A View from the Pew: Rattling the Change in the Offering Plate

Pew_smMy boys have adopted an interesting habit learned from their old man. When they put their offering envelope in the offering plate each week, they turn it upside down so that their name and amount are facedown.

I noticed they had taken up this practice recently when my middle son scolded his younger brother for putting the envelope in face up, as if his brother had committed the unpardonable sin.

Sibling psychology and conflict aside, the interaction got me thinking about why this is my practice. My wife and I have such sensitivity to the privacy of giving that we don’t write the amount on the envelope at all. So it’s natural our boys would assume that what they give shouldn’t be touted or even mentioned.

This no doubt comes from Matthew 6:3, which says “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” It also might have something to do with human tendency to react negatively to bragging.

I have heard of other faith traditions in which parishioners bring their offerings to the front of the church, and the giving is celebratory and very public. This may inspire people to give more than they ordinarily would if their giving was more secret, but I don’t think people accustomed to giving in private would feel comfortable with the more public practice.

With the advent of online giving, many people don’t put anything in the plate at all and yet support their congregation at high levels. This level of privacy could invoke some judgmental types to conclude that certain families in their congregation don’t contribute at all. If you lean toward the judgmental side, be careful before jumping to conclusions. In fact, many people have contributed by mail for years and never put a dime in the offering plate.

As giving practices evolve and our approach to tithing changes, I think it’s fair to re-examine how we “prayerfully consider” what we give and how we give at church. Will we even have offering plates in 20 years? Certainly being more private in our giving is easier than ever.

But what about our large, “transformational” gifts to churches. What about estate gifts? Both types of giving are usually public and can make a real difference in the financial state of a church. Contributors can try to maintain anonymity, but in smaller or close congregations, the truth usually comes out.

Is it so bad that large gifts are more public? We know from Matthew 6 that when we do admirable acts in order to be admired that admiration is the reward for the acts. And when we do admirable acts in secret, we will be rewarded by God. But if we’re being secretive in order to be rewarded, aren’t we motivated by a similar desire? In either case, we are doing good because of what we get out of it.

Even if we turn the offering envelope upside down in the offering plate we could still be guilty of violating the spirit of Jesus’ admonition.

So what’s the answer?

Be vigilant of your own motivations. Continually ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it for me or for God?”

Be as private as you can but if you do make a public gift, make it about God and not about yourself.

Authenticity, humility, and generosity are the best ingredients for a healthy approach to church giving, whether it’s a mite or a mint.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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