Each Sunday after I read the Gospel, I call the kids forward for the Children’s Sermon. This time, following my usual “Good morning!” greeting I asked the kids what a dollar could buy. While our older parishioners would say the list is smaller than it once was some years ago, each of the kids that morning named a number of things that could be acquired with a dollar. “Candy, a pop, school supplies, [types of] toys, …” I was stunned with their comprehensive list. Helping to transition forward—and to their amazement—I pulled a wad of cash out from my pocket. With these dollar bills (holding them up for all in the sanctuary to see), I affirmed, they could, indeed, buy the items they had just listed off. But it wouldn’t be enough just to show them the money, they needed to hold it—they needed to have it. So each kid—no matter his or her age, even those who came up halfway through to partake in pastor’s generosity—was given a real one-dollar bill. (Thankfully, there were only fifteen kids up at the time, or else this Children’s Sermon would’ve gotten expensive fast.) After having passed out the money, I assured the kids that: 1) it was, indeed, a real dollar bill, 2) it was now theirs, and 3) no matter what they chose to do with it—spend, save, or tithe—it would not return to me. (I believe many times the most valuable lessons taught are those that require putting something tangible down.) I told the kids that they could do whatever they wanted with that dollar bill; but before dismissing them I offered a suggestion. Just as they had earlier given me a long list of what could be purchased with a dollar, I gave them a smaller list of some of the ministries our church does—good causes with which a dollar could support and further. I explained—understanding full-well it might go over some kids’ heads—how the money we put in the offering plate each week goes to support those good and faithful ministries. I gave this as a possible alternative to what they could do with their newly acquired dollar. Not knowing (nor caring) who held which dollar, the task was simply to give them a wealth of options to consider. Turning and addressing the parents, I told them to not force their kid(s) to put it in the plate; but, if anything, encouraging them (I wanted neither guilt nor coercion to play a role in the kids’ choice). All of the bills were marked in such a way that when counted later it could be reported to me how many gave it away (in comparison to how many kept it). We closed with a prayer thanking God for Jesus and his love for us, and the kids went back to their seats.
After worship, I checked with the counters to see what the results were of my Children’s Sermon. Eleven of fifteen marked bills had been collected (and perhaps a few more may have been received later in the free will offering taken at our annual soup supper)! While I’m sure some parents may have had more ‘influence’ in ‘encouraging’ their kids’ tithing the gifted dollar (not to be cynical, only honest), I do want to give the benefit of the doubt to the kids--they are not only smart, but also very generous. Though some who read this might immediately jump to focus on the four who decided to keep their dollar, or to question whether any of the kids actually understood what I was trying teach through the sermon—much less understand their own giving of the dollar in the offering plate—I, however, want to look at this through a more positive lens. Two things—one pertaining to the kids, themselves, and the other to the parents/adults—I believe, deserve the most recognition from this: 1) given the free choice, 73% of the kids (which I find an impressive statistic) responded with generosity, and 2) though I don’t have an additional statistic for it, I’ve heard a significant amount of positive discussion—more than I would have imagined beforehand—regarding the Children’s Sermon in the less than a week since then. These two results, in my opinion, are promising.
Two connected subjects many shy away from--stewardship and giving—were broached, well received, found some immediate response, and have stirred people to talk about it. What will come from this? Who knows, but at the very least an honest conversation (if not multiple ones) was started that day: among parents, between parents and their children, among parishioners, between a pastor and various parishioners—of all ages. Something many of us get anxious about discussing—money—was brought up in a fun, unthreatening way that will (hopefully), perhaps, serve as a necessary catalyst for some of us to talk with our children about what it means to give something we have (been given by God) for the sake of another in need. Tithing is something that must be taught over time. How we talk to our children about the topic, demonstrate it for them to see, and finally encourage them to participate in it—altogether has a huge affect on how they learn and grow in their becoming faithful stewards and generous givers. It is up to us to teach our children to tithe.