church, a visitor from another community to which my wife and I faithfully give and serve, one of the pastors took stage to pray and guide us in giving. His words were timely and fresh. “This offering is for those of you who call this church home. It is a way of saying thank-you to God and giving back to what he has given to you. If you are a guest, feel no obligation to give. Just hold the basket and thank God for all He has blessed you with.”
Easy for him to say. I was squished between dozens of church members all fervently reaching into their purses and wallets, ready to give. I felt the pinch of pressure as the basket made its way down my aisle soon to be in my hands. Should I throw in a few bucks to satiate those around me or just pass it on, branding myself a cheap selfish, refusing-to-give-back-to-God sort of Christian. Perhaps this was not what they were thinking, but it felt that way.
The passing of the offering plate is a sort of harassment forced upon many through peer pressure. Perhaps that is why many churches do this rather than the box at the end of the room. Though unfortunate, a particular man set with age and familiar with a more traditional time told me, “If you want tithe to increase, start passing around a basket and get rid of the boxes.” Why would the offering plate increase giving? Simple: Shame. People feel the shame of not giving when the basket passed by and the crumpled dollar bills call out to them to give.
The box, on the other hand, tends to lead people to genuinely give. No one is looming over you, like some thug demanding you empty your pockets into the tray. It is done out of conviction, guided by the Holy Spirit. Often people give their offering in reaction to the sermon or during one of the worship songs. If giving to God is worship, it cannot be obligatory. If we give because others are watching, our gifts are not pleasing to Him.
The image of a greedy, money-loving, televangelist all too often comes to mind when those we wish to minister to think of the church. Perhaps that is because there are so many pastors who take ridiculous salaries, drive overly expensive cars, and seem nothing like the poor and radically giving Christ whom they claim to follow. It is from this image that so many balk and criticize the Church. They ask, “If your God is so powerful, why doesn’t he pay his own bills rather than take the little money people have?” They mock, saying “God is broke.”
There are a variety of troubling issues that underlie these criticism. Perhaps the greatest misconception of Christianity is that it is made up of greedy, consuming, got-to-have-more-stuff swindlers. They ask and demand that people be generous, when they themselves are not.
And while this image is not entirely true, I have to wonder why so many churches give so little. Christians give an average of 2 percent to the church, a far cry from the Old Testament standard of 10 percent. And while the “tithe” does not apply to the Christian, gift giving and sacrifice is on every page. The ancient church in Acts 2 describes Christians who sell and give well beyond 10 percent, selling entire properties and possession to give to the poor, the work of the local church, and missional work of Paul or other teachers.
Can today’s Christian community become this generous?
Can we give and do so not out of peer pressure but out of a genuine heart of love and devotion?
We owe so much more to Christ and the local Church than our tithe. We owe time, energy, sweat, and as much money as we can spare for the missional work of Christ. Every penny put in that plate and every bill dropped in that box is used to purchase communion, run the electricity, and support various ministries. No amount is too small or wad of bills to big to offer gifts to the one who redeemed us.
Are you giving?
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