Tuesday, January 28, 2020

An Offering

Nearly everywhere Paul goes, we hear about the churches taking up collections for the believers back in Jerusalem. If you worship in a denominational church, you likely equate this to the denominational structure somewhat - where there is a headquarters that shepherds over all of the churches, and offerings are taken as a sort of membership dues.

The structure is similar, but the reasoning is not. Not exactly, anyway. Jerusalem was the place where this little movement of the Way was being born. It was ground zero, grand central station for Christianity. From it flowed all of the ministry that was being done early on. It's where the disciples were. It's where the landmarks were. It's where the stories were. So the churches lent their financial support to Jerusalem not as some sort of membership dues, as though they could not be a legitimate church if they did not, but out of indebtedness to what that church was doing.

It's as if you belonged to a small church out on the edges of town, but you knew that a bigger church in the center of town had a community meals program where they were feeding the hungry every week. So you send your resources - money, volunteers, whatever - to work in their program because they are the ones where the people are. That's what's going on here. Rather than sending their own missionaries out to plant more churches, the churches are sending their resources back to mission central, where they are really good at sending out missionaries and have the resources to do so on a scale that these smaller churches just couldn't match.

Although all of these churches were collecting offerings to send back to Jerusalem, and Paul commends them for it, it's important to note one thing:

Paul wanted them to take their own offering to Jerusalem. He wasn't going to take it for them. (1 Corinthians 16)

It's not...efficient. Paul's the one traveling around. He's going there anyway. It seems to most of us that it makes sense to just give him the offering and let him take it with him. Especially in those days when travel took a lot longer than it does now, was a lot harder, was more of a commitment. But Paul wanted them to have a real, vital connection with the church in Jerusalem, not just a transactional, distant relationship. It changes everything when you see the work firsthand and when you're able to be there to offer your encouragement in person.

Today's church misses out on a lot of that. There's a disconnect between the money we put in the plate on Sundays and a real understanding of where it's actually going, what it's actually doing. Most of us, even those of us actively involved in the church, don't know what ministry we're funding. We don't see it being done. It's even worse when we give to organizations outside of the church, where it's too easy to cut a check to an operation with a Christian-sounding name and pat ourselves on the back, but how many of us have followed that check into the field to see what it's actually accomplishing for our brothers and sisters? For Christ?

We need to get back to what Paul says is good - taking our own offerings to Jerusalem. We need to go where the money goes and see what's being done. We need to set our eyes on the good work that God is doing in our world with our resources, and we need to encourage - in person - those doing the work. They need to know that we're with them. Not just as financial backers, but as partners in ministry. It absolutely changes your perspective to see where your money goes, and it inspires you to do even more - not just with your money, but with your time and your heart and your energy - when you get back.

Maybe you're saying, but my church doesn't sponsor missionaries or anything like that. My offering goes right back to my church and supplies our needs, whatever those are. Let me tell you something - "the church" doesn't have any needs; the people do. That money is going somewhere to benefit people somehow. Even if you're in a struggling congregation where all it can do is keep the lights on. Hang around your building after-hours and see what kind of ministry is going on when it's not Sunday morning. Follow your pastor around and see what he's up to. Offer a hand to the deacon who changes the light bulbs. You have no idea how often little things break around a church building - light bulbs burn out, toilet flappers falter, chair legs come loose. All of that takes a ministry to fix it. It takes someone with a minister's heart to take care of even the building.

Volunteer in your church's ministries. Make the rounds. Do a little bit of everything, if your money is staying in your own congregation. Teach a children's class. Watch the nursery. Hand out bulletins at the door. Make coffee. Greet counselees as they come for guidance. Take a shift in the prayer room. Clean a few toilets. Mow the grass. Whatever is happening at your church, it's not enough to just sit in a pew and cut a check. Follow your money and see where it goes.

It's an encouragement to you and to the ones who normally do the work. And it's essential for all of us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment