There’s a little game I’ve played with small children that goes like this: I will ask, “What did you have for breakfast today?” You can imagine the answers and, if all goes well, someone will say something like, “Capt’n Crunch!” [Don’t judge my choice of breakfast cereal here!] I’ll ask, “Did you put milk on it?” “Yes!” And then we begin a series of questions; where does the cow live, what does the cow eat, where does the grass grow, where does the earth come from? The final answer is to help the child see that all things have their root in God.
The purpose of the offering, ultimately, is to help us see that all things have their root in God. The prayers and actions around the offering are to help us remember this. What we offer in our offering is only that which God has already blessed us with. We give it back with some combination of gratitude, humility and a sense of mystery. Gratitude that God first entrusted us with this gift, humility that it is so small in relation to God’s generosity and mystery in how God uses all things together for good.
It's unfortunate that so often the moment of offering feels like the collection of “dues,” or that somehow, we’re “paying” for church. Some of this is the things that are said to people, “we need offerings to run the church.” [true, to an extent] Or, we treat it as something of a “shake-down.” Something that may be helpful in all of this is that when our church is healthy, we come to understand that all we [our church/congregation] really are is the embodiment of the love of Jesus in the world. We’re not so much an “institution,” as we are a living, breathing thing. We make Jesus come alive in this place. Our offerings are a small sign and a small gratitude for our understanding of this.