What does God do with the money?”
Posed by a kindergartner, it was one of those sincere questions that kids innocently ask children’s workers when they least expect it. I had just finished teaching a group of children in Sunday school the reasons for taking an offering at church when this question surprised me. I wish I could tell you I had the perfect answer for their developing minds. Instead, I bumbled my way through a few practical ways the church uses the money, regretting the lost opportunity only minutes later.
Clarity for Developing Minds and Hearts
As an adult with a lifetime of church experience, I think of giving as an act of worship, being reminded of Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Teaching this concept to a child with a concrete view of his or her world is a scary instruction. Offer our bodies? Sacrifice? Like an animal? Worship? Do you mean singing? The challenge: to take an abstract mandate from Paul and present it in a relevant and meaningful way to our developing students.
In the 1920s, Jean Piaget began his work studying the learning and development process of children. His hypothesis: The minds of children are not merely smaller versions of adult minds. He proposed that intelligence is something that grows and develops through a series of stages.
Piaget suggested that there is a qualitative change in how children think as they gradually progress through four stages. A child at age seven doesn’t just have more information about the world than he or she did at age two; there is a fundamental change in how he or she thinks about the world.
This creates a challenge for all of us in children’s ministry. We have the disadvantage of being adults with completely developed operational thinking, trying to relate and communicate to our precious little ones who are just beginning to think symbolically and learning to use words and pictures to represent objects. Our elementary students are on the starting line of developing basic logic, while still concretely processing information and experiences.
The Heart of the Matter
In truth, God does not need the change and dollar bills kids bring to the children’s worship experience each weekend. Children, however, do need to learn the act of giving in ways that let them see a concrete result (not just paying the electric bill or the salary of the children’s pastor), and their families must be involved. During my tenure as the director of children and family ministry, my team has looked for ways for kids to practice the act of worship by giving through specific experiences for a concrete purpose, so they can make a text- to-world connection.
When my daughter was learning to read, one of the strategies her teacher used to improve comprehension was to make a connection to the text. After my daughter read a book to me, she was supposed to identify a connection to the text, to herself, or to the world around her. How did the ideas in this text remind her of another text? How did the ideas in this text relate to her own life experiences? How did the ideas in this text relate to the larger world—past, present, or future?
In a similar way, when we gave kids a hands-on, concrete experience of giving to other kids, locally or globally, and we combined those experiences with the text of Scripture, we gave them a text-to-self and text-to-world connection with ideas such as, “God loves a cheerful giver,” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Kids connect with the idea of helping other kids.
At Crossbridge, we strive to provide many text-to-world opportunities to our kids. Each year, we challenge families to participate in Operation Christmas Child. We encourage parents to take kids with them to the store when buying gifts. This outing will give kids a chance to pick out the items and have an investment in the box that each family assembles to send away to children in need.
We are a church that partners with Team World Vision and have participants who raise money each year by running in the Chicago marathon for clean drinking water for children in Africa. One year, we took empty ve-gallon water jugs and decorated them with pictures of kids carrying water in Africa in order to collect an o ering for clean drinking water, where every $50 provided clean water to one child for life.
Another time, we bought inexpensive baby bottles and handed them out to our families to fill with money to bless a local crisis pregnancy center. We explained to the kids that the money went to help babies who needed food, diapers, and equipment (such as car seats). Recently, our church formed a partnership with Nazarene missionaries in the Dominican Republic. Our kids are currently challenged to bring an offering which will be used to purchase soccer balls, goals, and nets to give kids a clean and safe place to play. Each week, we tell them it is not simply about soccer. By helping to provide kids with a safe place to play, the missionaries also earn the right to tell those kids about Jesus.
The Ultimate Goal
Ultimately, we desire for the next generation to grow up being sacri cial givers of their time, talents, and wealth. We desire for them to o er their lives up to God, just like Paul asks of all of us in Romans.
“What does God do with the money?”
I wish I had the quick response and depth of thought in that moment to tell my students, “He changes the heart of the giver.”
RACHEL DONOHO is director of Children and Family Ministries at Crossbridge Community Church of the Nazarene (Ottawa, Illinois). She is also a licensed social worker.