"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Thankful for Giving at Thanksgiving

Emmanuel Enid receives offerings in our four morning worship services the old fashioned way - we pass plates. Since coming as pastor of Emmanuel in 1992, it has been our standard practice to invite people in the auditorium to either give to the offering or receive from the offering. When we pass the plates we encourage those in financial need to take from the offering if they have genuine need. We only ask that they take the cash and leave the checks and the envelopes because those are checks made to Emmanuel, and they couldn't cash them anyway. We also typically announce that if there is not enough cash in the plate to meet their need, they can see us after the service and we will see what we can do to help them financially. There are no restrictions. Members and guests are invited to take from the offering plate. Money can be taken by the same person every week for fifty-two weeks. We mean what we say, and we have many stories of people who have been helped through our offering, sometimes in surprising fashions. One young lady who was in college stopped me one Sunday with tears in her eyes. She was an only child. Her only surviving parent and grandparent, her father, was dying of cancer. She was driving sixty miles one way from Stillwater every weekend to relieve her father's caregiver. She could not afford the gas, and for the past several weeks she had been faithfully taking her gas money from the offering plate. Her father was not a believer in Christ, though she was, and after she told her dad what we had said about the offering, and what she was doing for gas money in order to get home to care for him, he said, "If that is what Christians are all about, then I want to be one." Anyway, you can understand her tears.
 
Last Sunday a friend of mine told me at lunch that the lady in front of him took her hand and scooped up almost the entire offering, cash, checks, envelopes--everything. Obviously, that presents a problem, particularly if people are giving to Emmanuel in the form of checks. The problem is not so much that we will not receive the money (the Lord ultimately is in charge of meeting our needs, and we trust Him), but that we don't look real professional if we have someone who has written a check and we have no record of receiving it and they have no record of it being cashed. On occasion we have had different individuals unsuccessfully try to cash checks at banks, and of course, we don't press charges because we just assume there is a misunderstanding of what can and cannot be taken from the offering plate. It's almost worth the adventure just to see the expression on the faces of bank employees when they are told that worship attenders at Emmanuel are encouraged to take what they need from the offering plate.
 
Anyway, Monday's offering count was the lowest it has been in many months. Emmanuel takes no giving commitment cards. We do not emphasize the "tithe." We tell people to give what the Holy Spirit leads them to give. For the past eighteen years in a row we have exceeded our church budget in receipts. Last year we exceeded it by a quarter of a million dollars. Around Thanksgiving however, we are always behind in budget receipts, sometimes to the tune of $200,000 to $300,000 dollars. Emmanuel has no guarantee that we will meet budget by the end of the year, and we make no special emphasis--but somehow, someway, God has provided.
 
After my friend told me about the woman who emptied everything from the offering plate, and after I received the news of the low offering this past Sunday, I found myself thinking through our practice of encouraging people to take from the offering plate. After a little reflection, I came up with the reasons why we will not change a thing.
 
(1). God is quite capable of meeting our needs as a church ministry as He sees fit.
(2). If we ever fall short in our missions and ministry budget, we will cut our budget to reflect the giving we have received (or not received). The people of Emmanuel, having been filled by the Spirit, will give precisely what the Spirit leads them to give and take what the Spirit leads them to take. The answer is not for leaders to demand more, but for leaders to trust more.
(3). Trust in God involves trusting Him to work in the lives of those who give to and of those who receive from Emmanuel. Sure, people can abuse the offering, misuse the church's generosity, and take money from the offering plate for things that some might not consider appropriate, but our God is big enough to handle His people. He neither needs our control or demands our micromanagement.
(4). Thanksgiving reminds us not only to give thanks, but to be thankful for giving. Too many of us are so accustomed to being on the receiving end that the concept of churches being the initiators of giving has been lost.
(5). In time, the lives of people are changed by the love involved in giving, not the control needed in taking.
 
I close with a Thanksgiving Facebook message I received this morning from a woman impacted by Emmanuel. I have left off her name and current living location to protect her identity, but I believe her message was only a confirmation from the Lord that it is far more blessed for Emmanuel to give than to receive.
 
___________
 
Pastor Wade
 
I wanted to take time to tell you how much I miss Emmanuel. I had no idea how important and significant Emmanuel was in my life. Now that I have moved to _____, my new husband and I are looking for a church home. We have been to the Baptist Church here 3 or 4 times and it isn't even close to being the church for us.... I wanted to thank you for teaching me what God's Grace is. Grace is God! God knew what He was doing when He called you to preach His word. I have so many examples of how you and Emmanuel have touched my life but there are three that really stand out to me.
 
1....One Christmas Eve the girls and I were at the candle light service and afterwards you just randomly came up to me and handed me a voucher for $75 in groceries. You couldn't have known how much I needed that...but God did.
 
