“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 52–53
C. Elmer Black Jr., president of the Jackson Mississippi Stake.
As a young couple with an infant daughter, we were members of a ward in which many Primary children learned to pay their tithing. Each Sunday children lined up at the door to the ward clerk’s office to give their pennies to a member of the bishopric, who then praised each child. The ward clerk immediately prepared a receipt, and with a smile he thanked the children as he placed a receipt into each waiting hand.
By the time our daughter was three years old, she eagerly joined the line to make her contribution—behavior that we as parents exemplified at church by paying our tithing and reinforced at home by teaching lessons and holding gospel discussions on tithing. This simple beginning eventually led to our daughter’s mature understanding and acceptance of tithing and its divine origin.
From this experience we learned three lessons about teaching children to pay tithing.
• Teach through precept and example. Children can learn much about the law of tithing by attending Primary and Sunday School, but their most important teachers and role models are their parents.
“Teaching is done by precept and example, and by word and deed,” President Ezra Taft Benson said. “A good model is the best teacher. Therefore, a [parent’s] first responsibility is to set the proper example” (“Worthy Fathers, Worthy Sons,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 35).
Lessons about tithing from the lives of children’s parents and relatives, and from Church leaders and historical figures, are an excellent way to teach and reinforce the principle of paying tithing. Parents can supplement their teaching with lessons in the Family Home Evening Resource Book (1995), and they can improve their efforts by incorporating teaching tips found in the resource book Teaching—No Greater Call (1978). In addition, the Children’s Songbook contains songs that reinforce the importance of paying tithing.
Allowing children to give short lessons on tithing during family home evening further reinforces precepts and allows parents to evaluate the level of their children’s understanding of this gospel principle. Repetition is essential, especially for young children.
• Teach through praise and encouragement. As we teach our children the gospel, we should generously praise them as they attempt to live the precepts they are learning, regardless of their level of understanding. It is important that children be encouraged to participate in correct behavior as soon as possible, even when that behavior is largely based on modeling their parents.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who has encouraged young people to establish a pattern of paying tithing while they are still young, said, “I will always be grateful for a father and a mother who, as far back as I can remember, taught us to pay our tithing. … The amount may have been only twenty-five cents, since we did not have very much in those lean times, but it was an honest 10 percent. …
“We never felt that it was a sacrifice to pay our tithing. We felt it was an obligation, that even as small children we were doing our duty as the Lord had outlined that duty, and that we were assisting his church in the great work it had to accomplish” (“The Sacred Law of Tithing,” Ensign, Dec. 1989, 4).
As children attend tithing settlement with their parents, they come to sense the importance of living the law of tithing. A formal visit with their bishop can leave a lasting impression on young people and help them resolve to become and remain faithful tithe payers. In addition, a bishop’s encouragement and reinforcement can nurture a child’s budding faith and spark trust and respect for priesthood authority.
Our son-in-law began learning to pay tithing at an early age when his parents gave small banks to him and his brothers. One bank was for tithing, another for mission savings, and a third for special activities. As the boys earned money, each was assisted in dividing his earnings into small stacks for placement in the appropriate banks. On Sunday, the tithing banks were emptied into tithing envelopes to be handed to the bishop. These boys were taught at an early age that, as President Harold B. Lee observed, “no person knows the principle of tithing until he pays tithing” (in Family Home Evening Resource Book, 227).
• Teach through the Spirit. When children gain knowledge through the Spirit, their willing obedience, understanding, and acceptance of the Lord’s commandments increase. Children, regardless of age, can be touched by the Spirit as they pray about the law of tithing and as their parents bear testimony that a loving Heavenly Father desires to bless his children through that divine law.
Older children are capable of understanding the important role tithing plays in furthering the work of the Lord. They need to know that construction and maintenance of temples and chapels, printing and distribution of Church audio and visual materials, and funding of worldwide missionary efforts are an extension of tithe payers’ faith, sacrifice, and commitment.
With increased maturity and understanding comes increased temptation, including the temptation of materialism. That is why youth must be taught early on to recognize, call upon, and respond to the guiding influence of the Spirit. When it comes to choosing whether to pay tithing, young people need to know that the Holy Ghost “will show unto [them] all things what [they] should do” (2 Ne. 32:5).
“The presence of the Spirit of the Lord makes the difference,” gospel teachers have been reminded. “The Spirit that bears witness to your spirit that what you say is true also bears witness to those you teach” (Teaching—No Greater Call, 13).
As parents faithfully and consistently teach their children about tithing through precept and example, praising their children’s righteous choices and relying on the converting power of the Spirit, they will help lay the groundwork for their children to receive a testimony of a divine law that will significantly bless their lives.