Teaching kids discernment
A group of 10 preteens and 7 adults went to a community soup kitchen to serve by cleaning and working in the yard around the outside of the soup kitchen. They weren’t allowed to go inside, according to the organization’s codes (since the kids were under their minimum volunteer age), but they brought rakes, trash bags, trimmers, brooms, and more, working diligently for hours.
As they worked, an old man named Oscar approached the group and gathered the kids around. He began by telling them his story. He was retired and lived on Social Security, which barely covered his bills, leaving almost no money for food. He came to the soup kitchen every day for a meal, which was usually his only meal of the day. He told the kids how inspired he was by their service and how their selflessness and love gave him hope. What seemed like a simple task of raking leaves and sweeping sidewalks had been a small but bright beacon of hope for an old man. As the kids left that day, their hearts were filled with a new passion for serving.
Kids don’t have to wait until they become adults to serve; they can make a huge difference in people’s lives now. They can be the hands and feet of Christ. But as they serve, we must consider our role in protecting them and planting the seeds of discernment and wisdom.
There are many ways kids can serve in the community and the world, such as collecting money or items to donate, hands-on serving during a mission project or outreach opportunity, but safety is a vital concern in each and every one of them.
Here are some seeds to plant for safety and discernment.
The Seeds of Spiritual Gifts
Kids need to know that God has given them spiritual gifts. They also need to know where and how to use those gifts. There are some great resources available online for helping kids discover their spiritual gifts. It’s important to talk with them often about spiritual gifts and affirm their gifts frequently. Allow them to explore in order to come up with ideas of how they can serve by using their specific gifts.
Romans 12:6, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.”
When kids are using their gifts, they are empowered by the Spirit. They grow as leaders and discover their passions. Knowing their gifts helps them hone in on where they are able to make a difference for the Kingdom. We can plant seeds by encouraging and affirming each one’s gifts.
The Seeds of Wisdom and Discernment
Psalm 119:66, “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments.”
It’s important to plant the seeds of wisdom and discernment. Kids need to be reminded to look at situations through a big-picture perspective and to use godly wisdom. Keeping kids safe is top priority and should be done proactively. Before kids serve others, help them pray through the opportunity and ask insightful questions. Instruct them and lead by example in using caution and wisdom when dealing with tricky situations or awkward circumstances. Encourage discussion on the root of the problem that causes the need. This will give the child a tool to use in discerning the situation and the appropriate action. An adult mentor is a key person to speak truth and discernment into kids’ lives.
Mission projects and service both locally and globally are amazing opportunities for kids to grow and learn, but caring adults need to model and plant seeds of discernment through the whole process.
The Seeds of Guidelines and Boundaries
In every service opportunity, even unplanned times of ministry, there should be guidelines and boundaries in place to protect kids. Take cues from your church’s child protection plan, and prepare in advance by helping kids understand why guidelines and boundaries are in place.
Trained and screened adults who have parental permission and emergency contact information on each child should properly supervise kids. Keep in mind, though, that not all service opportunities are safe and beneficial for kids.
Structure helps kids grow and learn. Before kids serve, give them written forms to fill out describing the service project, and allow them to sign the form, indicating their understanding and agreement of the expectations. You can plant seeds of wisdom in helping kids know, understand, and abide by consistent boundaries.
After a massive, destructive tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL in 2011, kids were given opportunities to help prepare survival kits, which had basic necessities like toilet paper, food, and first aid supplies, which were delivered to survivors. They loved being a part of helping put together the kits at the church assembly site. It was not permitted, however, for many kids to travel through the wreckage, which was not cleared or deemed safe by the city, to deliver the survival kits. The guidelines and boundaries helped keep the kids safe.
The Seed of Money Matters
An easy and tangible way kids can help others is raising and donating money to organizations that provide a service for basic life needs. It’s important to plant seeds of wisdom when it comes to giving money. Kids can learn to donate money through their church and other organizations, and they can see how their money makes a difference.
One particular group of kids raised money through their church to donate to an organization that helps people in need in another country. In one weekend, they brought in over $500! What an amazing feeling for kids to know how they can be part of something that helps and blesses people in need across the world!
Kids can learn to tithe and donate to missions as well. Bring in missionaries to speak to the kids, and let them ask questions regarding how their money will support the missionary’s particular ministry. Show the kids pictures from newsletters so they can identify with the people they are giving to. They can learn to use their money wisely to help further God’s mission and support people in need.
Being good with money doesn’t come naturally (to most kids, anyway), and there will be many temptations to spend money in ways that are not smart. Plant seeds of smart financial practices by helping kids learn the importance of tithes and offerings, allowing them the opportunity to see the fruit of their donations.
The Seeds of Planning and Preparation
Help kids understand the importance of planning and preparation. Include them as part of the planning process when preparing for service and outreach opportunities.
God provides great opportunities each day to serve Him, and we can be prepared to serve at any time. We can also prepare in advance for trips and projects. Smart serving means making the most of your time by using time wisely. Colossians 4:5, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.”
Teach kids that God can move even through our smart planning and preparation. Serving wisely means knowing what the needs are, then figuring out the best way to meet those needs. Take time to evaluate each opportunity. Kids can help make schedules, collect supplies and come up with ideas. Some of the best service projects come from kids’ creative ideas as they think outside the box of ways to help others. This also gives them an incredible amount of ownership in the project when they know they’ve shared in the actual idea from the start. Most kids love being part of something that has a great purpose. Allow them to learn the details of organizing and preparing ahead of time, so they can grow in wisdom as they serve.
This is a vital time to lay the foundations of wisdom and safety that will shape kids’ lives. If you work consistently to plant these seeds in their hearts, they will continue to grow into eager and wise servants, passionate about serving God and serving others.
Gardening is a great teaching tool for kids to learn responsibility, and gardens teach us that even if we plant seeds, they won’t necessarily grow strong and healthy unless they are cared for and nurtured. Continue to care for kids and teach them safety guidelines on a regular basis. They can become leaders and influencers, and they can be Christ-like servants who make a great difference for God.
Get permission to plant a small garden on the property of the church, near a water source. Show the kids how to plant and care for the garden all summer. Don’t get too ambitious the first time out, so only plant 3 or 4 different vegetables. Green beans and peas are great, because you get repeated pickings and they don’t take as much day-to-day maintenance. Then, as the harvest comes, encourage the kids to think how they can best use the crop to serve others.
Will you give the produce away? Who to?
Will you sell the produce to raise money? For what?
Encourage them to think through the process, using discernment to make wise and safe decisions.