Help your kids become servants
My daughter was three. My wife saw a notice in our church bulletin about a service opportunity at a local nursing home. A couple from our church held Sunday morning services for the residents and was looking for someone to provide special music. Thinking this would be a good learning experience for our daughter, my wife signed up.
Every Sunday for the next two years, the two of them spent an hour at the retirement home. My daughter sang a familiar song—“Jesus Loves Me” or “The B-I-B-L-E,” and the two of them helped hand out Bibles. Most of the people in that nursing home weren’t very aware of their surroundings. Occasionally, one patted my daughter on the head and smile. My daughter has very little recollection of the experience.
Was it worthwhile? Did it accomplish anything for the residents or my daughter? If we can’t measure the effectiveness of our service, what’s the point? That’s one of the things we need to teach our kids about service. It’s not about measurements. We can never know how the Holy Spirit might be working in the lives of those we serve. And we can never know how much the experience might be growing us. But there are some things we can know, and that we should make sure our children know.
- Service is not about you!
In Philippians, we read about the greatest example of service.
“Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Death on a cross is one of the most cruel, painful, debasing methods of killing someone that humans have ever invented. Jesus Christ was God, with all the majesty and glory and authority of God. He knew that when He became a man, He would suffer that death at the hands of those He came to save. He knew that most people would continue to reject His sacrifice. He did it anyway.
And we’re supposed to have that same attitude. The verses earlier in Philippians 2 explain just what that looks like.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Regarding others as more important is often challenging for kids. They get a lot of messages about fairness and self-esteem and rights. But if they struggle with the concept, point out that Jesus Christ modeled it completely when He regarded us as worth dying for.
- Service is how the body of Christ is supposed to work.
If you’ve ever tried to climb stairs with a sprained ankle, chair a meeting with a constant cough or concentrate on work with an upset stomach, you know how tough it is to function when a part of your body isn’t working right.
It’s the same with the Church, the Body of Christ. God designed us as believers to serve each other in love with our gifts and abilities. If we don’t, the body doesn’t work right.
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly …” (Romans 12:4-6).
Teach your kids that service isn’t something spectacular for which they deserve special awards. And it isn’t something to do twice a year on Saturdays. It’s something to do every time there’s a need. It’s part of the life of a Christian—just like Bible study and church and prayer.
Here’s an example: I’m generally pretty aware of others around me and frequently find myself holding doors open for people. Is this some great achievement on my part? No. When I was a kid, my dad ALWAYS encouraged me to run ahead of my mom and hold doors open for her. If I didn’t respond to verbal encouragement, he gave me a more direct reminder, usually in the form of a gentle boot to my backside. He taught me to be polite. It became a habit. We can train our kids to make service a part of life.
- Service is for fellow believers first.
This one might be tough for kids to understand. Aren’t we supposed to be a testimony for Christ in the world? Yes. But before we take care of those who are in need down the street, we have a responsibility to take care of other Christians who need help. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).
We have a connection to fellow-believers that we can never have with those who haven’t trusted Christ. They’re family, and it is God’s intention that we care for our own first, just as He cares for those of us who are His.
- Service to nonbelievers is about bringing them to Christ.
God made us His ambassadors to tell the world about Jesus Christ and the salvation available through Him. It’s great to give a meal to a hungry person, but if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to share the message of salvation, that person is still lost.
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us …” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Be an example to your kids by talking about your faith in public. Show them that it’s part of who you are. It doesn’t have to be pushy and obnoxious; it can be done quietly and with love. But it needs to be done because that’s the job God has given us. If your kids aren’t comfortable talking about their faith, draw them into your conversations with friends and neighbors. Let them practice at home. Pretend you’ve never heard the gospel and let your kids explain it to you. And make sure the message of God’s salvation becomes a part of every service project you do together. Awana® offers a free resource to help adults, teens and children learn and share the gospel. Check out the Gospel Message app available for your mobile devices.
- Service is about what the other person needs.
You might really enjoy raking leaves, but if a person needs a ride to the doctor’s office, raking her leaves won’t help much. We all have skills and talents, and we all have comfort zones. If we can find effective ways to serve in areas in which we are skilled, fantastic. But we need to make sure our service matches the needs of those we are serving.
Discuss what you and your kids are good at doing, then talk with those in your church and community who match servers with service so they can connect you with those who need your service.
- Service can be simply caring.
Sometimes, all the service a person needs is to know someone is listening and caring. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
I am wired to solve problems. When someone tells me about something that’s gone wrong, I immediately begin thinking of the solution—How can I solve this so life can get back to normal? I’ve had to learn over the years that my approach can seem non-caring and abrupt. Sometimes, people are perfectly capable of solving their own problems and know exactly what the solution is. What they need is to know they aren’t alone. Somebody cares. Somebody loves them.
And notice that the verse also tells us to rejoice with others’ victories. We tend to think of service only as something for people who have suffered or are needy. But God-honoring service can also be encouraging and assisting fellow believers in their times of joy and celebration. Service is giving people what they need.
We are raising a new generation of servants. Be patient with your kids. They have to learn to serve just as they learn everything else. They won’t be perfect. But if you teach them these principles from the Word of God, and model them yourself, they can grow to serve habitually and joyfully.
Roger is the Senior Editor at Awana where he’s worked for 32 years. When not writing and editing, he enjoys reading, walking and trying to add to the list of 465 North American bird species he’s spotted and identified.