How can I teach my young child about generosity?

The release of “Joy Giving” has invited deep and thoughtful questions from givers.

Several givers have asked, “How can I teach my children about generosity?” Emyra from Indonesia wrote to ask specifically about very young children. She wrote, “How do I involve my family in giving? Especially my 3.5-year-old son?”

We had the chance to discuss this issue on the Ministry Fundraising Network blog last year. Here’s what I wrote:

First Things First: Discipling Children.

The question behind the question is “How do we pass the life-giving Gospel of Jesus to our children?” Once they grasp the Gospel, they can’t help but become givers.

I asked my friend Niel in Jakarta about this. He said:

How to pass wealth and generosity is a subset of a larger spiritual problem. The core issue is universal and ubiquitous. Every Christian generation must find a fire that burns for the Gospel, a fire that burns so bright that they cannot but pour their lives and fortunes into it.

Carolyn and I have four awesome children who are still young (13, 11, 10 and 8). We may yet mess them up. But, for now it seems like they’re catching a vision for the Gospel and spreading God’s Kingdom.

How to pass wealth and generosity is a subset of a larger spiritual problem.

Based on what I’ve learned from radical global Christian givers, here are four things we’ve done to pass the torch of generosity to them: partnership, participation, progress, and presents.

1. Partnership: Give More than Money.

Wealthy people raise their children in wealthy places. But, for the Christian committed to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), discipling children means taking them to the hard places, whether nearby or far away. Last Spring Break, we took our children to Ethiopia to visit one of my heroes, Aychi. This wasn’t a mission trip. We didn’t pretend we were “helping” and we didn’t raise support. We were just there to see what God was doing.

Ministry friends took us to see orphanages, homes for former street children, trainings for church planters and more. For the first time, my kids took malaria pills, slept under mosquito nets, stayed in hot and humid situations without air conditioning, and wrestled with extreme jet lag. They met people who, for the Gospel, had been imprisoned, forfeited lands and even lost family members. Seeing their sacrifices makes it a little easier to get up on Sunday morning and get into the minivan for church.

God has led us to support a few key leaders around the world. But money isn’t enough. We want to be real partners. So, on Sunday mornings in the US (evening in most of the world), we Skype as a family with friends in Vietnam or India or Ethiopia. It’s not glamorous or seamless. Our kids can be restless; the internet connection can drag; we may struggle with our friends’ accents. Far from an idyllic scene. But it reminds us all that the Gospel is going out in the hard places, that God is on the move!

2. Participation: Let Your Kids Join in Your Giving.

One time our family came across an opportunity to make a difference in a community in India. Carolyn and I prayed and felt led to give $20,000 to start a school for children with special needs in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our kids were 9, 8, 6 and 5 at the time. To involve them, we sat down in the living and room and explained what we were doing. We explained how people in “karma” cultures believe that those with disabilities must have sinned in past lives, but Jesus believes something different. We shared that we were going to sacrifice $20,000 to start a school for these people with disabilities through our friend Nathan.

To our shock, and joy, they said, “Can we help?” And then they went and raided their piggy banks. We wept as they brought down almost all they had. And we wrote a check for $20,089. I think that God was most thrilled by the last $89.

This Spring Break, rather than going overseas, we joined the college students at our church on their mission trip. Our children went out with college students, doing street evangelism. To our joy, our college students reported back that our 12-year-old had led a girl to receive Christ, and taught her how to pray. And our 10-year-old prayed for someone to be healed. And God healed them.

It seems that God is even more excited to ignite passion for Himself in my children than I am!

3. Progress: Making Ministry Updates Part of the Family Dialogue.

We all get letters from ministries. It’s easy to skim them (at best) or throw them away (at worst). Why not share them at dinner?

We all get letters from ministries. Why not share them at dinner? 

Once we donated $35 each to cover the costs for some new believers to travel to a five-day discipleship training and then, if they were still set on following Jesus, to be baptized.

A friend at the baptisms sent us a picture of a man about to be baptized. He was dressed in a baptism gown and preparing to forever commit his life to Jesus. About to give up everything he’d ever known to receive more than he could imagine. His eyes captivated us.

Carolyn suggested that, rather than art in our dining room, we have pictures like this. With $30 and the magic of EasyCanvasPrints.com, now we do. Because of that conversation over dinner, this new brother and his renewed eyes watch every dinner we have there. Our dinner guests ask questions about our art and we get to share amazing stories–in front of our kids–about what God is doing around the world.

4. Presents: Turning Receiving into Giving.

Christmastime can build so much anticipation among children for “what do I get?” How can we turn this into “what do I give?” Here’s what we’ve done.

On December 1, we begin Advent calendars.

To set the right tone, we start Advent with the board game “Risk.” The game board is a big map of the world with pieces that represent armies. Instead of armies, we start placing the game pieces in places that our family has given to this year. Our kids are SO excited to place pieces in Turkey, where we got to help refugees, and in Korea, where we got to give a pastor and his family (of 18 adopted children!) their first vacation in a decade.

Christmastime can build so much anticipation among children for “what do I get?” How can we turn this into “what do I give?”

Then we ask the kids to think about where THEY want to give; they’ll keep it a secret and announce it on Christmas Eve. They each get $100 of our money to give; if they add their own money, Carolyn and I match $10 for every $1 they give.

On Christmas Eve, we have a big dinner, light the candles and play the Christmas music.

But the highlight of the evening is the moment that each child announces the cause to which they are giving their $100, and how much of their own money they are adding.

It’s so much fun. They’re so proud of the decisions they make. One daughter loves to give to Save the Storks, a beautiful pro-life ministry. Another gives to church planting in Cambodia; still another to India; our son loves a ministry in Thailand called thinkSMALL that shares the Gospel while equipping children to avoid being trafficked.

It’s a joyous celebration and sets the right tone for Christmas: the Father gave Jesus to us; we can give to others the chance to hear about Him!

Partnership, participation, progress, and presents. Show your children how amazing Jesus is and the joy that you experience in walking with Him! From that flow flows giving.

We can’t light the fire in them, but living lives of generosity in front of them can lay kindling around them.

Along the way, you’ll demonstrate to them that Jesus is right: it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

To bring more joy to your giving, each post at joygiving.org takes a giver’s question (Situation), offers biblical guidance (Scripture), and, based on our thousands of interactions with Christian givers around the world, offers action items (Steps). Much of this post originally appeared in a piece Cameron wrote for Ministry Fundraising Network. It appears here.

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