From the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary [Reprinted with the permission of the author.]
Teaching Stewardship at a Young Age
by Tammy Wilkinson
“Why do we give?” asked a 9-year-old girl. It’s a question that Sunday School teachers, youth directors, and parents struggle to know how to answer. The quick answer is, “Because we are supposed to give, and God likes it.” However, that answer only pacifies the questioner and doesn’t really address the question in a way that teaches the true nature of why we give.
Teaching to give at a young age helps start children and youth on a path of giving that has the potential to last a lifetime. Certainly, at the young age of two or three, they will not fully understand nor appreciate the reasons why we give. Over time, through conversations, modeling, and practicing stewardship, children and youth gain a better understanding of why stewardship is important and how it impacts them spiritually as well.
What is important in teaching children and youth about stewardship is that it is a gift that we give and that God values our gifts. As Craig Nessan has put it, “Tithing ought never be imposed as a requirement.”
The telling of the Creation Story helps to model stewardship well. God has abundantly blessed us with this earth on which to live. As “stewards” of creation, it is our job to respect the earth and take care of it, as it is God’s to begin with. Children and youth often understand this analogy well, as they are already exposed to the concepts of caring for creation. However, there are many other ways to teach and model stewardship through the offering of money, time, prayer, and worship — just to name a few.
Four Ways to Teach Stewardship
- Money: Perhaps the easiest way to teach stewardship is through the modeling of giving. The passing of the offering plate gives children both a tactile and visual experience of learning stewardship. The trend in church giving has shifted for many members to online giving. Although this makes practical sense, I would argue that it is too easy, even for adults. By physically placing the offering into the plate, givers have a deeper sense of what it means to give. Just as a child or youth witnesses their parents give, they too may feel more compelled to give. If electronic giving is desired, parents can speak to their children about that practice as well. Many congregations provide cards or wooden coins to place in the offering plate that represent electronic, automated giving.
- Time: Sharing one’s gifts, time, and talents are excellent ways to practice stewardship. In some situations, there are people who financially are not able to offer monetary forms of giving, but are able to give of themselves. This particularly resonates with youth. Oftentimes they do not have the means to give, but the offering of service in worship or helping around the church provides validation to their giving.
- Prayer: On the same lines of non-monetary giving, prayer offers another option for stewardship. What is special and unique about prayer is that anyone can offer prayer. Prayer can be offered through music, voice, silent prayers, and meditations.
- Worship: According to David Gambrell, “Worship itself is a gracious gift of God — the gift of being able to gather in God’s presence, to hear again the gospel of Jesus Christ, to share in communion of the Holy Spirit, and to be sent to love and serve the Lord in daily life.” This too is another form of stewardship in which all people can participate and that pleases God. It not only becomes a gift for ourselves, but for God as well.
Teaching stewardship takes time, practice, and modeling for many families. It’s important to take note that starting with small practices and explanations, at any age, is more beneficial than avoiding stewardship practices altogether. As children age, they begin to grasp why we give and personalize their own giving. As with adults, stewardship is something very personal between the giver and God. It is in the giving of time, money, prayer and worship that we receive God’s unconditional love.
Tammy Wilkinson is an M.Div. student at Luther Seminary and has been working in Children’s, Youth, and Family Ministries for over 15 years, serving at Prince of Peace from 2008-2017. She has a master’s degree in Communications with an emphasis on Family Communication.