With Tongue in Cheek
Back in the day, you always got a “bulletin” as you entered the sanctuary. I don’t know why they ever called it a “bulletin.” I googled it and just got more confused. So I’ve now added it to the list of questions we can ask Jesus about, though probably only on a really slow day.
Back in the day, everyone got a bulletin, even though most likely no one really needed one, for two good reasons. First, everyone already knew what was going to happen during the service, since the “order of service” was always basically the same. Second, no one really needed to read the announcements listed in the bulletin, which did vary some, since these would be read to us at least once during the service itself, if not twice so we’d remember. Larger churches might also have a “skit” about the more important announcements.
Back in the day, again in the bulletin, usually the halfway point of the service was demarcated by the “offering.” The ushers were called to the front, one of them prayed, and then the piano signaled the moment when they began to pass the plates.
Most of this has now changed, not least with regard to the offering. In some churches, there is no offering during the service proper. There is a basket out in the foyer. In other churches, the offering takes place near the beginning along with other “housekeeping matters” so as not to clutter up or interrupt once the real worship begins. Still other churches position the offering toward the end of the service so it comes in response to other more central acts of worship — especially the preaching of the Word.
With Tongue Where It Belongs
The people of God in our Scripture see the “offering” differently in several ways. To begin, worship is fundamentally all about “offering.” God offers an invitation and provides a way to gather into the Holy Presence. Those who gather offer their allegiance and fidelity to the God who calls them to approach, to gather into Divine Presence. In the course of every worship-event, the people and those who lead them in worship celebrate all that God has given and invite the people to give responses that are appropriate. From their hearts, they offer devotion, praise, confession and affirmation. From their hands, they offer the fruits of their labors made possible by the goodness of God they’d experienced. Then, from the whole of their beings, they offer words and deeds reflecting God’s presence and power, as they depart from a worship-event to enter into a week of worship-living.
As a matter of fact, the people of God, informed by the story of God with and through them, root the whole of their lives in worshipful response to God. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: In view of the constant mercies of God, they offer their bodies as living sacrifices, and thus learn to discern what is God’s will for their lives (Romans 12:1). As they then present themselves in this way, they learn to live as if “from the altar,” as offerings on and expressive of the altar. As a result, their minds are renewed and their way of life is changed and shaped by new and different relationships both with God and with one another (see Romans 12:2, and follow to the end of Chapter 12).
When the people of God are shaped by such worship, some of the most important and pressing questions would include: When is our worship not offering? What, on principle, could be exempt from offering? How could we live, much less worship, before or apart from or after, offering? Truly, what do we do that isn’t basically our offering to God? How could we make plans, respond to circumstances or crises, serve God or others, do our “business,” raise our families, contribute to our communities, react to the plight of the world’s poor, develop a family budget, buy a new home or car, decide to support a missionary (or not), celebrate Christmas —or do anything else apart from the “offering” we make to God?
If even the breath in our lungs is a gift, if truly we have nothing we didn’t receive, then in a certain critical sense, the bulletin would be just fine with only one item in the order of our worship: “offering.”
Bishop David Kendall is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus.”