Over the years, I have noticed that sermons and Bible classes discussing serving others and sharing our faith tend to go one of two ways. Either they are extremely general in nature or (if it’s a class specifically for kids or teens) it focuses on doing little basic things around the home or school. As a result, kids and teens often get more specific ideas and encouragement about ways to serve others from secular sources. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing except that they begin to believe serving others happens more in a secular environment and they don’t learn the importance of connecting sharing their faith to service (or how to do it).
You may not be able to change this dynamic in your church very easily, but you can do some things with your own kids to help them learn about some of the many ways Christians serve others and share their faith around the world. This more specific knowledge can help them begin dreaming about how they can serve God and share their faith using their own talents and opportunities – now and in the future as adults.
Here are a few ways to expose your kids to more specific ideas of ways to serve God, while sharing their faith.
Invite people to share their stories with your kids. Since hospitality has been shown to be a key ingredient in successful Christian parenting, get even more benefits by inviting over people who serve God and share their faith. Encourage them to share their stories with your kids. What are they doing? How did they get involved in those ways? What skills and knowledge did they need to be effective?
Share books, articles and social media posts with your kids. Many people in ministry share their stories in a variety of ways. Follow lots of different people to get a taste of a variety of experiences. In my own ministry, for example, I would have never mentioned ministering to children who have been through a war. Then this year, a war broke out in a country where I do quite a bit if ministry work. I had a steep learning curve about ministering effectively to young people who have lived through a war. I also shared what I learned with others through my ministry. Your teens could have read the ebook that resulted and learned about what would be involved in helping children of war (who are often underserved around the world). While they might not be ready to do much yet, it can plant a seed either for more skills they want to learn or for ministry they hope to do in the future.
Explore secular non profits and discuss ways to adapt them so they would also include faith sharing. Secular non profits do some great things. They just don’t include the faith sharing piece God wants us to include in everything we do. Explore with your kids what different non profits are doing. How could a few things be changed to point those they are helping to God? (Note: For teens, the discussion should include funding. Many Christian groups become secular because access to government funds is often restricted if Jesus is mentioned. How could they find funding and still share their faith?)
Encourage dreaming, brainstorming and experimenting. Your kids need time to dream these godly dreams. Encourage them to brainstorm ways to solve the problems they see in the world around them by serving others and sharing their faith. Allow them to take some first steps towards something that interests them. Look at ”failure” as a learning experience. Not every idea will work, but sometimes what they learn from their mistakes leads to an idea that will work well.
Encourage shadowing, mentoring and apprenticeships. Do your kids seems particularly interested in a specific area? Is there a Christian doing those things that would allow your child to shadow him or her for a day or a project? Would they be willing to mentor your child? What about an apprenticeship where your child will be providing actual help on a ministry project? Encourage your kids to learn as much as they can and think of ways to make the ministry even more effective. Even if that ministry doesn’t like the ideas, they may be useful to your child in the future.
Don’t raise kids who have no specific ideas of ways they can serve others or share their faith. Or kids who think doing an occasional extra chore around the house or being kind to someone at school fulfills God’s commands for them to serve others and share their faith. Help them be prepared to fully serve God every day of their lives.
Because of the nature of the ministry at Teach One Reach One Ministries (the parent ministry of Parenting Like Hannah), it is easier for us to see needs not just in a specific congregation, but globally for the church as a whole. In spite of what you may have read, we believe the church will always have a need for people with certain skill sets and gifts to share their knowledge or talents with people in other locations. In addition, there are some people groups who are so unreached by Christianity that the harvest will at least temporarily need workers from other areas to help reap it. (Matthew 9:35-38)
The problem is that often the people most able to help don’t speak the local language(s). Even more challenging, people who are deaf worldwide have only a handful of people who can sign to them about God. In many countries, those who are deaf do not attend school and cannot read or write. It is estimated the deaf is one of the largest unreached (by Christianity) people groups worldwide. Complicating it even more, American Sign Language is just that – American. Often each country and sometimes each village can have a unique sign language which may bear no resemblance to the others.
