The "Call to Offering" - sometimes alternately referred to as the "Stewardship Meditation" or "Stewardship Moment" is a unique time during the worship service as we are inviting people to consider their gifts before the plates are passed and the offering is received. There are some important things to remember about this time including the fact that it should not be a "throw away" moment! It needs to be more than just what you say to get the deacons into position to "accomplish the collection"!
You have everyone's attention at this time, and they know what is coming! They are ready for a word that inspires and motivates as well as a confirmation that their gifts matter and are appreciated. For those who don't give monetary gifts, it is a opportunity to invite them to consider why a gift might make a difference not only to the ministry and mission of the church - but how it might change them in their quest to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. What does it mean to live an abundant life? What does it mean to be created in the image of a generous God who provides abundantly for all of creation? How do I move money from the place of master to servant in my life? This is valuable time to confront real questions worshippers bring with them. They desire and deserve a serious answer to their queries.
Langauge is important as well. Do you "take up a collection" or do you "receive an offering". Do people simply pay their pledges or do they offer gifts? When the invitation to give is extended, is it because "the church needs your money" or because there is joy in giving? Using this time to talk about red ink in the financial life of the church is generally unproductive and, honestly, it is theologically inappropriate. Threats to turn off the air conditioning, reduce the staff, or cut mission giving, simply do not work here. Board meetings, information meetings, and occasionally the pulpit are the better place for discussing deficits.
Hopefully, you have also helped to educate the congregation that the offering plate is not a ballot box! It is not the time or place to "vote with our money" for the things we like or don't like about our congregation, its leadership, or the denomination. The time people give us for this moment allows us to reframe such thinking and place the focus on gratitude, discipleship, generosity, and response to the love we have received from God.
Theologically, we also understand that this act offering is not given with a quid pro quo - the idea that God will some how "bless me more" because I give. While generosity certainly is viewed with Divine Favor, we don't give to get. We give, because we have already received. I do receive joy in my giving - and I often experience humility and gratitude. I don't however, have an understanding that now God "owes me" because I have given - what kind of gift would that really be?
Remember context is important as well. What kind of worship service is this? Who makes up the congregation? How is the offering to be used? Understanding these simple questions gives the person writing the meditation some clear direction.
Finally, give people time! Don't rush through the isles with the plates the minute the meditation is over! If your desire was to give people pause for thought, let them think about what you have said! It takes time to fish for check books in purses and to find the right cash gift in the wallet. It you have people who make their gifts electronically, perhaps this meditation will inspire them to "add to" their regular gift. You won't receive it if they don't have time to give it. Also, on a practical note - be sure you have pens in the pews -- no one I know writes a check with a pencil!
Some Samples and Ideas for the Offering Meditation
Given by the Reverend Doctor Katie Hays, at the Symposium on Preaching Stewardship as Good News - held at Christian Theological Seminary in June of 2012. The event was for clergy and the offering being received was for scholarship aid for students engaged in theological education.
Given by Lydia Pape, a member of the Northwest Christian Church in Arlington, TX. She is 13 years old - but with a story to tell!
Given by Richard Massouh, a member of the Northwest Christian Church in Arlington, TX.