Learning by doing. It’s a simple concept, yet so much of our approach to faith life gets caught up in the theoretical. Or, for stewardship leaders, the spreadsheets and budget projections. In today’s post, Pastor Elizabeth Lovell Milford reminds us of the joy of giving. Particularly, how can we teach -- and learn from -- children as they give? Well, one thing’s for sure: it’s not merely an intellectual exercise.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Cheering on Our Children…and Adults
Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford
"God loves a cheerful giver." A few years ago, a Vacation Bible School curriculum featured these words from 2 Corinthians 9:7 in one of those catchy ear worm songs. Following the verse, the song explains, "and it sounds like this" with a chorus of laughter accompanied by hands on bellies to represent the kind of gut-splitting joy that comes from a laugh deep within. While this verse gets a lot of play in stewardship circles, for most of us, stewardship is hardly a laughing manner. Instead, it's fraught with balance sheets, offering tallies and commitment cards, few of which spark great waves of joy from deep within. And yet, both this biblical text and best practices for fundraising remind us that joyful giving is the most effective, and the most pleasing to God. Perhaps we should be evaluating our stewardship successes, then, with the question: who are our most joyful givers, and how can we encourage and inspire others to follow in their paths?
That VBS song might give us a hint at where to look: our youngest disciples. Studies (like this one from the British Charity Commission) point to an increase not only in giving but in generosity and joy in giving from Millennials, especially when they feel connected to a cause. Imagine right behind them are those singing children, giggling their way to giving. As adults, we can learn a lot from a natural predisposition to giving, and by encouraging and accompanying children to engage in stewardship from a young age we can build a firm foundation of joyful associations with stewardship that will become a core part of their theological framework for living.
Show and tell. In 2014 the Barna Group revealed the number one indicator for whether teens practiced faith as young adults was whether they observed their parents actively participating in faith practices. Presumably, the same would follow for stewardship faith practices and children. Are children in your congregation seeing and hearing about giving?
Look for ways to engage children in conversation, both at home and in church settings. One of my favorite children's books about financial giving is Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. In an age of increased online giving, the visuals are shifting, so we may have to be even more creative and certainly intentional about how we demonstrate and model our giving practices.
Touch and do. Children are concrete thinkers who learn by doing. They need hands-on opportunities to engage in experiential learning. For stewardship, this is easy because it's already built in! The act of dropping coins into a bank (consider one with sections to divide by spend/save/give; some also have a fourth slot for invest) lets children see financial gifts growing through intentional preparation. Placing money in an offering plate or inviting them to help collect the offering connects this to worship. Participating in mission activities, from assembling kits (like these from Church World Service) to serving meals or selecting Christmas gifts for a child in need, makes giving come alive to children in tangible and relatable ways. A good rule of thumb is to provide a literal touchstone for every conversation.
My experience is that, when educated and engaged, children are some of the most enthusiastic responders and joyful givers. They remind us of the true heart of giving and spirit of the gospel, where instead of giving until it hurts, we might just be able to give until we giggle. And like laughter, this bubbling up of joy is contagious!
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The Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford is a Minister of Word and Sacrament and certified Christian Educator in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently serving as pastor and head of staff at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Acworth, Georgia.