As youth ministers, we regularly feel the pressure of all we hope to teach our students before they launch out into the world. Rooted encourages youth ministers to offer teenagers a steady diet of expository Bible teaching. We also recognize youth ministers are compelled to cover certain topics in discipling students toward what we hope will grow into lifelong faith in Jesus. One of those topics is biblical stewardship—the reality that what we have is not our own but God’s, and that as Christians we are called to offer all of it back to him with glad hearts.
Whether you’re doing a brief topical study on generosity between Thanksgiving and Christmas, preparing students to give of their time, talent, and treasure on a mission trip, or looking for creative illustrations as you approach a biblical text on these themes, here are some ideas for teaching teenagers about stewardship.
For many of us, stewardship may not feel like a topic on which we have a lot of authority. Most of us haven’t pursued business degrees, and we may feel self-conscious about how much we ourselves are giving financially or otherwise. While these obstacles should never prevent ministers of the gospel from doing biblical teaching on stewardship, we can use our relationships in the church to involve others in the conversation.
Members of a church’s stewardship or missions committee, faithful Christians serving in business, current or former missionaries, and truly generous people in the church (whether they have a little or a lot financially) can all be great voices to include as you talk about biblical stewardship. If you have limited time, a panel discussion could be compelling. For example, consider inviting the stay-at-home mom who facilitates a group for English language learners in her “spare” time. Ask the hedge-fund manager to share how he thinks about his marketplace role as a Christian. Invite your church’s stewardship chair to cover how he thinks biblically about the church budget.
Rather than hyper-focusing on the financial element of giving, encourage these guest teachers or discussion leaders to talk about how teenagers can live out the paradigm of giving their time, talent, and treasure. Students will glimpse what it can look like to faithfully give of themselves in different seasons and circumstances of life.
Share Principles of Development
In affluent communities like mine, one of the glaring challenges is that students and adults alike can all too easily feel smug or self-righteous about our giving. In less affluent communities, students may carry with them a sense of shame at having been “served” in ways that haven’t promoted human dignity.
Books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity offer wisdom based on the development model of ministry, which looks for strengths in each community, promoting reciprocal service and care over the long haul (vs. a relief model, which offers temporary assistance, and can be damaging to human relationships in non-emergency situations). As youth ministers, we can read these resources and then distill them for our students, whether we are leading or receiving a service team, or teaching on stewardship more broadly.
It’s tempting to embrace colonial or patronizing forms of service and giving without even realizing it. Instead, we want students to see how both their own gifts and those of their neighbors are needed in service of the kingdom. Through teaching on reciprocal service (Romans 1:12-13) and respectful partnership (1 Cor. 3:9), we both promote human dignity and point to the poverty we all experience as those in need of Jesus.
Help Teenagers Inventory Their Resources
Often teenagers imagine they don’t have much to give. In reality, God has given them many talents, along with a fair amount of time, and possibly even some monetary resources. Give them an opportunity to journal about all they do have at their disposal by asking some questions like:
How many hours per day do you spend on social media or using streaming services? (time)
What are the gifts and talents God has given you? (talent)
How are you currently spending the money you have, whether from an after-school job, allowance, or your birthday? (treasure)
For that last category, you might offer them some categories, like jotting down how much they typically spend at Starbucks or going out to eat, whether they pay for some of their own streaming services or cell phone expense, etc.
It should be said here as well as directly to your students when you do this exercise that the point of these questions is not to shame our students! Rather, we all want to slow down to think about how God is calling us to use what we have to bless others and participate in his kingdom.
Play the Giving Game
Some thoughtful youth leaders in my previous church introduced me to the “Giving Game.” They printed handouts with 3-4 charitable organizations and generously gave our group of high schoolers $100 out of their own pockets. The group researched the organizations together and decided where this money would do the most good. It was really fun to see students passionately reason for the organizations they felt were most deserving. And it was exciting to see students and leaders multiply the original $100 gift by giving generously out of their own funds. We then shared a thank-you letter we received from the organization as a way to check in about how growing in stewardship was going for all of us.
Don’t Neglect Creation Care
When I surveyed friends in youth ministry about how they’ve handled teaching on stewardship in their ministries, Rooted writer Steve Eatmon shared about including creation in our conversations.
Steve writes, “We did a teaching series on stewardship, including money or resources, talents, property, and one on how to take care of the environment. Climate change features as a big part of the world’s agenda these days, especially for younger people. So it’s important to have a theology to work through human responsibility in this area, rather than avoiding the topic. We dedicated a session to understanding how to take care of God’s creation. It helped that our assistant youth director was an environmental science major!”
Many of our students in Gen Z feel passionately about caring for the earth, sometimes even to the point of climate anxiety. We get to point them to the God who has commissioned human beings to partner with him in caring for all that he has made. Leaving this topic out of our teaching on stewardship not only sounds tone deaf to this generation; it also neglects an important element of the Christian story. Stewardship begins in the Garden, with God’s mandate that his image-bearers to cultivate all he has made (Gen. 3:28-31).
Remind Teenagers of the Gospel
Arguably the most beautiful passage on giving in all of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 is loaded with learning opportunities for us and our teenagers. Writing to the chaotic Corinthian church, the apostle Paul holds up the believers in Macedonia as the givers par excellence of the ancient world. Although they didn’t have much, they gave generously and with cheerful hearts out of all God had given to them, “even beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:3).
Paul calls upon his brothers and sisters in Corinth, who have much, also to “excel in this grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7) so that there might be equality among the believers (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Then he offers the gospel lens for this invitation—it’s not moralism, or something the Corinthians *should* do, but an imperative that is part and parcel of the good news they have received: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
As the Lord gives us opportunities to teach and to model stewardship, may we remind teenagers of this same good news: Christ left his heavenly riches to give them an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Pet. 1:4), and therefore we can gladly give of ourselves as he did.