Why is the Church of England involved with Lifesavers, the financial education and savings clubs programme for primary schools?
You might well ask! Surely the primary business of the Church is religion, helping people to develop a relationship with God and to become part of the life of the Church. So why get involved in helping children learn about handling money and avoiding debt?
Well, there are many places one might start, such as the fact that about a third of the stories Jesus told had something to do with money and the way we use it. Most famously perhaps, Jesus warned “You cannot serve God and money” – so clearly he thought money and how we handle it were important issues.
More generally, we need to remember that the central theme of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels was that of the “kingdom of God”, or in Matthew’s gospel the “kingdom of heaven”. Now it is tempting to assume that this “kingdom” refers primarily to what we think of as heaven, meaning by that what happens to us after we die.
But in reality Jesus’ teaching is about so much more than that. The kingdom of God is both about people entering into a relationship with God – with God as the centre and focus of their lives – but it is also about the way in which the life of this world is transformed from the inside out to become a little more like life as God intends it to be. That is also what the “kingdom of God” is about, and that is the meaning of stories like the parable of the yeast, which works its way through the whole loaf, leavening it and making it into something good to eat.
The Church rightly is concerned with both of these things: helping people to discover and to grow in a relationship with God that changes their lives and seeking to transform the life of the world for the better and for the good of all. That commitment is a reflection of the generosity of God, who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all human beings, and not just on those who acknowledge him or who are members of the Church.
As Jesus’ teaching makes abundantly clear, money is a hugely important issue that affects people’s lives and well-being at so many levels. Learning how to use money well, whether in avoiding crippling debt or in learning to be generous to those in need, is a crucial life-skill, especially in a culture which places such a premium on what we have and on what we can buy, whether it’s material things like cars and clothes or experiences like nights on the town or exotic holidays.
Getting involved in financial education in schools is not a distraction from the core business of the Church; it is an essential response to the words we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”.