The proliferation of bribes and gimmicks is a common scene in children’s ministry today. But do the prizes and gimmicks affect children’s hearts — or only their behavior?
“Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” — Ecclesiastes 7:7
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6:21
Consider the following examples:
• A Sunday school teacher shaves his beard because his students successfully recite a Scripture passage;
• A children’s church passes out Bible Bucks to kids who bring friends and Bibles;
• An unruly class wins a pizza party if they settle down;
• Kids who answer correctly get candy;
• Newly baptized children win a trip to the Treasure Chest; and Kids “caught being good” get an ice cream treat.
This never-ending bartering process is used as a motivator for good behavior. Proponents working in children’s ministry argue that children are “more motivated to do right things” if enticed and awarded. After all, if the prizes, candy, and honors were stopped, the children would balk, bawl, and break ranks.
What you win them with is what you keep them with. Do the prizes, rewards and gimmicks affect children’s hearts — or only their behavior? That’s the most critical question in this whole discussion of how to effectively motivate children. What moves them from within?
External motivators (prizes, gold stars, and food treats) represent a flawed philosophy in motivating children. Like cotton candy, external motivators are poor nourishment for a body’s real hunger. They trick a person into feeling full but provide little long-term satisfaction.