Christians tend to think serving others automatically produces amazing spiritual growth. While there are things we do easily learn from service, guiding our children and teens through the service is more likely to produce meaningful, lasting spiritual growth in their lives. In fact, if we don’t make it intentional, studies have shown any growth from a short term mission trip (for example) only lasts a year before the person’s spiritual gains return to pre-trip levels.
The problem with Christian service is that often our preparation is almost entirely focused on logistics. How will we get there? What will we do while we are there? What will we wear? Because we focus so much on externals, often those serving begin to focus only on the externals too. Was I comfortable? Did I have a good time? Did the people I was serving make me feel appreciated?
This post comes with a warning label. Over my lifetime, I have seen countless kids drawn away from God because of intense participation in a sport. Rarely, have I seen a child who received massive college scholarships or went professional, in spite of untold hours spent in practice, travel and games. Your child is more likely to become injured and have to drop the sport before college or become burned out and no longer want to play.
If I were to advise you, I would say steer clear of anything more than the lowest level of involvement in any sport. Try to find teams and coaches who encourage and demand godly behavior from their teams. Stay away from coaches who encourage lying, cheating, doing questionable things to your body to “enhance” performance, etc.
If you decide to involve your children in organized sports, I would highly encourage you to find ways for them to serve others and share their faith by using their sport. Better yet, have your child develop his sports skills as a hobby and then use those skills to serve God by using them to serve others and share his faith. Here are some of my favorite ways for athletic children to serve others while sharing their faith and their passion for athletics:
When you read the letters in the New Testament, it becomes obvious a large part of the work of the early Church was helping those in poverty. The causes of the poverty may have varied, but the message was clear – Christians needed to show God’s love to the poor.
If you live in a city like Atlanta and are middle class, there is a very real chance your child has never really been exposed to poverty in a meaningful way. Even if you occasionally volunteer to help the poor, your child may only have the vaguest idea of what life is like on a daily basis for those living in poverty.
Do you have a teen who loves to write or scrapbook? There is a service project your teens can do that will make an unbelievable difference in many lives. All they real need is a heart for people and either a willingness to write or enough artistic ability to craft a scrapbook or book.
When my grandfather started to get really old (he lived well into his 90’s), I asked him to write down his memories. After he jotted them down, I edited them into a coherent story and combined them with old photos. I took the results and had them made into a book by one of the many sites that produces photo books.
My daughter was probably the first generation who started using computers as toddlers. They are so comfortable with technology, many appear to be lost if a device is not permanently attached to their hand. While there are negative things about this trend, it does have some advantages.
Because our children are passionate about technology, they can be taught to use this passion to serve others and share their faith. Unfortunately, many of the adults working with young people don’t even consider this as a possible talent to be used in service to God. An important opportunity to teach our children and teens to use their passions, skills and talents for God is missed.