The other day, I was sitting at a table with a group of parishioners when a mother asked, “How do we teach and model stewardship with our kids in a digital age?” Speaking specifically about her desire that her children establish the habit of tithing from an early age, she spoke of the challenge of what to do when the plate is passed on Sunday mornings, when she and her husband give to the church online.
I have very distinct memories of my own experience of being taught to give at an early age. My parents had their offering envelopes – and so did I. Instead of participating in common worship with the adults, we had a small worship service as part of the Sunday School class . Included in that service were the small brass offering plates. My box of offering envelopes were provided to help me learn giving. Each envelope was divided into two sections: one for the church, and one for mission and outreach.
I remember asking my parents for change for a quarter so that I could carefully allocate two dimes and one nickel to one section or the other. I put a lot of thought into this. For example, when there was a flood in a nearby community, I only gave the church a nickel, and put the two dimes into the outreach side. I was mortified one Sunday morning to walk in on the Sunday School director counting the money. There he was, dumping all of the coins into one pile, my careful allocations meaningless. I’m not sure what the lesson was there, but I remember taking this very seriously.
The challenge today – and the one this mother was posing – is that children don’t even see their own parents giving, because their parents give online. Most churches now offer pledging and paying by credit card or electronic debit. This works well for the church budget, but we miss the tangible act of putting our offering into the plate and watching it raised high at the altar, offered to God. Parents might tell their kids they give online, or might put a dollar bill in the plate rather than just pass it on. But a dollar bill doesn’t teach true stewardship, let alone tithing!
What to do about teaching our children stewardship and giving in a digital age? Here are some options:
- We can begin by reflecting on our own financial stewardship. Are we giving generously and thanking God for what we do have? Are we vocal and visible with our gratitude and generosity?
- Teach children early how to manage their finances. Allocating their allowances or other income into the categories of Spend, Save, and Give can help them build habits of giving that lasts a lifetime.
- Remind children, like we do with adults, that stewardship is about more than just money. It includes how we use our time, our talents, our resources, and the earth itself.
- Children also benefit from daily practices at home. One that worked well for my family was “2 cents a meal.” Each of us would put 2 cents into a little box on our kitchen table every time we sat down for a meal together, and pray the words “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” (Due to inflation, this might be a quarter today!)
- Teach children about what it means to tithe – that is, to give ten percent of our income back to God. One of the best examples I know of is a priest colleague who, during the children’s sermon one Sunday, took out a stack of one dollar bills, and said “Here’s the deal – I’ll give you a dollar and you give me a dime back.” The kids all went running to their parents in the pews to get their dimes. The message: What a deal! That’s what God does for us!
The important thing, of course, is that we cultivate the “attitude of gratitude” from which all stewardship comes. If our children see us living out of abundance and gratitude rather than scarcity and selfishness, these qualities will be cultivated in their lives too.
[Image credit: NikolayF, Public Domain, used under a CC0 license via Pixabay]
How do you teach kids financial stewardship in the digital age?