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Are We Bribing Kids Into the Kingdom?

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Author/Source: Karl Bastian

Topic: Prize Incentives

A FRESH ANSWER TO THE ISSUE OF GIVING CANDY AND PRIZES TO KIDS AT CHURCH.

Do I give candy and prizes to the kids in my ministry? Most certainly, YES! Am I bribing them? Certainly not! For the sake of children everywhere, allow me to present a defense for this practice, before you take the kids’ candy away! Someone needs to stand up and protect the little plastic toys from extinction!

Are We Bribing Kids Into the Kingdom?

Are We Bribing Kids into the Kingdom?

A FRESH ANSWER TO THE ISSUE OF GIVING CANDY AND PRIZES TO KIDS AT CHURCH.

Do I give candy and prizes to the kids in my ministry? Most certainly, YES! Am I bribing them? Certainly not! For the sake of children everywhere, allow me to present a defense for this practice, before you take the kids’ candy away! Someone needs to stand up and protect the little plastic toys from extinction!

While there are some legitimate concerns with the liberal giving away of candy and prizes to children at church, the answer is not to stop completely, but to be wise and thoughtful in the way it is done. As with many things in the Christian life, the answer lies with balance, not in the two extremes. It is true that we should not overwhelm kids with 'treats.' Nor is it healthy to create an environment where the only way to motivate kids is to offer them candy.

However, the opposite is also not the answer. To attempt to eliminate candy and prizes from your children's ministry is not only harmful to your ministry, but also unrealistic. This concept is rarely proposed by those who are actively in the classroom, and if so, I would guess that their relationships with the children are not as close, nor their teaching as impacting as those who wisely use a balance between inner and external motivators.

Let's look at a few reasons why:

  1. Definition of a bribe: to offer someone money or other material incentive to do something wrong, immoral or illegal. None of the things we give children at church is to encourage wrong, immoral or illegal behavior. Memorizing verses or bringing a friend to church is a GOOD thing, and so by definition, cannot be called a bribe! They are rewards.
  2. If offering rewards for good actions is so bad, then why does God offer rewards? Why are we encouraged to "lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:20) and "to run in such a way as to win the prize?" (Phil. 3:14, I Cor. 9:24) Why, then, is God described as one who is a "rewarder" of those who diligently seek Him?' (Heb. 11:6) Does not God realize (as the anti-prize and anti-candy folks like to point out) that those are external motivators? Shouldn't God just tell us that we should simply obey Him because He is worthy of our obedience? (For indeed He is!) Perhaps our loving Lord realizes we are weak and need more incentive to do what is right. Perhaps, when we finally meet God, we will no longer need nor even desire those rewards, but in the meantime, He offers them to encourage us to do what we otherwise might not do. If we, who are adults, need the offer of rewards to excel, and so our loving God provides them, then how much more do the little ones need us to lovingly help motivate them to do what they otherwise might not?
  3. It is not fair to expect of children something adults would never go for. External motivation is a fact of life. Let's put it this way, what motivates adults? Adults will do little, if anything, for candy, but let's talk about money. Yes, money. Not the evil lust for money, but just the day-to-day needs. Why do we buy the car with the $1000 cash back offer? Why do we shop sales and use coupons and complain when something costs too much? Who works hard hoping for a raise or perhaps a Christmas bonus? How many adults have changed jobs, leaving friends behind, because the new job paid more? It is simply a fact of life that many of our adults' actions are determined by external motivators every single day. So it is rather unfair to expect children to somehow be magically able to be motivated entirely by internal motivation. It is unfair, and unrealistic.
  4. Lastly, and closest to my heart, I believe it is unloving to cease to offer candy and prizes to children. I understand the good intentions of those who speak and write against this practice, and even agree with many of their concerns, but as one who passionately advocates RELATIONAL MINISTRY, I beg those who love children (as both sides of this issue do) to look at this from the child's perspective. Venture to remember their own childhood and to summon back to their grown-up mind and tummy their youthful love of candy. Relive that delicious, unexplainable, yet simple joy that starts the second that sweet taste landed on your tongue. Recall the affection you felt for the one who gave it to you. Remember how exciting that little plastic toy was. It wasn't expensive, it wasn't even well made, but it fit in your pocket and enabled your imagination to carry you away when you were bored and surrounded by people twice your size (or more!).  Remember that we serve a God who delights in giving to His children. It brings Him joy to give us good things. Sometimes He gives simply out of love (as we should do for children) but other times He gives as a reward, and so should we! We should follow our loving Father’s example.

You see, it isn't about internal or external motivators. It isn't about whether candy is healthy or not. It isn't even about whether they learned the verse for the candy instead of for a more noble reason. It's about letting children be children. They only get to be one for such a short time. They can only find such great happiness in such simple things for so long, before they become one of us and must remain one for decades. So let them be kids. Please don't take away their candy and plastic prizes. Today's kids have lost enough. We've taken away enough already. Our society is stealing away their innocence and childhood, and now when they go to many churches, they are expected to be miniature adults, and to be motivated in ways that don't even work for adults. My heart aches for the children who have had their candy taken away.

Let me end with a true story. There once was an old lady named Candice Crowell. She was a prayer warrior at the Bellflower Baptist Church in Bellflower, California. But the kids all called her "Candy" because if you shook her hand on Sunday morning, you found a butterscotch in your hand. Not a very healthy practice, it’s true, but the kids all knew that Candy loved them. And guess who led me in the prayer that forever changed my spiritual destiny? That's right, Candy did. So I guess you could say, in more ways than one, I will always be grateful to the Lord for Candy.

For the Children,

Karl Bastian, the Kidologist

 


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