You probably can guess where this post is headed, but there is one more area to cover. The Bible has yet to be translated into some of the more obscure languages which still have often thousands of speakers. Many times, Christians have to move to and live in these remote areas to learn the obscure language in hopes of aiding in the translation of the Bible. Some have even had to help develop a written language as the local language has only been spoken.
We need more young people to become truly fluent in multiple languages to serve as interpreters. Or to teach in a second or third language. Or to learn an obscure language and help translate the Bible. Or to translate written ministry resources into other languages.
Why do I say truly fluent? The American educational system makes us and our children think we are fluent in a language when most of us are not. When I have had native speakers grade translations by Americans, the average grade is a ”C” and most ministries need that to be an ”A” to be truly helpful. You and your children will have to go beyond the lessons most schools provide, doing extra work to become truly fluent. Consider mastering a more obscure spoken language or a sign language in addition to ASL. You may want to do a little research and find which languages would be most helpful. Surprisingly, Spanish is one of those languages, as it is almost impossible to find someone who will translate ministry resources on a volunteer basis. (The cost is prohibitive.)
Preparing your children for ministry may include giving them the opportunities to master additional languages. Not every child will be able to (or want to) do it, but for those who are, it will make them more equipped to help reap the spiritual harvest in areas that are underserved.
Ask any one who does ministry in multiple countries about their biggest need and their answer will often be “translator”. It’s not surprising that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak in languages they hadn’t studied. Because it happened on a major Jewish holiday, people from all over the world had traveled to Jerusalem. In order to understand the Gospel message, they needed to hear it in a language they could understand.
The internet is a wonderful way for ministries to help people all over the world. In order to do that though, they need resources available in multiple languages. And as much as translation apps have improved, they still aren’t accurate enough to trust with important ministry documents. Speakers and teachers who travel to other countries often need local translators.
There are other second language needs in ministry. One of the largest underserved people groups in the world is people who are deaf. The vast majority will never be able to read or hear the Gospel. The Church desperately needs people who can sign in one of the many sign languages of the world.
There are people groups in the world who still do not have access to the Bible. Special ministries look for people willing to move to these places, learn one of these obscure languages and then help translate the Bible into that language.
To be fluent enough to be helpful in translating for speakers and written materials, it is helpful if the language is learned in childhood. The younger the child is, the more easily they can make unique sounds and mimic appropriate accents. Young people also often find it easier to remember new words as they are already in that process in their first language.
Have children interested in learning other languages? Encourage it! God may have given your kids the talent and passion for easily learning other languages. There are many fun ways to help your kids explore other languages.
Children’s books. Our local public library has books for kids in Spanish, German, Hindi and other languages. You can also find them online.
Children’s programming. Did you know Sesame Street is produced in multiple languages? Many countries even have their own unique muppets. You can find episodes on cable or on places like YouTube. Many languages have other children’s programming and because the shows are made for kids, the language is often easier to understand.
Language learning apps, videos, etc. There are so many choices today. Some are free, while others require some financial outlay.
Local language classes and play groups. It’s common in large cities to find language classes and play groups for toddlers and older. Those taught by native speakers will help your kids speak more like someone born into a family that speaks that language.
Have fun with it. If your kids develop a passion for a particular language, encourage it. Don’t forget to explore other cultures while you are learning through music, art, food, travel and other ways to encourage their language learning. You may be raising kids who can help spread the Gospel faster because of their ability to translate.
The great thing about kids and teens is their passion for changing the world. They notice things many adults have given up on trying to change. They have the innocence and passion to believe complex problems have simple solutions and that they have those solutions.
Unfortunately, Satan has a vested interested in the world’s problems remaining untouched. He will do what he can to discourage young people – especially Christian young people who might also teach those they are helping the things God wants them to know and do.
