Nobody wants a lazy, selfish kid. So we pray, we teach, we assign, we lead. (And sometimes beg, cry, quit—and pray a lot more.)
Teaching kids to be servants is not for the idle. Here are four questions to consider and ideas to try for training your child to better love and serve others.
1. WHAT DOES MY CHILD ENJOY?
Draw on your child’s natural interests and gifts. Is she creative? Let her draw pictures to pass out to the elderly at church, send to grandparents out of town, or take room-to-room at a nursing home. Does your teenager love being outside? Let him mow the lawn for new parents in your neighborhood or be a student chaperone at the middle-schoolers’ campout. A budding musician? My young friend Jamie recorded and sent her song to a young man bedridden with a fatal illness. It was so valuable to his family that Jamie was asked to sing the song at his funeral.
While we all have to serve in ways we don’t like (who longs to clean a toilet?), we usually get hooked on serving by doing what we do like. Discover what your child enjoys and watch them become devoted to serving that way.
2. WHAT ARE MY GIFTS?
Share how you enjoy serving. If you teach Sunday school, let your child assist you for a semester. If photography is your gift, arrange for you and your child to take pictures for families with foster kids. One of my passions is to serve the homeless so I brought my daughter to the simple wedding of some homeless friends. She brought her camera (her passion) and ended up creating a wedding album for them for free, a blending of both our passions.
If you enjoy what you’re doing as a gift, not a duty, your joy is contagious. It might slow you down with a child along, but service isn’t about efficiency; it’s about people.
3. WHERE ARE WE ALREADY SERVING?
Look closer where God is already working in your family. Maybe you don’t need a new venture, but can expand an existing one. If your daughter’s Girl Scout troop plants flowers at a neighborhood park, maybe you and she can follow up with weeding once a month. My kids had an annual service project with their classmates at a soup kitchen. But when we learned they appreciated volunteers any time, we went back as a family more frequently. When my sister-in-law brought her grandson to visit my mother in assisted living, she took him around to brighten the day of other residents as well. Even babies (especially babies!) can serve in that way.
Once you start imagining, many opportunities may unravel out of an existing one.
4. WHO NEEDS HELP?
Watch for needs in your own home, your neighborhood, and your world. Then find age-appropriate ways to help. Maybe you can’t travel overseas with your little ones, but your kids can pray for missionary families and write letters to encourage them. My area had an EF3 tornado rip through last month. While it wasn’t the place for young children to help, I saw many teenagers who were great servants in cleaning up the debris.
God prepares good works for us to do; we just have to see them and respond. (Ephesians 2:10).
WHO BENEFITS WHEN KIDS SERVE?
Obviously others will benefit as your child serves them. But don’t judge the value of the service by how many it reaches or how much appreciation is expressed (or not). Given with the proper attitude, all service is worship to God if it touches another soul with His love. When good works point toward God, He is honored by getting the glory He deserves (Matthew 5:16).
Your child will also be blessed (it is more blessed to give than to receive! Acts 20:35). Maybe they can’t see it immediately, but they will as they grow in compassion, in skills, and in Christ-likeness. When they invest in others, it grows their love for others (Matthew 6:21).
But you, the parent, will also profit! When my youngest wanted to go to Central America on a mission trip, I decided to go just to keep an eye on her. But I ended up being changed by the experience myself. While our serving prompts our children’s serving, their serving also enhances ours, allowing the Lord to work on our hearts and increase our own willingness to initiate service.
Serving together, after all, is how Jesus taught His own disciples to serve. He apprenticed His twelve apostles by living together for three years. They watched, learned, and participated in what He was doing, then learned to do it on their own once He left.
Isn’t that what you want for your children? Let them watch, learn, and participate with you now. Then when they’re on their own, by God’s grace, they’ll keep it up themselves.
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Give us your advice on helping kids serve.
What has worked for you? Not worked? Let’s share with each other.