Someone at our congregation came up with a great idea that I think would also make a great service project for families. We were each given these supplies to create a Christmas ornament that features things that bring us joy – a show of gratitude. They will then be used to decorate the tree in our foyer.
Why not do something similar with your kids and decorate a table top tree for someone who needs a little joy in their life? You don’t have to use these supplies. You can even use paper if you prefer. Instead of ornaments about joy, why not expand the theme and make ornaments featuring all of the fruits of the Spirit? One side could be the name of the fruit and the other a verse or illustration of the fruit.
As you work, talk about the ideas you are using. Why are they called the fruit of the Spirit? How does having those qualities in our lives let others know we are Christians? How do we live each of them out in practical ways? How does the Holy Spirit help Christians have those qualities in different ways than those who aren’t Christians? What does it mean to fulfill the Great Commission and how does the fruit of the Spirit help us do that?
Hang your ornaments on a table top artificial, real or paper crafted tree and deliver it as a family. Don’t just drop it off and run, but spend a little time spreading holiday cheer to the recipient. You may find this becomes a favorite family tradition.
Over the years, there has been an assumption that historical American values and Christian values are interchangeable. In many cases – like honesty – this may be true. There is one historically American value – self reliance – that isn’t one hundred percent Christian. While you don’t want your children to expect others to do everything for them – especially things they should be doing for themselves – there is much about self reliance that isn’t biblical at all.
Why? Because part of the foundation of Christianity is an acknowledgment that we can’t do it all ourselves. That we need God for forgiveness and to be able to spend eternity in Heaven. God also created the church to work as a body – together – to support one another and hold each other accountable for obedience to God’s commands and to work together – pooling their gifts to serve others and share their faith.
In our increasingly isolated, digital world, it can become easy for your children to grow up believing that they don’t need anyone in their lives. That the perfect virtual worlds they can create are better than the annoyances that come with interacting with real people. That they can please God as a Christian by watching services online and giving money virtually – no human interaction necessary.
There is a fun family devotional you can do to show your kids the importance of being involved as part of the Christian “team” and serving and sharing their faith with others IRL (in real life). Start by reading 1 Corinthians 12 to your family. Ask them what it means and why they believe Paul wrote it to the Corinthians. What was he encouraging them to do? Why? What are some reasons we are tempted to avoid interaction with other Christians? With people who need to be served and learn about God? Why does God expect us to do both? What are the advantages to being in a church family who obeys 1 Corinthians 12? What would it look like? What part of the body (their gifts, talents and opportunities) do they think they might be in your church now? In the congregation they attend as adults in the future?
To underscore how the Christian life is better lived in community, participate in one or more of these activities as a family. How did working together make it easier to succeed? What happened when someone didn’t carry their weight? How much harder, lonelier, etc. would the activity have been if done alone?
Escape room. Check first to make sure the theme and activities are a match for your family. These are hard enough as a team and impossible if attempted alone.
City scavenger hunt. You can often find these online. They involve going to an unfamiliar town or part of town and finding objects. Geo caching is similar and works well when everyone helps.
Service project. Find one large enough that everyone in your family has to help to pull it off. We have tons of ideas for service projects on our website. Just click on the service tab to be taken to the list of service projects. http://teachonereachone.org/activity-ideas/
Odyssey of the Mind Activities. Search online for free ideas. Look for activities that requiring the group to work together to solve a problem building something in a short amount of time. Most require lots of little things you probably have around your house.
Cooking as a body. Find a recipe to cook together as a family. The twist is that each member can only be one body part. For example, Dad is the left arm, daughter the right arm, son the legs, mom the eyes, etc. So to get eggs out of the fridge will require two or three people to work together. The same with stirring (hand holding bowl so it doesn’t spin off the counter!) and other parts of cooking. You can also do this with any activity that requires using multiple body parts to complete it.
Have fun with it. Revisit the topic multiple times until you are confident your kids understand when self reliance is good and when they need to be in community or rely upon God.
Depending upon the source, only 3-10% of children being raised in Christian homes have a faith foundation strong enough to ensure they will be faithful Christians as adults. Yet, I imagine if we were to poll Christian parents, the vast majority would say their children fell into that 3-10% of spiritually grounded young people. It’s human nature to think we and those we love are the positive exceptions to the rule. It’s one of the reasons why people continue to do things they know are bad for their health – they will be in that small minority that comes out unscathed from their bad choices.
Part of the problem is that as parents we tend to freeze frame our children at various points in their lives. Your view of the strength of your children’s faith may very well be based on something they said when they were in preschool about how they love Jesus. Or maybe your confidence is based on the fact that your children chose to be baptized and devote their lives to Christ. While that is an important step on any faith journey, it doesn’t guarantee your children won’t rebel against God later in life.
