Christian parents usually give their kids opportunities to serve others as part of their spiritual education. Serving regularly with your kids is a wise thing to do if you want them to grow up loving their neighbors, serving those in need while sharing their faith and living their faith on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the ways we often engage them in serving others doesn’t have the impact on them it could.
Studies have found that when young people serve others through mission trips and the like, any spiritual growth is often small and not sustained over a long period of time. Serving others as a family can have the same results, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Making a few changes can mean your kids experience real, sustainable spiritual growth as a result.
Here are some things to make sure you include when your family serves others.
- Talk about why you are serving. Just saying your family is trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus or love others like yourself isn’t enough. Take a close look together at the ministries of Jesus and the disciples found in the Gospels and Acts. Have real discussions about why God wants His people to serve others. Talk about the ways serving others point people to God and how you can enhance that by sharing your faith with those you serve. If your kids don’t understand the true, deep significance of serving others, it becomes just another family activity which can be omitted on a whim when they are older.
- Focus on empathy rather than sympathy. Sympathy can have an element of pride attached to it. Empathy attempts to understand the thoughts and viewpoints of others. Your family doesn’t have to agree with or condone ungodly attitudes or actions, but you can understand why those you are serving may (in some instances) have made those poor choices. It can also help to understand the stories of those you are serving. What is daily life like for them? What struggles do they encounter? Empathy also tries to find things in common with those being served. Finding commonalities makes it harder to be prideful and easier to become passionate about sharing the Gospel message as you serve.
- Include your kids in the planning and execution of your service. Your kids will be more invested in participating in something they helped plan. It’s also great experience that will enable them to plan and execute ways to serve others independently when they are older. Even toddlers can participate in aspects of the planning process by giving them two acceptable options for some part of your service and allowing them to choose which one you will use.
- Make serving others relational. I’m not suggesting you refuse to donate to the various collection drives, it’s just they won’t have the same impact on your kids as developing relationships with the people to whom those items will go. Find ways to help your kids make relationships with those they serve. Long term involvement in the lives of the same people can have the best long term impact, but taking your kids to help deliver the items others collect can at least give some relational aspect to your service. If meeting the people is impossible, try reading a book written to develop empathy for people in similar circumstances.
- Encourage your kids to work on their own spiritual growth as they serve others. Serving others can be a great opportunity to work on godly character traits like patience, perseverance, kindness and more. Ask your kids to pick a character trait with which they struggle and be intentional about improving in that area while they are serving. It can help if they memorize a theme verse they can repeat while serving to remind them of their goal.
- Spend time on reflection. It took me awhile to fully appreciate the value of a time of reflection after serving others. The lessons you think your kids learn from a service experience may be very different from what they actually learned. Talking about the experience and asking them questions about their perceptions can give you opportunities to correct misperceptions and add insight in ways they may have missed. You can also reflect on the ways you would do things differently should you ever serve in that way again. Reflection is the piece that can help make spiritual growth sustainable.
Regularly serving others with your kids is one of the best things you can do to help them start to put together all of the pieces of their faith. Making these tweaks can make the potential spiritual growth from those experiences meaningful and sustainable.