2. I had surgery in 2009. I was to be off work for at least 6 weeks which turned into 11 weeks. I had the surgery of state,  and I had asked if the church could help me with a donation to "Kathy's House" which is a place for patients to stay who are in the hospital for medical reasons. The donation is what they accept as payment. Well, not only did the church write a check for the donation but they paid my bills for a month. That was amazing! Thank you!
 
3.  EBC helped me raise my 3 daughters and keep God in every part of their life. I pray that God sends my husband and me to a special church like Emmanuel. Please pray for us. Thank you!
 
__________
 
 
Wade and Rachelle Burleson

 
 
 
 


19 comments:

Eric Fry said...

May God bless you and keep you and your entire family at Emmanuel Enid, Wade.

You are truly a vessel carrying the water of life to those who thirst.

Garen Martens said...

One of the deciding factors for Eva and I to attend Emmanuel was the offering. I was absolutely floored the first time I heard "If you have a need, feel free to take from the offering plate". I remember asking you Wade, if that was for real and did people ever actually take from the offering. Eva and I decided that if this group of believers had so much awareness of the fact that it is God's money and not ours, we wanted to be a part of that group of believers. We certainly have many other reasons for being at Emmanuel 12 years later, but this example of trust in our Lord brought a new freshness to our understanding of the work of the local church.

Thy Peace said...

Amen. This is the cutting edge of Christianity. Without this grace, Christianity has no meaning. I am praying for this lady's needs to be met and that she and or others would leave checks in the plate. Wade, all the theology and doctrine has no meaning without what Emmanuel is doing. Praise God for the generosity of the people of Emmanuel.

Wade Burleson said...

Garen,

I would like my readers to know that you are the mayor of a pretty fair sized city in NW Oklahoma and your lovely wife has been chairperson of that city's school board and the two of you drive forty miles--one way--to come to church. It's our blessing to have you at Emmanuel. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Eric and Thy Peace,

Thanks for your encouraging comments.

Victorious said...

Speaking of Garen and his wife driving 40 miles to attend Emmanuel... reminds me of a similar situation where a husband and wife drove about the same to a church I was attending. I said, "wow! that's a long way to come." To which she replied..."a church that's alive is worth the drive."

So true...and if I wasn't way down in Florida, I'd drive a good distance to attend Emmanuel as well. But the next best thing is attending e-church at Wartburg!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Wade!

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Victorious!

Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

wade

Johnny D. said...

Great post, Wade. Thanks for sharing the letter from the former member. How inspiring.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We are soooo blessed!

Wade Burleson said...

You are welcome, Johnny!

Back at ya!

Tikatu said...

I love this attitude, that you encourage people to take if they have a need. So many churches wouldn't -- you'd have to go to the pastor and risk your business being known throughout the church.

There is, however, a niggling little thought, especially when you hear about someone scooping up the entire offering, checks and all.

Identity theft.

I'll be praying that this isn't the case, and this lady who took the contents of the plate is honestly in need and merely confused. The Lord can protect his children, even in cyberspace.

(The reason I'm a little wary is that I'm from South Carolina and our Department of Revenue was recently hacked.)

A happy and restful Thanksgiving to all the folks who visit here.

Andrew Cairns said...

After spending many hours reading the entire JaxWatchdog blog and after reflecting on that and thinking about the relationship that churches on the whole have with money, to realise that you lead your large congregation with such a display of trust in our Lord in has me grinning from ear to ear.

Well done Sir!!

Wade Burleson said...

Tikatu,

You raise a good point. In our age and day I always recommend people have Identity Theft protection - I use LIFELOCK, particularly after every piece of identifying information on me is in the Mexico criminal justice system.

Wade Burleson said...

Andrew,

Thanks for the kind words. Happy Thanksgiving!

Julie Anne said...

Wade: This brought tears to my eyes - such a beautiful demonstration of Christ's love. I have posted a snippet of it on my blog directing my readers here. Some of my readers have not experienced healthy church/pastors and so this should be a real treat for them as it was for me.

Kathi said...

I can't say that I have ever been to a church that practices giving in this way. This is beautiful!

Wade Burleson said...

Julie Anne and Kathi,

Thanks so much for the kind words. Honestly, there are some beautiful people at Emmanuel, filled with an appreciation for the grace of God

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog and this is a wonderful example of your church loving and not judging -- something we need to see alot more of. Blessings to your community of faith!

Jennie

The Govteach said...

What a church....What a pastor.

Just curious, why was teaching like this not done when I was at SWBTS when I was there in the early-mid 1980s?

Keep up the good work sir, and our prayers are with you, your family and the folks in Enid.

Matt said...

Wade, I'm using this story Sunday as we examine the part of our mission statement that says we want to be "a church that shares."

Thanks so much for sharing.