We tend to think rejection of God begins when someone becomes enamored of and then enmeshed in sin. The truth is that for many young people being raised in Christian homes, the first step away from God is much more subtle and insidious. In fact, it’s a little replay of how Satan worked in the Garden of Eden. Satan lured Adam and Eve into sin by getting them to question and then doubt God’s truth – if they ate the fruit of that tree, they would die.
Satan works the same way today. First come the questions. What I’ve always wondered is why Adam and Eve didn’t discuss what Satan said with God before they ate the fruit. It wasn’t like they were starving. Or that they didn’t have regular access to God who actually walked and talked with them. They just chose not to go to the source of truth with their questions. Adam and Eve accepted Satan’s lie as the answer to the question he had posed and acted accordingly.
Your kids are going to have lots of questions about spiritual things. It’s how they process and learn. To you, some of these questions may sound like doubts more than questions and in some cases, they may be. These questions and doubts can feel very scary as parents. What if we don’t know the answer? What if we give the wrong answer? Or perhaps we give the right answer, but word it in such a way that it pushes are children even farther away from God?
Interestingly, studies have shown that it’s not these questions and doubts that in and of themselves cause young people to reject God. It’s when they go unanswered by Christian adults. Because, just like in Eden, Satan will make sure they will get his answer. And Satan’s answers are always designed to encourage us to walk away from God and live life our way.
Don’t be fooled into thinking your kids are set because they don’t ask these questions. They may not have voiced them to you or know how to articulate them, but they have them. If you shut them down whenever they ask a spiritual question, they will stop asking them and that puts your kids’ faith at even greater risk. Make your home a place where it is safe to ask any question about God, the Bible, Christianity or anything else of a spiritual nature. Be honest if you don’t know the answer and look for answers together. (Note: Any answer should ultimately point your kids to scripture, not another human – unless that human is used to encourage your kids to read and study scripture.)
Your children have spiritual questions. Encourage them to ask them all and help them find biblical answers. Don’t let Satan have free reign over your children’s thoughts and beliefs.
If the devil is truly the father of lies as Jesus taught (John 8:44), one of his favorites is the scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is a belief that every possible resource – including things like love – is limited and therefore when some of a resource is given to someone else, there is less for you. As with all of Satan’s lies, there is a bit of truth to hook us. If you have one apple pie and give someone a slice, there is definitely less of that pie for everyone else to eat.
What the scarcity mindset ignores is that there are often infinite resources we just can’t see at the moment. There are other apple pies that can be baked or purchased. A mother’s love is infinite and can expand to love dozens of children equally. Unfortunately, a scarcity mindset leads to selfishness, jealousy, envy, stress, short term versus long term thinking and problem solving, power struggles, cheating, lying, theft and a host of other problems and sins. As we learn from Cain and Abel, in its extreme a scarcity mindset can even lead to murder (and war).
There is a fun family devotional you can do with your children to begin shifting them from a scarcity to an abundance mindset. Start by sharing the story of Elisha feeding the hundred in 2 Kings 4:38-44. You may have never heard or forgotten about this story yourself. Note the similarities to Jesus feeding the 5000 and 4000 later in time. Introduce the idea of a scarcity mindset…. that 20 loaves are not enough to feed a 100 men or 5 loaves and two fish enough to feed 5000. Yet, with God anything is possible. Ask your children what would have happened if any of the people involved in the stories had possessed a scarcity mindset. Would they have shared the little food they had? Why not? What might have happened if they didn’t share their food?
Now your children might point out that in those cases God created a miracle so there was an abundance of food. How can they be sure that when they share or have an abundance mindset, that there will be enough for them? For a fun activity, re-enact the story of Stone Soup. This can be a really fun activity for several families to do together or you can set up each member of your family to be an entity in the story.
The gist of the story is that during a famine each family in the village just had one item left in their home to eat and it wasn’t enough. One potato, one carrot, etc. Someone had the idea that if they pooled all of their items and added lots of water they would have a soup that would feed them all for several meals (the actual story involved tricking everyone so it isn’t necessary to actually tell the story, just reenact the sharing and pooling of resources aspect). Without sharing and pooling their resources they wouldn’t have enough for even one meal for their family. You can do it with soup, but it can also work with any recipe where each family or person just has one ingredient and can’t make the desired finished product without the help of everyone else.
