A Peculiar People, A Thankful People
Why do we do what we do?
Welcome to The Bridge Church. If you’re new here, you’ll undoubtedly notice that we do things a little differently here than you might be used to at other evangelical churches. Perhaps it’s the geography of the service - the way we set things up and use our space; or perhaps it the style of the service - either more formal, or less formal than you might be used to from where you came; or perhaps it’s the form of the service - the way we structure and order the elements of worship over the course of 90 minutes. Whatever you’ve noticed, I want to tell you that much of it is intentional, and there are important reasons for why they are the way they are.
If you’re not new here, perhaps you’ve been here for a while and find our unique way of doing things familiar, or perhaps you’ve been here so long that you remember a time when things were different and perhaps long for a time gone by. I want to take the better part of the next semester on the blog to remind you of why we do what we do, and to help you remember the very intentional reasons we have for the choices we have made. Last time we looked at the Geography of Worship, and over the next nine or so weeks we will be looking at the following aspects of our worship service to better help you understand/remember who we are, why we do what we do, and what are the goals of our choices.
The Geography of Worship - what we want you to notice and experience when you walk into our space for worship
A Peculiar People; a Thankful People - why we start with the offering
Perfectly Balanced as All Things Should Be - how we consider both who we are and who we long to be when choosing a vocabulary of worship (song style and selection)
The Proclaimed Word - rediscovering the public reading of scripture
The Applied Word - why the sermon is dialogical (discussion questions matter)
The Great Unburdening - the liberating power of corporate confession
Recognizing the Body - why we take time every Sunday for the passing of the peace
A Community of Hospitality - how and why we centre the service around the open table
The Power of Presence - why the prayer and ministry time at the end of the service is not just an addendum
Sending - what we bring back into the world
Today we continue the series with a look at the offering - why we do it the way we do it, and what we hope to communicate by doing it that way.
Why the offering matters
Well there are three main reasons why the offering is an important part of Christian worship, and has been since the inception of the church at Pentecost (and even before that in its Jewish antecedent). Roughly broken down (while acknowledging significant overlap between these priorities) I would say that they are Orientation, Formation, and Contribution. The way that we have designed our offering, and where we have placed it in our worship service is intentionally driving those three priorities. Let's break them down. Orientation
Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." It doesn't take a theologian or a sociologist to observe that in the year of our Lord 2018, that people's treasures are increasingly wrapped up in the stuff that money can buy. Be they things, gadgets, fashion, lifestyles, experiences, status symbols or the like - we demonstrate where our treasures are (and by extension where are hearts are) by what we do with our money. When we come to worship together on a Sunday morning we want to deliberately and decisively confront that orientation and help to re-orient our hearts toward God who is the giver of all good things. It may give us all a bunch of warm fuzzies to sing songs of praise to Jesus for 20 minutes and then be encouraged by a sermon, but if our hearts are not first re-oriented toward Christ through the way we treat our treasures a lot of those words will be empty and ultimately lost on us. This is the primary reason why we acknowledge and pray for the offering at the beginning of the worship service; we want to deal with the issues of the heart before we ask you to profess anything. We remind you week-in, and week-out that the money we have been entrusted with is not earned in the way that we tend to think of it in our culture, but that we are recipients of benevolent grace from our "Heavenly Father of lights," (Jas. 1:17) who provides for our every need, including the very jobs that afford us the income we cling to, or the skills we needed to obtain or succeed at those jobs. To follow Jesus wholeheartedly, and to enter into worship with integrity, we need to confront those uniquely Western attitudes that centre on rights and entitlement and earned-rewards and instead posture ourselves as beloved children before a good God from whom all blessings flow. We begin the service with the offering because we think that it is fundamental to the re-orientation that needs to happen on a week-in, week-out basis among a peculiar people who are markedly different than the world in which they live.
Going hand in glove with the idea of orientation is the idea of formation. We long for our disciplines and actions to be formative for the church. This idea of formation will creep up frequently in this blog series, but we deal with it first here with regard to the offering. We believe that when we come to worship God two good things happen: first, we express ourselves to God. That is, we tell him how we actually feel and what is really going on in our lives. We try not to sugar-coat who we are, or come to worship wearing masks that are inauthentic. We value transparent discipleship at The Bridge and so worship - in all its many facets - must be at some level an expressive endeavour (we will pick up on this more in the next entry when we talk about music and worship). But expressionism is only one component of the worship experience - an equally important (and frankly, as a corrective to an expressivist generation, possibly a more important) aspect is the formative function. This is where we do things that change us. Where we engage in practices that may be out of tune with our feelings or even our deepest desires, but we do them because we know that if we persist in them that our desires and hearts will be shaped by them. We encourage the offering so that we can learn to be a thankful and generous people. We know that we are not always those things in our default nature. We know that parting with the first fruits of our income goes against many deeply seated tendencies to view the world with a scarcity mentality. We know that giving is often a painful endeavour (at least at first) and that we would all much rather hold on tight to what we have than give it away and entrust it to God. But we also believe that by continually calling out the practice and reminding you why we do it, that we are slowly chipping away at the hardness of heart that affects so many of us in this culture. We learn, by giving, to be grateful for what we have. We learn, by giving, to be generous with what is in our hand. We learn, by giving, to give without strings attached, and to disconnect our financial wealth from the concept of social power the way we are formed to believe by the culture at large. We believe that this discipline, and the profile that we give it in the service, are important steps toward helping you be formed by God into the type of person Jesus wants you to be: a thankful and generous person.
The last priority we look at with the offering in the worship service is the priority of contribution. It's no secret that the money that gets put in the offering goes toward the ministry expenses, facility upkeep, and staff salaries of the church - I don't want to dress up the offering in such heavenly language that I deny the earthly reality of where the monies that you give to God go. It's been the practice of the people of God, dating back to the days of the giving of the Law on Sinai that the gifts that people gave to God were used ultimately to support the ministry of the religious institution. This is not a concession that the church has made to modern capitalist realities, but God's plan all along. You bring your worship to God (not to the church), but then God turns around and empowers the church to make use of those offerings to cover its expenses and (hopefully) expand its reach as a forward mobilization point in the ever-expanding Kingdom of God. The church (corporately speaking) engages in an act of faith on par with the person who puts their first fruits in the offering as we trust in God that the accumulated gifts of the people will be sufficient to sustain (or grow) our ministry, and that the people will be faithful enough in their giving to keep that going indefinitely. This is not a matter of fees paid for services rendered. The church is not a marketplace for spiritual goods and experiences that you pay a membership fee to access, but it is a collective body of people being transformed by Jesus who take seriously their responsibility for the ongoing work of the gospel through the ministry of their local congregation. As such, we strive to remove barriers that keep people from being able to give, and try to find ways to make giving easier and more convenient for you. This is why a number of years ago we introduced the ability to give by debit machine rather than simply cheque and cash. This is why we offer pre-authorized direct debit from your bank account for those who have a regular pattern of giving and long to automate the process. This is why we did away with offering plates being passed and centralized the giving station at the back of the auditorium, giving you the opportunity to give when it is convenient to you - not just within a one-minute window every Sunday. And this is why the Finance Team is currently and consistently evaluating new modes and methods of giving that might make the act of responding to God in worship that much easier and more accessible. We long for you to be able to contribute to what God is doing here at The Bridge, and how we handle the offering is an intentional strategy to help you to do so.
So that's why we prioritize the offering in our Sunday worship. Next time we will talk about the songs we sing, why we sing them, and what we hope to achieve by doing so together. If you have any questions about any of these topics that we cover in this blog series I would love to sit down with you to talk about them.
Until next time.