Teaching Stewardship: Practical Application

In the previous post, I gave some Biblical principles for teaching stewardship. Now that are equipped with that knowledge, here are three practical ways to reach your child's heart:
  1. Pray
  2. Preach the Truth
  3. Practice and Discipline

As I mentioned in the previous post, I cannot force my child to worship God. I can only pray for God's mercy and for the Spirit to work in and soften his heart, so that he may worship the Lord. While I do have responsibilities (more on that below), I have to start with prayer.

It is bad theology when people say, "When all else fails, we need to pray." Prayer should be our first option, not our last resort.

Preaching the Truth
We have to teach our children the truth, the God has revealed in the Bible. But remember that teaching truth is not just restricted to family worship time, but should be part of the normal conversation of life (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Children love stories, so use them! You can use the illustration of fruit trees. It's most helpful if you have a fruit tree in your yard, or if you have ever picked apples, or strawberries, or whatever . Use the image that Jesus used, to explain that their actions and attitudes reveal the sin in their heart -- just as the fruit reveals what kind of plant you have -- and that Jesus came to die for their sins. Remind them that you are not so much concerned about their actions (the "bad" fruit of irresponsibility and selfishness, in this case), but that you are concerned for their hearts. If their hearts are abiding in Jesus (John 15), then they will have a pattern of bearing good fruit.

Furthermore, tell real life stories. Tell them when you have trusted God and been a good steward, and when you have failed to do so. And make all your teaching and story-telling point to the redemption that we have in Jesus.

Practice and Discipline
Here's an idea that a friend taught us, to teach about irresponsibility. Go back to Jesus' parable of the talents; the message is that if we cannot be trusted with a little, then we cannot be trusted with a lot.

One principle that we've been taught is to "parent inside the funnel" (see the parenting video here). At a young age, a child's responsibility and freedoms must be kept limited. But they can earn more freedoms by demonstrating more responsibility as they grow and mature. Where we (my wife and I, as well as most parents) mess up is that we tend to get "outside the funnel" -- we often give our kids too much freedom that they are not ready for. And then things go crazy, and it's our own fault! So, we then have to pull back, and pulling our children back into the funnel is much harder than keeping them there in the first place.

So, explain to your child that you are going to help him learn to be responsible with however much he can handle. Start by taking away some of his possessions and freedoms, and explain that you will keep doing so until you find the level of stuff that he can be responsible with.

Warning: this might mean that you will have to remove half of the stuff in his room, or more! Another warning: don't just expect instant success, as I shared about how we took away our kids' Legos for a time.

The level of responsibility that each child can handle will vary from child to child. There is no universal right-or-wrong answer. Each child's personality, maturity, and temperament will dictate how much freedom and responsibility he can handle.

Other Ideas
I'd love to know if you have some other practical ideas that you have used to teach children responsibility and/or generosity. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Whatever applications we implement, we must remember that this is an issue of worship. The reason that we can be both unappreciative and selfish at the same time is that we focus on ourself. We worship ourselves more than we worship God, and we love ourselves more than we love others.

To help us (and our children) become God-worshipers -- instead of self-worshipers -- we need prayer, truth, and discipline.

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  1. You say that stewardship and generosity is an issue of worship. I get that, but it seems to more of an issue around teaching our children what a "good work" is. By focusing on "works," I can teach my "born again" child what it means to live sanctified and how to live to please God (ie following God's law), but for my child who has not yet shown evidence of regeneration, I would be careful to teach these works (ie stewardship)in such a way so they would not put any faith in these works for their salvation. I suppose it is possible to teach a lost child to joyfully give and be a great steward of their resources; but that cannot draw them closer to God.

    To summarize, to the lost child, I would teach stewardship and generosity as a means to point out their utter inadequacy before a Holy God; but to the saved child, I would teach the same principles to show that in Jesus, we are free to obey God's law as an act of worship.

  2. Yes, that's true that we need to be clear for an unregenerate child (or adult) that works do not earn salvation. But in both cases, whatever we communicate about Biblical principles, we need to also make sure that we preach believing and repenting, whenever our children are poor stewards of God's gifts.