A Pastoral Letter

Dear Members and Friends of Christ Lutheran,

In the five months that I have left to be your pastor, there are a number of things on my “bucket list” to share with you. They involve a variety of topics. They are pretty basic but pretty important too. They are things that any pastor (I would think) would want his people to know and remember. It’s not going to be anything earth-shattering or unusually profound. In fact you probably already know all of this.

But let me tell you anyway.

The topics are not in any particular order of priority, but I am starting with this because it is still the beginning of a new year and we have been sharing a lot of information with you lately about money (this newsletter included.) So here we go:

Let’s Think Straight about Offerings, the Church and Money

My one son is a pastor and the proverbial shoe has been on the other foot a lot lately. I am learning some things from him. Last December he wrote a short article in his church newsletter. Some of what he said is worth repeating.

First of all, a misconception. God does not really want your money and doesn’t need your offerings! That’s right. To quote the aforementioned article, “Some people seem to think that the reason we give offerings at church is so that the church has money to operate and stay open. This kind of thinking has to change.”

Does God care about Christ Lutheran in Eden Prairie? Of course he does. Does God care whether or not we can keep the doors of Christ Lutheran open? Again, yes, I am sure he does. But! God, first and foremost, cares about you. HE WANTS A HEALTHY YOU! “God cares about the outward entity we call [Christ Lutheran] only to the extent that it contributes to making a healthy you.”

Okay, pastor, I hear you, but what does this mean? What makes a person healthy? Using what might also be a good summary of what it means to be a Christian, or to have saving faith, healthy means to have an “active trust in him, a trust fed by Word and Sacrament, and demonstrated by acts of faith and love.” Well said, and well worth giving some careful and prayerful thought, don’t you think?

But that brings us to what any of this has to do with your offerings. The truth we need to learn and the kind of thinking that we need about offerings, the church, and money, is this: “When you give money as an offering at church, God does not see it primarily as an offering to church. He sees it as an offering from you. Since this is the way God sees it, that’s the way we want to see it. That becomes the starting point for our thinking about this important and often misunderstood topic.

Since we are confessional Lutherans, we now want to ask where God says this. We need to know where the Bible teaches that. Look in the Old Testament. The believer’s offerings then were more often than not crops and animals. That was their money, so to speak. That was their wealth. “God asked for these offerings, not because they were needed (giving TO), but because such a sacrifice by the people demonstrated their heart’s thankfulness and trust in God to provide for them (giving FROM). It is true that the priest and others were supported by these offerings, but as we learned in a Bible class not too long ago (The Bloodstained Path to God), a lot of their offerings were simply burned up. Sounds strange when you think about it. What good would that do? That would be like taking the Sunday offering plate and throwing it in the dumpster in the parking lot. “Why would God tell them to do that? Because his primary interest is not our giving TO, but our giving FROM. The people demonstrated their faith by making that sacrifice.”

In the New Testament we get an important word on this subject – firstfruits. 1 Corinthians 16 is a good place to see this. Firstfuits meant the first of the harvest and the best of the animals. Why does God ask for firstfruits? “We know it’s not because he’s greedy, because he doesn’t even need these things. Rather, he asked for firstfruits because it gave people a chance to act in faith.” It showed that they trusted God to take care of their needs and that he would see to it that the rest of the harvest and the rest of the animals would provide them with plenty for their life and enjoyment. “They gave from a heart of faith; their giving proved their faith.”

That’s why when give our offerings we also want to give the first and the best – the firstfruits. That means, among other things, planning and knowing what we are going to give beforehand. When we make our budget at home (a good thing to do, by the way), the first thing we do is determine what portion we will give to the church. Then we plan our life around the rest. We do that, we can do that, because we trust that God will provide for us even after we set aside our firstfruits. This is giving from the heart. Another result of this is that we are able to give even when we are not there, because its planned, its regular, it’s the firstfruits. Offerings given FROM a healthy heart do not change based on where I am physically on Sunday morning.

God may change the way he blesses us. When that happens that may change our offerings. “Firstfruits giving means differ amounts for different people at different times.” $1 a week might be firstfruits for someone. And God loves that dollar and he doesn’t care that that dollar won’t pay a bill by itself. God looks at the heart, not the amount. (By the way – what are we teaching our children and teens? What are they doing with their birthday money, allowance or income from chores and jobs? Let’s teach them FROM the heart, not TO tangible results!)

For someone else first fruits could mean something else and something more. But everyone is really giving the same!

What does this mean for you? Only you can decide that. What is the first and best that God has given to you. “As far as God and pastors are concerned, we don’t want your money to keep the church open. We want your money as evidence of a heart of faith, a heart that acts according to God’s commands and trusts that he will take care of you when you do. We want a healthy you.”

Think about that. With a church full of “healthy YOUS” we will automatically have a healthy Christ Lutheran. And God is pleased with that too