At the start of this year’s summer break, I had all sorts of grand plans for my kids. My nine-year old was going to read for an hour every morning, I was going to teach my oldest to drive, and since my teenage son wasn’t doing any kind of service project, he was going to find a place to serve.
I finally made my nine-year old crack open a book for her summer reading program…ten days before school started.
And that’s how well my first plan went.
And I took out my oldest for a driving lesson. I suppose I didn’t consider the importance of teaching her the fundamentals before we got on the road; as a result, when she took over the steering wheel, she panicked. I panicked. All of heaven and earth panicked, and then she declared she was never driving with me again. And I was kind of OK with that.
So, there was that plan.
And then there was my son and his service project. I took some time at the beginning of the summer to discuss the various ways I thought he could serve. After a few suggestions, he looked at me and appeared to be contemplating my ideas. I eagerly awaited his response, wondering which idea he was most excited about, but then my thirteen-year old spoke:
“I’m good, mom. Really, I think it’s important for me as a teenager to rest in the summer and just kind of chill.”
So, I showed him what “chill” looked like in our household, and he cleaned the bathrooms for the next hour. And that’s how well my third plan worked out.
I realized, though, that the starting place in helping my son understand why we’re asking him to serve can’t merely be my suggestions on where and when. Instead, I had to first establish why it is important for him to do this. Here are two significant reasons we require service from our children:
Serving is a Life Liturgy
James K.A. Smith in his book, You Are What You Love, refers to this phrase, “Life Liturgies,” as activities we do regularly that become formational in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, the practices in life that we immerse ourselves in help shape our loves and ultimately help shape who we are.
If our desire is for our children to grow into adulthood understanding the importance of service, then we need to start requiring it in their most formative years. For similar reasons, most parents will make their children do some kind of chores around the house with the hope that they’ll grow to be responsible contributors in their own families one day. More than likely, our children aren’t going to approach us with the mop and ask if they can spend the day cleaning (If this has happened in your household, I salute you. And if this hasn’t happened, just refer back to my “grand plans” for the summer and you’ll feel better). But requiring it of them is creating an important practice that they will use into their adulthood.
Requiring service is no different. We need to help our children develop this significant practice and discover how they can use their own giftedness to serve others.
A few years back, my youngest was approached by an elderly woman in our congregation to help plant some flowers around the church. Our daughter was reluctant at first, but we asked her to go and help. Almost five years later, my daughter still talks about planting with “Miss Wanda,” whose servant’s heart has been an example to many.
Serving is a liturgy that needs to be planted at a young age through spiritual guidance and helped to sprout with hands on activity. By God’s grace it will bloom into a love that our children will one day embrace for themselves.
Serving is a Biblical Responsibility
Perhaps even more fundamental, the Scripture is full of commands to serve. One such verse comes from 1 Peter 4:10:
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
Scripture doesn’t qualify an age that serving should begin but makes clear that each of us should be using our God-given gifts to serve others. So, how do we help our children discover their gifts in order to fulfill this Biblical responsibility? By serving. We discover our giftedness through our service to one another.
When we give our child a gift, our hope is that they will use it and enjoy it. In the same way, our giftedness from God isn’t merely something we receive and then put away for safekeeping. Instead, as image-bearers of Christ, we should be exploring our gifts and joyfully using them to the Glory of God. Our kids need to understand this Biblical principle as much as we do as adults.
Help children discover their giftedness through various service opportunities. For older children, a short-term missions trip or volunteering in ministries like Vacation Bible School can help them discover the gifts and talents God has given them.
And even though our younger children may not be able to distinguish their specific giftedness yet, their service alongside parents is where the practice starts. Every couple of weeks I watch as a father in our congregation takes his four-year-old son, and together they empty each trash can around the church building. What a beautiful picture of the generations serving one another as stewards of God’s abundant grace.
What better plan can there be for our children than fostering a servant’s heart and allowing them to see the joy that comes from serving others? What better example can we point to than our precious Savior who “came not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many?” (Mark 10:45)