BY DR. JOHN C. MAXWELL
In my 25 years as a pastor it was something I did over 3,000 times. Week after week, in service after service, I took an offering.
Sometimes, there was fervor in my words and depth in my appeal. Other times, I confess, I was on auto-pilot, merely going through the offering rituals that get so ingrained in every denominational tradition. When I think of those 3,000+ interchanges between pastor and congregation, I’m struck by the fact that in all my preparation for ministry, I was never taught how to take an offering. It was a subject that went virtually untouched in my days at college and seminary. And, as is true in so many areas of ministry, I had to learn it through the day in, day out rigors of pastoring. Along the way, I discovered that taking an offering is more complex and layered than I ever imagined.
I learned several things that taking an offering is not. First, it is not a religious art form. Unfortunately, there are some who have turned it into that, cleverly using their skills to convince people to give and even to sacrifice. Second, it is not a sales and marketing challenge. The pastor who makes it such is wrongfully shifting the emphasis, making the focus man-centered rather than God-centered. Third, taking an offering is not a practical exercise but a personal experience. Because the offering is relational in nature – a direct link between giver and recipient – the offering taker is a facilitator in that vital connection.
Offerings are described throughout Scripture; hundreds of times, in fact. And some of the most memorable of those were received for major projects: raising up the Tabernacle, constructing the Temple, rebuilding the stone), their around Jerusalem. The offerings for those three monumental projects were taken by three monumental figures in biblical history: Moses, David and Nehemiah. By wisely examining their words, actions and attitudes we can learn much as Christian leaders today. There is powerful relevance in their example, especially in situations where an extraordinary need requires an extraordinary response.
Let’s look at five transcendent truths they teach us about how to take an offering:
Be Direct in Your Approach. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face radiant with God’s blessing and his arms full of God’s Law, the first priority was a building project. The Tabernacle – a grand, albeit portable, structure – was to be built as the center of worship for God’s chosen people. The plans had been delivered by God, but the call was to be delivered by Moses. He brought the people together in a great assembly and spoke to them very directly and deliberately: “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering.” Moses was very straightforward because his confidence came from certainty in God’s purposes. In taking the offering, he didn’t coerce or force anyone, but neither did he hesitate or waver in telling the people exactly what they were to do.
When you stand before your people to take an offering, especially on those occasions when the need is extraordinary, don’t beat around the bush. Be direct and be directive, because you’re asking people to engage with God in an act of worshipful service. As a spiritual leader, you speak as God’s messenger and there’s no reason for reticence.
Be Specific in Your “Ask.” Jesus once told His disciples, “You have not because you ask not.” That same truth should be taken to heart by any leader who endeavors to take an offering for an important purpose or occasion. It is imperative to be specific in your “ask.” Don’t leave any doubts as to the need, the cause or the opportunity. Moses was so specific in what he asked that the list takes up nearly an entire chapter in the book of Exodus. The people knew exactly what needed to be given in the offering, and they responded accordingly, not out of duty but out of desire. When believers are specifically asked and they specifically give, they’ll be specifically blessed.
ISS has partnered with hundreds upon hundreds of churches in capital stewardship campaigns, and in every one we have made the “ask” a high priority. Imparting specific information is crucial to prompting a specific outcome. It is important that people clearly understand the priorities, the project and the desired response. If there is uncertainty or vagueness, the result can be disastrous. But when the essentials are presented specifically and convincingly, the likelihood of success increases exponentially.
Be Passionate in Your Appeal. Passion comes from the heart, from one’s innermost longings and deepest feelings. It is profoundly personal in nature, and it can have a transformational effect on other people. That’s how it was for King David when he took the offering for the Temple. He wanted the people to know the depth of his own commitment because the passion in his appeal would inspire them to passionate generosity as well. “With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God,” he said. “Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures …over and above everything I have provided.” Having described his own gifts, David then asked: “Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord?” It was his way of asking, “Who else will give passionately to this cause?” As it turned out, nearly everyone was touched by the king’s passionate appeal. Like David, they gave above and beyond all expectations and the project was a phenomenal success.
One of our partner churches, Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, is led by one of America’s most inspiring Christian leaders, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer. Faithful Central occupies
multiple campuses, including the famed Great Western Forum, formerly home to several professional sports teams. On the concluding day of the church’s recent capital campaign to acquire the Forum, Bishop Ulmer made an impassioned appeal for every church member to participate. He announced a specific sum that he would give – an amount representing a substantial percentage of his annual income. His intention was not to impress but to inspire, to encourage others to follow his lead in believing passionately and giving purposefully. Moved by his example, the congregation literally lived up to their name, faithfully committing millions of dollars to a bold venture which is having an impact upon an entire city.
Be Humble in Your Attitude. The one who takes the offering must see himself or herself not as a great facilitator but as a humble participant. The offering is an act of worship that encompasses every person in the congregation. King David, a man of considerable wealth and legendary skills, recognized that he was merely part of the process. In praise he proclaimed, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand… 0 Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” It all belongs to God. It’s all for His sake. It’s all to be done in His name. The pastor who stands to take the offering is a servant/leader whose priority is to humbly but clearly call upon God’s people to give for God’s glory. Like John the Baptist, the leader says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Be Clear in Your Aim. Nehemiah was a man on a mission. After a visit from his brother, when he learned that Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down and its gates burned, Nehemiah knew that he had to do something. He would not stand by while his ancestral city lay exposed and unprotected. Through divine providence, kingly favor and no small measure of moxie, Nehemiah put together the strategy for a massive rebuilding project. After journeying hundreds of miles, he arrived in Jerusalem and conducted a clandestine survey of the situation. Armed with that firsthand knowledge, Nehemiah called together the Jewish leaders and made a passionate appeal. His inspirational words stirred them to action: “Let us start rebuilding!” they exclaimed. In effect,
Nehemiah was asking them to participate in an unusual type of offering – an offering of time, physical energy and personal endurance. He was clear in his aim: one wall rebuilt, one people revived, one city restored to its rightful prominence. In 52 remarkable days, in spite of fearsome obstacles and opposition, the aim was achieved.
Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader of the 20th century, was thrust into a crucial role at a crucial time. As Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II, it fell upon his shoulders to guide his nation through a conflict that threatened their very existence. From the day he took command, Churchill unhesitatingly asked the British people to give of their blood, sweat and tears to win a relentless struggle against a brutal foe. Day after day, he was clear in his aim and they were certain of his requests. Like Nehemiah of old, he asked for an offering that would test them spiritually, emotionally and physically. And, like Nehemiah’s builders, the British and their Allies ultimately won. The people accepted the challenge and their “offering” accomplished its purpose.
When you take an offering – especially on those occasions when you’re raising up people and resources to meet a major need – don’t forget these five keys: Be direct in your approach. Be specific in your aim. Be passionate in your appeal. Be humble in your attitude. Be clear in your aim. Remember these principles. They’re timeless, and above all, they’re true.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY INJOY STEWARDSHIP SERVICES, AUTUMN 2003, PAGES 2-4. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.