At a big family dinner, savory dishes began the rounds. When the platter, heavy with turkey, came to eight-year-old Luke, he took enough for himself and then pulled onto his plate a large browned turkey leg.
His mother noticed and asked, “Luke, what are you going to do with all that?” Pointing to the leg he said, “That’s for Buster.”
As his mother returned the leg to the platter she said, “You can’t take a turkey leg for your dog. Wait until after the meal and we’ll give you lots of scraps for him.”
When the meal was over, Luke was heard to say to Buster, “Here’s something for you. I thought I was going to bring you an offering but all I’ve got is a collection.”
For those who lead in the Sunday morning worship of God, it’s good to ask from time to time, are the gifts we place in the plates treated like offerings or collections?
In other words, how do we treat the time in the service when we receive the worshiper’s gifts? Is it an intermission from worship in order to collect up “leftovers” to look after mundane matters like paying the pastor and repairing the church van? That would be a collection.
Or is that time a high moment of worship in its own right? Do the worshipers think of themselves as giving not to the plate, or even the church, but to God Himself, our Heavenly Father? Are they giving it as a portion of what he has entrusted to them as his stewards? And is their participation in this part of the service as much a moment of worship as when they bow their heads to say The Lord’s Prayer or settle to hear God’s word preached? If so, that would be an offering.
I love to remember the sight of ushers receiving the Sunday morning offering at the last church I served. It took twelve ushers to receive the congregations gifts, three ushers on each side aisle and six in the middle. When it was received, the ushers gathered at the back of the center aisle, assembled the plates into four stacks, and then four ushers walked in formation to place the plates on the communion table. The congregation stood and sang the Doxology.
How the pastor frames the giving of tithes and offerings has a lot to do with how seriously the congregation, young and old, worship in the giving of their gifts. And it may determine whether a congregation gives collections or offerings.
For the pastor, it should be a theological issue of great importance. Is the worship of the Triune God what we do in a service only when we sing or pray? Or is everything we do in a service an act of worship — including announcements and offering?
What pastors teach a congregation from week to week out of their own reservoir of truth becomes what the congregation learns to hold true also. It is to be hoped that pastors often resolve on behalf of their people: “No collection mentalities around here; no more timeouts in worship to look after paying the bills.” Only offerings.
Every congregation needs to think of presenting tithes and offerings into the care of the church as a sanctifying moment. To sanctify means to set apart to God. It is an act of thanksgiving and trust – thanksgiving that God out of his provident care has made the gifts possible, and trust that the officers of the church will dispense the gifts prayerfully and with diligence.
What a clever distinction eight-year-old Luke made between collections and offerings. And how aptly the distinction can be applied to the stewardship moment in every worship service. If what we put into the offering plate is the leftover scraps from the week – what we can spare after all other needs have been met — it is a collection. If it is the first fruits, right off the top, set aside to be given with joy, it is an offering.
Photo credit: motoyen (via flickr.com)