While you are eating, ask your children how a scarcity mindset would have meant their project failed while an abundance mindset made it successful. Ask them to think of other real life examples. Then discuss examples of things we believe are in short supply – like love and friendship – but which can actually expand and give many people more than enough. For older children and teens, you may also want to explore the idea of sacrificial giving – sharing something even though it may mean you actually do have less for yourself – and how God feels about that.
If you want to extend the activity, find things your family can share with an abundance mindset. This is one of those discussions you want to continue having over the years to encourage generosity in your children.
Your family has been running in circles for months. You may have spent time in the house or car together, but were you really connected emotionally to one another? Did you have any meaningful conversations – especially spiritual ones? The more disconnected families become, the weaker the supportive relationships within the family are. As your relationships with your kids grow weaker, your opportunities to coach, teach and nurture them lessen as well. If you’re on a bit of a downhill in your family relationships, it’s not too late to turn things around over the next few weeks.
It’s not just about spending more time together, but more time together when you are actively engaged with one another. Fair warning. If your family normally spends time together on individual devices, your children will roll their eyes at you when you suggest doing something together device free. Those who are extreme.y addicted to their devices might even get angry that you want to do something with them (and without devices). That’s okay. Part of the trick to detoxing from devices is finding things in the world that are more engaging than screens. (You will need to put your devices away, too.)
So then what? Here are some great activities to get your family having fun together and talking to one another again.
Games. Indoor board games are often best for encouraging conversation, but outdoor games like croquet or corn hole can work as well. Our town even has an outdoor area where anyone can come play boules/bocci, corn hole and other activities using their equipment.
Walks, hikes and holiday lights drives. Walks and hikes are healthiest, but spending time together in the car without devices and looking at interesting things that can spark conversations can work as well. Remember no devices other than perhaps Christmas music on the car radio.
Hot cocoa. Gather round the table or by the fire and drink hot chocolate together. Have fun adding marshmallows, using chocolate spoons or cocoa “bombs” or mug toppers. Just let your kids talk about anything and everything as you enjoy the process and the result.
Off the beaten path. If you live near a city or even some small towns try searching online for “off the beaten path” or “unusual things to do” plus the name of your city or town. Chances are good that one of the lists will have some things to do in your area that are unusual, fun, inexpensive and about which you had no idea. (Fair warning that some of these lists are more focused on bars than activities, so when looking online with children, it’s a good time to talk about the very best ways to spend free time.)
Baking and decorating cookies. A favorite for many decades, baking sugar cookies and decorating them is guaranteed to get everyone involved. You only need a couple of cookie cutters, a sugar cookie recipe or premade dough, confectioners sugar, food coloring, sprinkles and/or colored sugar to have lots of fun. You may even want to share some of your creations with others to spread a little holiday joy. The families on our street would make goodies and take them around to each house during the holidays every year for many years, making our street closer, too.
Service projects. There are so many ways to serve others and many of them are family friendly. Our website has tons of great ideas to get you started. Just click on the service project tab for a complete list. http://teachonereachone.org/activity-ideas/
“Best of” challenge. Have a family adventure working together to find the best … whatever. For several years, our family went in search of the best key lime pie. We ordered a piece to share at restaurants and tried various recipes. If you eat out a lot anyway, compare and contrast restaurants or foods. Or try a category of recipes. Or find the best holiday light display or best Christmas music. The topic doesn’t matter as much as the conversations you have as you compare and contrast.
Jigsaw puzzles. Every holiday season we set up a card table and work together on a Christmas puzzle. We have several now, so if we finish one we can start another. It’s a nice relaxing activity to work on together as a family.
Conversation starters. If your family rarely talks to each other anymore, conversations can be awkward. Try conversation starter questions. You can find lots online for free. Look for ones that will provide unusual information about everyone or lead to story telling. The cards are also great for family gatherings when your children are around relatives they barely know – especially if the relatives aren’t good at having conversations with children.
Read aloud. When I was little, our city’s local paper had a serial story every Christmas. Every issue had a new section of the story printed in it and families would read them aloud together. I believe that is how Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was first published. No one to my knowledge publishes holiday serial stories now, but you can do the same with any book. Choose a holiday classic or one of the C.S. Lewis books. You can even have a night of reading picture books from your local library. It’s not an English lit class, so have fun with it. Ask what your kids think will happen the next night in the story, if it’s one they don’t know or talk about the characters, action or dialogue as points of interest instead of a literature lesson.
This list is by no means complete. Design or choose your own activities. Just make sure they provide plenty of opportunities for fun and talking with one another. Sometimes reconnecting physically by cuddling under a blanket and watching a Charlie Brown Christmas is the reconnecting your kids need the most. Don’t let your family drift farther apart during the holidays. Find ways to reconnect and become closer. It’s crucial for the future well being and spiritual health of your children.