The other day I was speaking with an acquaintance about children's ministry. He is a great fellow with a heart for children. He attends a large church in the Dallas area. He volunteers regularly with the children's department of his church and loves to teach and to make animal balloons for the kids. As we spoke, he expressed disappointment in not being able to do balloons for the kids recently. He told me that the new children's pastor at their church held the philosophy that children should not be rewarded for positive behavior. This new minister claims that kids should not receive a reward for doing what they ought to do anyway. If you don't mind, I would like to offer an alternate view:
"He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done" (Proverbs 19:17).
"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you" (Proverbs 25:21-22).
"I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 17:10).
"O great and powerful God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 32:18-19).
"Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:41-42).
"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free" (Ephesians 6:7-8).
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward" (Colossians 3:23-24).
"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
Even Jesus endured the Cross, not out of a sense of duty, but "for the joy set before him." He was looking forward to a "pay off."
The children's pastor may believe that "folks just ought to do what's right because it's right." But I will wager that he does not expect to be treated that way by his supervisors. I am sure that same children's pastor appreciates his Christmas bonus each year. And I am positive that he expects to receive a raise occasionally.
As ministers to children, it is our responsibility not only to teach children the things of God, but also to represent God to them. When I read my Bible I see God described as a loving Father that earnestly desires to give good gifts to his children and to reward them for their righteous behavior. As I look back on my life, I see time and time again that when I have chosen to do what is right, God has reinforced those choices by blessing me.
My God, the God of the Scriptures, created people to be competitive, to be conquerors and winners. He established universal principles that encourage those characteristics: principles of sowing and reaping, of investment and increase, of victory and reward.
In Kingdom dynamics, the way to win is to serve, but even that directive is given with the promise of reward: "...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45). Serving is the positive behavior Jesus wants us to demonstrate; the reward is that He will make us great!
Whether we are leading children or adults, let's not make positive behavior a burden that must be borne. Let's not squelch within them the desire to succeed and be rewarded for it. Most importantly, let's not portray their God as a stingy taskmaster. Let's reward those we lead, regularly and generously, just as God rewards us.