Raising a child well requires consistent thinking, planning and intentional actualization. Ideation of purposeful values succeeds with consistency, diligence and established routines. Part of the practical application of Biblical literacy in the home involves teaching children to serve. This blog unpacks this important value by these 10 easy, practical steps.
Why is it critical that a parent teach a child to serve? Wouldn’t it be adequate for a child to learn the academics of Biblical literacy? In James 2 we understand that our faith or spirituality is dead or false without actions. James states if I give verbal affirmation to a man who tells me of his need but fail to physically meet that need, I am false. He invites you and me to imagine a man being cold and needing a coat, but only having his need seen, not met. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2: 18b ESV)
The “why” also comes from living a life that is “looking to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4 ESV) Taking care of others is not only a clear directive, but an invitation to live with fulfillment.
Upon careful consideration of how this is worked out in the daily life of a child, a parent might evaluate how a child serves at home, in their neighborhood and to those in need. Careful thought might offer ideas for productivity daily, weekly, monthly, annually and occasionally. Here are some of our family’s favorite ideas:
- Daily at Home – Living a spiritual life starts at home. When looking for ways to practice serving, start at home with family. The hardest place to serve unselfishly is often at home. You cannot pretend at home around family. As you train your children, invite them to do one thing each day for a family member. It could be doing another family member’s contributions. It could be thinking of another’s needs and meeting the need. It could be regularly doing something kind for a family member who cannot do for themselves. Some ideas involve shinning Dad’s shoes, taking care of the pet’s food and water, cleaning up after a sibling, washing the car, helping a grandparent with a chore, rubbing a parent’s back when they look tired, doing someone else’s job or just making cookies for no reason. Think of things your family needs each day. Lead by example. Each day serve someone in your family in at least one way.
- Church – In a healthy Christian lifestyle the church should function as our spiritual family. Just as we pay attention to the needs of the family that lives in our homes, we should look for the needs of our church family. Granted, churches come in different sizes. Our church is sizable (8,000 + on Sunday morning) so we identify a small group within our church to live beside. Ideas for your children to serve at church might include mowing someone’s grass, setting up for a service or activity, teaching a children’s class, helping with AWANA Bible memory program, handing out items at the door, serving at a food event, participating in a service project such washing cars for single moms and women of deployed service men, writing a thank you to a pastor or staff, singing in a choir, leading worship, sharing your faith journey with someone or in front of a group or taking a meal to someone in need.
- Neighborhood – No matter our type of housing, we live beside other people. Because we are in physical proximity to our neighbors, we have the opportunity to talk with them over the fence or while on a walk. Sometimes we hear or see a situation that invites us to serve them. Encourage your children to see a need and meet it. I remember a little boy who could see a neighbor unloading her groceries. He would ask if he could run and help her. Of course, we always said yes. Several times a neighbor had a sick family member or another medical emergency. Mowing their grass or taking a food gift during these times is much appreciated. When a child identifies a need independent of a parent, creates a plan to meet that need and then meets it, there is great satisfaction. As adults we know that giving is deeply more fulfilling than receiving. Teach your child this secret as they practice neighboring. Ask leading questions and patiently wait to see what they come up with as a way to meet a need.
- Manual Labor – Doing something physically to help someone else give a child ownership. Look for ways to serve others by doing manual labor. Life-giving words are important, but also give children regular experiences doing physical work. Some commitments are regular while others are just a one time need.
- Use Your Gifts – Identify a child’s gifts. Think of things that they like to do. Think of things they are good at naturally. Think of the things they are passionate about regularly. One of my children, Joshua, loved to find ways to carry items for ladies that seem to be burdened with too many bags. Yes, this is the same child I mentioned earlier. He is a natural protector, so he always seems ways to carry a heavy load for others. This is a really great quality. Other children enjoy participating in music by singing, playing or leading worship. Still another one is gifted with photography. My daughter, Katie, took pictures of over 200 children in India who had never seen a picture of themselves. She was about 16 years old when she orchestrated that event. As a craft project, they decorated a frame and inserted their picture. This was real work, but so satisfying.
- Near and Far – Serving in your local church community and serving in a mission experience offers a helpful balance to your child’s spiritual maturity. Much of what we are discussing has to do with practicing a heart posture. It aligns with the idea that I should serve with those I do everyday life with as well as those who are part of God’s world globally.
- Praying Immediately – Frequently, a person might ask for prayer. Your child should see you respond immediately and out loud to a request for prayer. Practice living in a on-going conversation with Jesus. Thank Him with a verbally uttered prayer of thanksgiving for the simple gift of a beautiful sky or the needed rain. Thank Him enthusiastically for the healing of a friend. Thank Him for a met need. Let your children see and hear you pray. Encourage them to pray out loud for all things throughout each day. Then it will be normal for them to pray immediately for other’s needs out loud when there is a request. Practice spiritual life in this way with them and they will know how to live this way when they are grown.
- See Needs to Meet Needs – Practice thinking about the people in your home, your extended family, those in your church community, your neighborhood and those you and your children pass. Ask your child if he or she knows of any needs. Do they see needs? If you see a need, can you use prompting questions to help them create a response to the concern? As a parent who desires to raise a spiritually sensitive child, the practice of seeing is absolutely to maturity.
- Showing Up – As simple as this sounds, it is literally one of the hardest areas of service. What are times that children can show up for others? Like the practice of seeing, the habit of showing up or response can be cultivated in childhood. In sad times a child can be encouraged to give a warm hug and simply say, “I am just so sorry.” They can initiate a kind gesture like writing a note or making something yummy to give to those that are needing love. A child can participate in a move. This is a time of need. Showing up for a child might be tagging along with Mom and Dad to help with cleaning, occupying young children or bringing some food and drink. If they are an adult size teenager, insist that they jump in on the physical work needed to move. Showing up is also important when someone is celebrating. Notice your people. Respond. This point speaks to doing life beside others in a real and tangible way. Those we call our physical or spiritual family are in our homes as we are in theirs. We live beside each other on the good days and the bad days.
- A Serving Heart – This point is really the pinnacle of what teaching a child to serve must accomplish. When you see a wrong attitude accompanying service, back up when possible and do it again with the correct heart posture. This is teaching in real time. Insincerity accompanied by actions really deletes any value of the outer work.
For any parent who desires to raise a child who will live with a “pure and undefiled” life as explained in Titus 1, embrace a lifestyle of daily providing with a personal example and practical opportunities to serve. By serving at home, in your church family, in the neighborhood, with manual labor, with his/her gifting, near and far, with immediate prayer responses, with eyes to see needs, by showing up and most importantly, with a soft heart. A sincere, compassionate heart is worth more than any trophy your child could achieve.
Special Note: If you have a spiritual orphan in your life, please include him or her in your daily journey. Invite them into this everyday living. Don’t forget to look for these orphans. They are all around us.
Listen to a conversation on this topic on this podcast.
More on Spiritual Formation in Your Home and with Spiritual Orphans: