"Generosity is one of the most important values parents and churches can model for children and teenagers."
Teaching Children Stewardship
How do we teach children – anyone really – to be good stewards of God’s gifts? I’m often asked, “How can we teach stewardship? What curriculum should we use? What projects can we do with children that will teach them stewardship?”
To be honest, I don’t think that’s how it works. We don’t learn to be good stewards just from a program or curriculum, a one-day service event, a one-time mission trip, or a once-a-year stewardship campaign. Instead, we learn to be good stewards when we see generosity modeled for us.
A Life of Generosity
Generosity is a way of life. It is a core value in our own lives and in the life of a church congregation. When generosity is our way of life, our mind-set, we learn to see the world through gospel eyes, we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves.
At its most basic, generosity is an issue of our spirit. It is a recognition of God’s own generosity. It is a response of thankfulness, a response that wants to pass on to others. It is letting go of our own fears of not having enough, and letting in the freedom that comes with sharing and generosity. You see, the funny thing about generosity is that it turns around and blesses us.
Generosity is one of the most important values parents and churches can model for children and teenagers. In a culture where we are saturated with messages of consumption, violence, and individuality at the expense of others’ well-being, the church bears a particular responsibility to teach and model generosity.
How Can Churches Model Generosity?
1. Practice what you preach
If the church is not generous with its own resources – spirit, time, buildings, money – we shouldn’t expect individuals to be generous with theirs.
2. Focus first on adult formation
Children learn by watching adults. Teach adults, particularly parents, grandparents, and godparents about generosity and sharing their time, talents, and financial resources. Remind them that what they do will teach their children.
What kinds of actions will children notice? Parents should make a financial commitment (pledge) to the church, and talk to their children about why they do it. The amount of the commitment is not as important as the act of giving. Children should see parents and other adults put money in the Sunday offering plate, and be given the opportunity to do that themselves. Children should see parents volunteer their time and talents to the church and other service organizations. Children should be included in volunteering their time and talents in meaningful ways.
3. Talk about generosity
In your annual giving/stewardship campaign materials, talk to adults about the model they are setting. Encourage them to ask: What will a more generous spirit and lifestyle look like in our life? What is one thing we, our household, can do differently to be more generous? Why is our church important to us, and how will our sharing help the church and others?
4. Teach financial planning
Help people make good financial decisions and set good financial plans. Offer classes on financial planning. One reason that adults are not good models of financial planning is that they may not have learned it themselves. Teach it. The class should include the importance of saving for the future, and the importance of sharing and generosity. A good resource for families is Nathan Dungan's Share Save Spend. You might want to offer this as a community service class.
Conclusion: It's About Modeling
Almost 40 years ago, the Rev. John Westerhoff wrote an important book about children and faith called Will Our Children Have Faith? His answer, and mine, is only if we, the adults in their lives, have faith. When our children see that we take our faith, and our church, seriously, they will learn to do so, too.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.