Over the past couple of weeks I have started looking ahead to 2012 on the calendar. This involves printing a hard copy "master" calendar for the church and keeping track of services, meetings, fellowships and other church activities. While I’m jumping forward, I am also polishing up our December calendar of Christmas events.
This week I received a request from a well-meaning organization to promote giving hope this Christmas by donating three dollars to send a Bible to needy countries around the world. In the introductory letter for the promotion, one of the suggestions was to dedicate our church’s Christmas Eve offering to their cause.
I didn’t think about what was being said the first time I read the letter. But when I looked at it again today, I was shocked. My concern was not that I should give extra funds to this cause, but that churches make a regular practice of taking offerings on Christmas Eve.
As the pastor of a smaller church, I have to be aware of our financial situation. We take offerings regularly at our Sunday and Midweek services. But I have a problem with taking an offering on Christmas Eve. Here are some reasons why.
It’s a signal of wrong priorities
When Christmas Eve comes around, what is the purpose of your service? Is it to feed your bottom line for the year with one more offering, or is it to celebrate and announce the life and hope of Jesus Christ?
Too many organizations are making calls and sending out flyers for year-end donations. Research foundations. Animal rights groups. Equality advocates. World feeding programs. Local fire and police departments. They need to stay in the black, or at least reduce the red a bit. They need your help. It isn’t that their cause is not valid or that no one cares, it is just that they need a little more than you might have given so far this year.
Why do we promote our Christmas Eve services? Is it to bring in a lot of people to make one more financial push? I hope that isn’t the case. We should be more concerned with taking at least this one service of the year to offer the peace and goodwill the angels proclaimed on the night of Jesus’ birth. That is a far more important message than we need your money tonight to make our bills for the year.
It’s a violation of the invitation
The last time you went to a church for a wedding, did they take an offering? What about the last birthday party you went to? No? Why do you think that was? Because you were specially invited to take part in a celebration, not a fundraiser.
Congregants struggle all year to find the best opportunity to bring their family members to church. If there is one service that unchurched people attend in North America each year, it is Christmas. That is because Christmas services generally talk less about sin and changing who you are and what you do. Christmas is usually about a party.
Would you take an offering at a wedding or a birthday party? Of course not. You would not want to offend those invited with such a selfish act. Unless, of course, you are more worried about the gifts than you are about the presence of the people close to you. Do you invite guests to your birthday party because you want to see how much you will get in the cards they bring along? No; your desire to include them in the celebration. Any gift is a bonus. Any request for a gift is a violation of the invitation.
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The world is already skeptical of pastors, thinking that they are money-hungry cheats and scoundrels. As you plan your Christmas Eve service, will you try to change that popular opinion, or will your seemingly innocent actions communicate the wrong message on what should one of the greatest celebrations of the year?
[Q:] Is your church taking a Christmas Eve offering this year? What was your thought process behind your decision?