Teaching Our Kids to Serve


Our church's Vacation Bible School is this week. I've been teaching fifth grade VBS at our church for more years than I care to count, but this is the first year that my older daughter is old enough to help out at VBS. On Monday, after serving with the third-graders, she came home and said, "I'm tired. That's hard work."

I had to laugh. For years, my girls have questioned why I'm so tired after a morning of VBS. There's nothing like experience to help them understand.

My daughter spending the week helping out in the third-grade VBS classroom isn't a big deal. It's not a huge service project. It's not a big sacrifice of time or energy for her. But it is teaching her the importance of serving someone else. It's teaching her the importance of giving her time and energy to other people. It's teaching her that even little acts of service honor God.

Too often, we think that in order to teach our kids about serving others, we have to plan a big event. We need to go on a mission trip or build a house or clean up a neighborhood. But sometimes, teaching our kids to serve others simply means teaching them to recognize a need, then to step in to meet it. It's clearing the table when you go to grandma's house for dinner. It's holding the door for a mom struggling with a stroller and her groceries. It's shoveling the walk when it snows for an elderly neighbor.

Teaching our kids to serve others simply requires that we teach them that God calls us to serve and that we remind them that God tells us that when we serve others, we serve Him. Matthew 25:37-40 says:“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

When we teach our kids to serve other people, we teach them to serve God. We teach them there's value in looking around and recognizing when others need help. We teach them that while service projects and mission trips are good, they can serve others every day -- no matter where they are.

Take some time this week with your kids to brainstorm ways that you can serve others as you go about your everyday lives. When you see an opportunity to serve someone else, point it out to your kids. Remind them that serving others is just like serving God.

Because it doesn't take building a house or heading to the Amazon to serve God. It just takes a willing spirit and an awareness of the needs of those around us.

If you're looking for a more structured way to teach your kids about kindness and serving others, join us for The Button Project this summer. For more information, check it out here.

Taking Time to Serve

I spent yesterday picking up trash and scrubbing in the kitchen. Those are things I do pretty frequently around my own house. But yesterday, I took my mad trash-gathering and sink-scrubbing skills outside the walls of my house. I led a group of 27 6th-grade kids from our church on a service project.

We spent the morning learning about why God wants us to serve, then we spent the afternoon actually serving. We cleaned up a park in a poorer part of our city, then we scrubbed clean part of nearby church that is used for an after-school program. It was cold. We didn't have all the supplies we needed. It was a little disorganized. But it made a difference.

Teaching and actively pursuing service to others with our kids is important. Our kids don't have to be really strong or super talented to serve others. Something as simple as forgoing their own comfort to pick up trash in a park on a cold, windy day teaches them in ways that talking to them can't. It doesn't take any special talents to do what we did yesterday. It only takes time and motivation.

These 11- and 12-year-old kids worked hard yesterday. They learned that service to others isn't always fun. It isn't always easy. It isn't always comfortable. But when I asked them at the end of the day how they felt, nearly all of them said it felt good to serve others.

Giving our kids a chance to serve other people starts them on a road of a lifetime of service. Jesus came to serve us. His death on the cross was the biggest act of service anyone's ever done for you or me. If we want to follow Him and become more like Him, then we have to put an emphasis on serving others. Matthew 20:27-28 offers up Jesus' instructions about serving others: "Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Serving others doesn't require a trip to Africa. It doesn't mean we have to build a school. Serving others can be as simple as picking up trash for a few hours, helping a neighbor shovel their walk , or even letting a sibling have their way. Serving others is a choice we make and one we want to teach our kids to make.

Start today teaching your kids that simple acts of service make them more like Jesus. What can your kids do today that will serve someone else?

Don't Let Your Kids Live in a Bubble

We live in the richest county in Kansas. We have a beautiful 1,500-square-foot home. Each of my girls has her own room, plenty of clothes in their closets and enough food to eat any time they're hungry. We have two cars, two TVs, three computers, a Wii, a couple of Nintendo DS consoles and a couple of cell phones. We may not be in the top 1% in wealth in the United States, but we're certainly in the top half.

My girls really lack for nothing. We take them on vacations, they play sports, they play instruments, we think nothing of going out to eat once a week. In this environment, it's tough to raise kids who are aware of children living in poverty. It's hard for them to realize that there are children who go to bed every night without enough food to eat or clothes to wear. All of their friends live a lifestyle that mirrors the one we live. As a matter of fact, most of their friends have more "stuff" than my girls do.

Yesterday, though, my oldest got a glimpse of poverty. Her Girl Scout troop took boxes of cookies to a homeless shelter for teens, not 20 minutes from our house. Just north of here is the poorest county in Kansas. Homeless teens are not uncommon. My daughter was horrified to know that kids just a little older than her were homeless. While they were there, the woman leading their tour told them about one of the residents -- a young girl, just 18, who was living in the shelter with her four younger siblings, one of whom is less than a year old. My daughter couldn't imagine how difficult that would be.

As my daughter talked, I realized how important it is for us to expose our kids to the realities of homelessness and poverty. Our children can't know how rich and blessed they are if they don't know the other side of the coin.

Our instinct is often to shield our kids from the injustices in the world. We want to keep them in a little bubble where everything is happy and nothing can hurt them. But if we raise children who are unaware of the injustices in the world, then they can do nothing to change them.

It's not just a good idea to help our kids understand injustice, it's required of us. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." In order for our kids to "act justly," they have to know what injustice is. The only way they can know that is if we let them see it.

We are called to take care of the widows and orphans, to provide for the poor. Proverbs 14:31 says, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." We want to raise children who are kind to the needy, who are concerned about those who are homeless, hungry or in pain.

But how do we do that? We expose them to the needs. We let them see poverty. We help them to understand that poverty exists both close to home and far away. We stop letting them live in  a bubble. And we assist them in finding ways to help solve the problem. Now, I'm not suggesting you take your kids and drive down the most dangerous street in your city, but somewhere near you, there's a homeless shelter or a food pantry that would be happy to give you a tour. There might be a needy family even in your school that you can help. Your kids can collect canned food from their friends. They can collect art supplies to donate to the local children's hospital. They can collect coats to clothe the poor during the winter. But they have to know the need exists before they can decide they want to help.

There are plenty of age-appropriate ways to introduce your kids to the injustice in the world without scaring them. Try one of these:

  • Sponsor a child. There are several great organizations that allow you to sponsor a poor child in another country. When you are assigned a child, learn all you can about that country with your child. Compare that child's life to your own.
  • Buy a goat or a pig or some fruit trees. Several organizations like World Vision and Heifer International allow you to buy farm animals or crops for a family that will help feed them. Talk with your kids about how just one farm animal can be the difference between eating and not eating for some families.
  • Serve together at a local homeless shelter or food pantry.
  • Start your own canned food drive or coat drive to benefit the needy in your community.

Our kids need to know that injustice exists in the world. They need to know that poverty and hunger are real. They need to have their eyes opened. They don't need to live in a bubble. They need to be able to count their own blessings and be a part of serving the poor, which honors God.

It's OK to pop the protective bubble around your kids when it comes to injustice and poverty. Your kids will probably be ready to jump in and help solve the problems.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home , Beholding Glory and Word Filled Wednesday.