Stewardship isn’t just for adults. Yet, in many of our congregations, we put off teaching about stewardship until young adulthood. I don’t think that practice is borne of bad intentions. It’s just that, for many of us, teaching stewardship to children requires a bit of extra thought and careful practice. In today’s article, Minner Serovy shares her wisdom on the matter, suggesting a wealth of opportunities beyond having children pass empty offering plates.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Teaching Stewardship to Children
It always puts a smile on my face when I visit churches that involve their children in worship. I grew up when children had a separate worship as part of Sunday School. When I see children helping usher, lighting candles, and gathering for a children’s message, I know that they are becoming totally comfortable in what, to me, was a mysterious space.
But when I see children helping with offering plates, I wonder what they are learning about stewardship. In too many churches, they would see mostly empty plates passed from person to person. Pledges are being paid by check or electronic transfers, perhaps, but the liturgical symbols of returning to God a portion of the abundance we’ve received are being lost. Children and visitors may be confused.
It takes special effort, then, to teach our children about stewardship as a Christian practice and responsibility. We know that children learn as much by observing and experiencing as from overt teaching. Children absorb parents’ attitudes and emotions about money and possessions, and these will have an impact into their own adulthood.
Stewardship, of course, is not limited to money. When we state that all that we have and all that we know belongs to God, we affirm that we are called to be stewards: caretakers of a life and creation that ultimately do not belong to us. It’s not about just money, but it must not exclude money.
Parents naturally teach stewardship of possessions and of creation. We ask children to take care of their toys and clothes. We teach care for the natural world through recycling and protection of animals. Stewardship of money is harder, especially when the messages we see every day suggest that we aren’t happy or successful unless we have the newest, the largest, the most of everything.
How can we foster the generosity and compassion we want in children?
We need to get over the taboo of talking about money and money values. We need to be in touch with our own learned money messages, and be challenged by Jesus’ teachings about our relationship to money. Children notice when we’re silent or uncomfortable. Make sure that Sunday School teachers are aware of the stewardship resources for children.
Teach (and learn) to distinguish between “wants” and “needs.” Possessions will not make us happy. Some studies suggest that learning delayed gratification early in life is one of the best predictors of success in later life.
Use faith language as you practice stewardship. A generation ago, we assumed that everyone knew that sharing, giving to those who had less, caring for the earth, and seeking justice are Christian values. That is not so self-evident now. We seek justice and show compassion because Jesus asks us to. Certainly, Christianity is not the only faith tradition that aspires to these values, but we (also) do it as an expression of our faith.
Help children experience the outcome of their generosity. Ask them to help identify toys or clothing that they no longer use. Rather than dropping them in a Goodwill bin, find a place where your children can see people receive their gifts. Bring them with you when the food pantry is open to see their contributions distributed. If you make a gift to a distant mission, read them the stories in the newsletter. Seeing a life changed by your generosity is a powerful motivator to do more.
Tour your church building and point out rooms that are used by community groups (Scouts, 12-Step) and explain how that serves the community. Stop by the office, the storage spaces, the library, and the kitchen. These things all cost money, and form their church home. It is why we also give money to support our church.
The lessons we learn as children stick with us, even if they hibernate for a while. Faith language and seeing generosity at work will help children and their family learn that money can’t buy happiness, but giving it away does.
For More Information
Minner Serovy is a Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, serving the PCUSA Synod of Lakes and Prairies. She has served several agencies of the PCUSA following education at Carroll College (University) and Union Theological Seminary in NYC.
Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute