We haven’t passed the plate in over a year, yet our lights are on, our pastors are paid, and giving has increased. Let’s talk about that.
COVID gave our elders an opportunity to test-drive something we had been pondering informally for some time: giving without plates. Measured in terms of the church’s generosity, it’s gone great.
The purpose of this post is to walk you through some of the Bible’s teaching on giving and some of our thinking in moving away from giving as part of our Lord’s Day worship service, in that order. This is a good opportunity to practice reasoning from the biblical data to a faithful practice. It’s also an opportunity to see how a local church’s giving is a miracle of God.
Isn’t Giving a Part of Corporate Worship?
Must giving happen in the context of the gathered church on the Lord’s Day? Put another way, is giving a biblically prescribed element of public corporate worship? Before we answer this question, let’s summarize the kinds of giving we find in the New Testament.
- First, we have relief giving, for those both inside and outside the church. The case of Paul’s Jerusalem collection for the relief of saints during a famine is one example: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come … Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor. 16:2, 7). What we often call benevolence characterized the church’s care for its own people from the earliest days: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44, 45). While benevolence may or may not be structured, the care widows seems to have involved the church’s resources in a way that involved oversight of an enrollment (1Tim. 5:9).
- The second kind of giving is missions giving, the kind about which Paul spoke to the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5).
- Finally, there is the support of those who labor in the Word. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages'” (1Tim. 5:17, 18; cf. Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; 1Cor. 9:9).
So, there are all sorts of giving going on. When you affirm our elders’ direction for our annual budget and when you give to the general fund at Heritage, you partner with your brothers and sisters in all of these ways.
When should this giving happen? We can look in two places for clues.
First, when we consider the passages that speak about giving, the only indication we have as to the context of giving comes to us in Paul’s instruction concerning the relief giving he mentioned in 2 Corinthians: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (16:9, emphasis added). Certainly, it makes sense to give when we come together, since giving is an expression of our partnership in the gospel. Yet the accent seems to be on the practicality of giving every week “so that there will be no collecting when I come” (16:9).
Second, when we look at the places that speak to the substance and shape of our Lord’s Day gatherings, we don’t find giving on the list. For example, Paul’s writes to Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13). To this list we might add singing to one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But a collection doesn’t make these sorts of lists.
There are certainly some good reasons to give on Sunday, even in our public gathering. If I had to reason for this practice, I would say that it helps teach us that our money is an important part of our discipleship. It’s an act of individual worship and an essential part of our partnership together in the gospel as a church. Placing it in our worship service also helps us teach our children.
But it goes too far to say that it must to be a planned element of our worship service. We might even argue that it can encourage the wrong kind of giving—from coercion or for show—about which the New Testament warns (2Cor. 9:7; Matt. 6:2, 3).
Our conclusion, then, is that passing the plate is one of many faithful ways to obey Christ in this area of giving, a method which comes with its pros and cons, and a matter of prudence. In fact, as with everything, we have to be careful not to make too much of our little human tradition.
Change in The Plate
Why did we stop passing the plate? When it comes to change in the church, if it’s not a matter of clear obedience to Scripture, we should have a compelling reason for the disruption. Not every human tradition is a problem. It’s worth mentioning that our chance to boxes is actually a change back to boxes. Heritage didn’t pass the plate at its founding but only when we moved to our current facility. But that was in 1987 and the practice is fairly well established at this point. So why change?
There are two reasons we stopped passing the plate. First, discontinuing this practice gives us more freedom in how we use our limited time together in our Sunday gathering. How about a metaphor. If you were a chef preparing a meal for your family every week, you would be limited by the requirement that potatoes go in every meal, mashed, and in the same spot on the plate. On Sundays we reserve twenty-five minutes for singing, reading, and praying outside of the announcements and the sermon. The offering is an element that involves ushers moving around the room for the distribution and collection of plates. This means a few things: we must be seated rather than stand, we should avoid things that the plate would distract from such as reading Scripture or a creed or a confession together. That means, if we just sang a song of confession, we can’t then pray a prayer of assurance, as one example. If we just prayed a prayer of assurance, we can’t then stand to sing a song of thanksgiving. There are a dozen or so of these combinations that aren’t available to us. Since we discontinued this practice, our services have enjoyed a more coherent and seamless flow. Second, though less importantly, moving away from passing the plate encourages giving in some other ways that are more regular and even across the year.
Those are some advantages. One disadvantage is that we lose a weekly reminder of the importance of giving for our life as a church. Yet as elders we believe we have relied on the plate as a kind of stand-in for what should be more creative reminders and overt teaching on this subject. In this spirit, we intend to make giving more accessible. We’ve added a permanent “Give” button in The Weekly, our recently refreshed weekly email to the church, and plan to increase the visibility of our offering boxes in the lobbies. We will also instruct more regularly on the why and how of giving through announcements, slides, classes, and at our Family Meeting. Just drips mostly, but enough to make giving even more of a priority for our already generous church.
Working the Miracle, How to Give and How Much
Years ago I enjoyed fellowship at a church where the offering was part of the worship service and where we then stood to sing the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That practice gave testimony to the miracle of that church’s giving.
But so do boxes and online giving. The work of this church is sustained without any coercion or even eyes watching. Restaurants and retail establishments can’t do that. But we can. That is proof of the Spirit’s miraculous work among us. It is God’s doing.
There are several ways you can give, summarized on our Giving page.
- First, give online. Set up a recurring payment or give one-time gifts through our church’s secure online giving platform. You do not have to be a registered member to give online.
- Second, give in person. Give on Sunday with an offering envelope through our offering boxes staged in the lobby outside the Worship Center.
- Third, give by mail. Make your check payable to “Heritage Bible Church” and mail it to: Heritage Bible Church, 2005 Old Spartanburg Road, Greer, SC, 29650.
That’s how to give. But how much should you give?
There’s a reason we call it “giving” at Heritage, rather than “tithes and offerings.” That language of tithes and offerings draws on Old Testament teaching for Israel under the old covenant which required 10% as a matter of both religious and civil responsibility. In fact there were multiple tithes required of Israelites, including the Jubilee tithe, so that it likely involved giving as much as 20% of ones income in a given year. Israel was, after all, a nation. We simply have no prescription like that in the New Testament for the church.
However, when we consider the scope of the church’s financial partnership outlined above, 10% is a reasonable target for some and a place to start for others. It’s also a reasonable point of reference considering our propensity to hoarding and greed as well as the new covenant’s inward requirement on our giving, that it be generous and cheerful (1Tim. 6:17–19; 2 Cor. 8–9).
Keep working the miracle, Heritage. Give like the gospel is true. Give cheerfully, sacrificially, and regularly as proof that Christ’s kingdom is real and his rule is righteous.