This morning during and after church, I started thinking (in addition to thinking about the message) about the structure of worship services, especially when the message is going to be on the topic of stewardship.
Not that many years ago, every service I went to – whether it used contemporary music led by a worship combo, traditional music led by a choir and organ, or a combination of both; and without regard to the level of liturgy used – followed the same basic structure: the sermon, homely or message (same thing, different words) was at or near the end of the service, with maybe one closing song and a benediction or equivalent after it. Nearly everything else, including the offering, preceded the message.
Then there was a change that seems to have worked its way across at least the American protestent church scene based on the idea that the offering should be in response to the message, so it must follow it. In most cases and topics it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me where it follows. I tend to prefer having it before the message. Part of this is because it was the way I’ve grown accustomed – until I moved back to San Diego in 2008, I only rarely encountered this service structure; even if I’ve encountered it nearly every Sunday since. But part of this comes from how, especially at Wheaton Bible Church, this leaves the message as the lingering thought. But with the offering following, the music often becomes the lingering thought.
But when the topic of the message turns to stewardship – which often leads to the discussion of giving to the Church – it often seems to me that it tends to come across that the messages’ only goal is to drive up the offering that follows. I know that is rarely the real case, but it can leave that impression.
I do know that it is very possible to talk about giving without it sounding like begging. When Tara and I first visited Wheaton Bible Church in 2000, it was the Sunday they kicked off their funding drive to purchase the property on North Avenue where the church is now located – yet we both came out of that service knowing that we’d found our church home.
Somewhat ironically, when we moved away a bit over eight years later, we had been to service twice in the new building – and I’d actually spent the first Sunday in the back tech area supplying the song lyrics and sermon notes. So the whole time we were at Wheaton Bible it was somewhere in the process of moving to the new location.
Oddly, it seems that since we moved to San Diego, we keep ending up at churches that are also in the process of raising funds for some building related project.