David S. Bell
Senior Design Partner
Will Our Children Be Stewards?
Written By David S. Bell
Will our children be stewards? The answer relies largely on the level of conversation that we foster in and through our faith communities. The simple decisions that children make about money may seem to have minimal, if any, bearing on others. However, the cumulative micro-economic influence of children does sway macro-economic outcomes. We now live in a global marketplace. Children’s direct money choices and their influence on adult’s money choices ripple around the world to impact issues like economic sustainability, quality of life, economic justice, free trade agreements, and other relevant topics.
The United States economy – the gross domestic product – exceeds $13 trillion annually. Individual spending, commonly referred to as consumer spending, comprises 70% of this economy. An even more staggering statistic is that 80% of product purchases are influenced by children! These figures calculate into a shocking realization that nearly $7.5 trillion of the U.S. economy is influenced directly by children.
Children are learning about money. What are their sources of information? Parents are a major source of information. Yet, a recent survey conducted by Synovate, a global market research company, suggests that giving is not a major component of parents’ financial teaching and that only 38% of parents teach children how to pay bills. Another primary and more constant source of information for children is media advertising. The average person, including children, is exposed to over 5,000 advertising impressions each day. Advertising is latent with money messages.
Children’s money values are influenced persistently by the underlying messages in advertising. These money values will often be inconsistent with children’s other values and potentially in direct conflict with Christian principles. If children are going to adopt money values that are consistent with other faith values, then they must be taught God-honoring, biblical principles about money. The Church has a tremendous opportunity, and arguably an awesome responsibility, to create a culture of generosity that advocates a proportional perspective between earning, giving, saving, and spending money.
Church leaders are often hesitant, perhaps even fearful, to talk with the congregation about financial principles. They avoid most money conversations based on the assumption that money talk is private talk. Yet, several of our money decisions are more obvious than we may think. Some choices are obvious to just about any one – even strangers! What are some of these public displays? The cars that we drive, the homes that we purchase, the clothes that we wear, the frequency that we eat at restaurants, the vacations that we enjoy – in fact, many of our consumer purchases are public displays of decisions that we have made with how to spend money.
Sometimes the public display of our money decisions does not reflect spending, but giving. In order to bring some level of balance to children’s perception about money priorities, we need to provide many more examples of giving than we currently demonstrate. Why? The hyperconsumer culture will provide money awareness to children in the absence of education from parents and faith communities. Church leaders are urged to provide opportunities for children to think about the intersection of money with their faith-informed values. We need to remind children that everything in life, including money, is a gift from God.
The church’s frequent posture of silence on most money conversations, except ones related to the church budget, may inadvertently imply a lack of relevance between money and faith or even an acceptance of current personal financial practices. However, numerous people are concerned about creating future generations of stewards. Church leaders, Christian educators, and parents, alike, desire for children to adhere to a holistic connection between their faith and money. Simply stated, we desire for children’s money choices to reflect Christian values. Yet, how many adults have perfected this habit? Surely fewer than are willing to admit it! But, do not lose hope. If we help children discover the interdependence between faith and money, we may help multiple generations in some unexpected ways.
So where do we begin? Here are some possible starting points for people within your faith community:
Begin by examining your own personal spending plan
Provide lifestyle values in contrast to the hyperconsumer culture. Visit Birthdays Without Pressure for some ideas
Advocate for the Parents’ Bill of Rights
Create a church culture of abundance regarding money and resources
Teach children Jesus’ messages about money and possessions
Model Christian stewardship
Adopt a God-honoring lifestyle by placing God as your top priority in life
Limit children’s exposure to commercial influences
o Set television watching limits and discuss product placements
o Set limits on computer time, review the websites and chat rooms that children are surfing, position computers in frequent family gathering areas
Discuss advertising and its motives and messages
Enable teenagers to be financially literate and especially to understand the importance of giving and saving and the impact of consumer debt
Do not give in to nagging of children’s consumer-driven desires – learn to say “no” to purchasing more stuff and to say “yes” to spending more time together
Recycle – let children use old items to create new types of art
Establish a clear delineation between “wants” and “needs”
Teach children to write thank you notes for gifts – connect giving and receiving to expressing thankfulness and caring
Create mission certificates in honor of a gift recipient instead of buying the person a gift
Praise children for good behaviors by using intrinsic means (i.e. positive comments,) not extrinsic reinforcements (i.e. rewards or gifts)
Worship and pray regularly
Encourage children to participate in the offering and other charitable giving opportunities
Establish a child’s savings account and regularly reinforce the discipline of saving money
Be involved in community outreach, service projects, and mission programs