Ban the Rewards


Rewards teach children that their acts of devotion to God are to
be measured, noticed, compared, and rewarded here and now.
Immediate rewards rob us of our ability to teach children that
their obedience to God is an act of worship that God will reward.
Just a thought, but could what’s-in-it-for-me-adults in our
churches be a result of yesteryear’s reward programs?

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3. Unfair comparisons-In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the parable
of the laborers who go out into the vineyard at different times and
still receive the same amount of pay. Jesus compares this story to
what the kingdom of heaven is like, but I don’t think he could
compare it to some of our classes.

We keep track of attendance as though there are levels of
acceptance in the kingdom of God. I’d like to see every church
classroom attendance chart done away with. After all, who are we
rewarding with our stars and perfect attendance pins? The parents
who get out of bed in time. These charts send a big message to the
child who feels like less of a Christian when she sees so few stars
beside her name.

4. True reward-Yes, God is a rewarder of those who seek him, but
God doesn’t reward the rudiments of our spiritual disciplines. He
rewards application, character, and Christian love. Remember the
story Jesus told in Matthew 25:34-46. Jesus said that God will
reward those who feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty,
visit the prisoners, and clothe the naked. When’s the last time
your program passed out rewards for those kinds of things?

6. An appeal to kids’ sinful nature-First John 2:15-16 gives a
strong admonition against reward programs. These verses warn “do
not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves
the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in
the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the
boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the

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Have you ever seen a kid lusting in front of your prize store? Or
noticed the tremendous surge of pride in the child who wallops
everyone else and sweeps the rewards? If so, think about those
experiences and evaluate them in light of God’s Word. Haven’t our
“worldly prizes” appealed to kids’ sinful lusts and pride?

Charles Sell in his doctoral thesis “Motivation in Christian
Education” asserts that when churches establish incentive programs,
they devalue the Word of God. Sell says rewards fail on three

1. The gimmick implies that the material to be studied isn’t
important enough to study for its own worth. The gimmick rarely
results in a child ultimately finding the intrinsic motivation to
continue the activity.

2. Rewards produce only a temporary motivation-gone as soon as the
incentive is gone.

3. Rewards don’t cause the child to give his best to the study.
The child gives just enough to satisfy the added incentive.

It’s the spinach principle. If you eat your spinach, you’ll get
dessert. Whenever we have to bribe a child, that child knows there
must be something wrong with the first thing. So, which things in
your program are you making out to be spinach to kids? God’s Word?
church attendance? Scripture memory? Tread carefully in the land of

George Schreyer in Christian Education in Theological Focus sums
up this issue the best. Schreyer writes, “Any incentive for
learning that works from the external side of a person, that is
sought as an end in itself, and that is outside the inward
spiritual relationship with God is inadequate for Christian
education…Until Christian education can appeal to the learner in
such inward strength that his all-consuming urge is to attain a
right relationship to God and to know the grace of God within
himself, it has not reached its highest potential or fulfilled its
supreme obligation.”™

Here’s the 12-step program I used to help me kick my reward
Step 1. Admit you’re a reward “junkie.”
Step 2. Pray for God’s guidance and direction.
Step 3. Study the Bible with your staff to see what God says about
rewards and motivation.
Step 4. Read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn (Houghton
Step 5. Ask former reward-addicts for advice and ideas.
Step 6. Ask yourself why you give rewards.
Step 7. Ask kids why they get rewards.
Step 8. Evaluate the hidden message kids are receiving when you
give rewards.
Step 9. Explain to children and teachers the change in your
Step 10. Read Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church-and How
to Fix It by Thom and Joani Schultz (Group Publishing, Inc.)
Step 11. Stop giving rewards, but add in surprise elements such as
an “unearned” pizza party or gifts for everyone.
Step 12. Pray, asking God to work within your children to help
them hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Sandi Wright

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