You can’t totally protect your kids from Satan’s interference, but you can lessen his effectiveness by teaching your kids some basic truths.
God has a plan. Find it. Follow it. God doesn’t want our world to be full of sin and chaos any more than we do. He gave us free will though so we aren’t just robots He controls. Unfortunately, many people believe because God doesn’t force us to follow His plan for how He wants things to be that He doesn’t have one. God has a plan. Your kids just need to be taught how to figure out what God’s plan is for solving the problem about which they are passionate and follow it. When they do that instead of trying to force their plan on to God, the implementation and results are often easier and better.
Pray. A Lot. Then really listen for God’s answers. Many people who want to make the world a better place, forget to pray to God for His guidance and assistance. Or when they do, they ignore all of the people and circumstances He sends to tell them to go in a different direction. Prayers often don’t seem to work, because we fail to remember it’s a conversation and we need to listen as much, if not more, than we talk.
Use their gifts or ask someone to help who was given the gifts you need. There are times when God asks us to do something for a period for which we are only adequate. In general though, God has built everyone a lane and their most effective ministry occurs when they stay in that lane. World changers often give up because they are trying to do tasks which God meant for them to ask others to do.
Take advantage of the opportunities God gives them. Sure, their plan may be more fun than the opportunity God is giving them right now, but there is a reason He wants them to serve in this way at this moment. Turning down those less glamorous, less fun opportunities God gives them to serve, may mean their personal ministry will never reach its full potential.
Be patiently impatient. God’s timing is perfect. Sometimes that means we need to wait until it is in His plans for us to do the next thing. On the other hand, sometimes God can’t use us, because we refuse to do all of those little things He is giving us to do now. Or we procrastinate for any number of reasons. Or we let others discourage us from pursuing the dream God has given us for our personal ministry. The key is balance.
Do their homework and be humble enough to learn from those who have gone before them. There is often an underlying arrogance about those wanting to change the world. They believe because previous people have failed to completely solve the problem, they have nothing of value to teach newcomers. They may indeed have a bright great new idea that will work. Or they may be getting ready to waste a lot of unnecessary time, energy and money on something that is not going to work. Ask questions, listen, learn…then analyze and make choices.
Remember bigger isn’t always better. It’s better to start small and let God give them a larger territory if it’s in His plan rather than starting too large and failing miserably – hurting others unnecessarily in the process.
Empathy Works. Sympathy doesn’t. Too many people in ministries and charities are full of sympathy. Unfortunately, that reads like they have all the answers and the people they are serving have nothing of value to offer. Empathy looks for commonalities. It learns from those it is serving rather than assuming it is the only one with the solution to the problem. Empathy loves like Jesus.
Equip and empower. Don’t boss and control. Ineffective leaders feel the need to control and boss people around. Effective leaders find people gifted in certain areas and equip, support, nurture and empower them.
Remember the ultimate goal is to help as many people as possible get to Heaven. Earthly needs and problems are important. If we help solve those, but don’t teach anyone about what God wants for them and from them, we have failed as Christians. We cannot and should not ignore earthly needs, but we can’t let them distract us to the point where we forget eternity is forever and our primary goal should always be to help people spend eternity in Heaven.
Who knows what good works God has planned for your children? If you help them learn these truths when they are young though, it is much more likely they will help the world be more like God planned it to be.
What? Your child isn’t old enough to work at McDonald’s. In fact he or she is convinced a career as super hero or astronaut is in their future. Yet, God has a ministry plan for your child…if he or she is ready for the challenge.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) God loves your kids. He wants them to choose to be His child and become a Christian when they are old enough to make that choice. He even has a ministry…good works…specially prepared for them to do.
Those good works are your child’s ministry. They may be big or small. In fact, some of those good deeds might be presented to them while they are still young and living at home.
Our world has us so focused on helping our kids find occupations and jobs, that we forget it is more important for them to find their ministry. Yes, they need to have food on the table and hopefully a roof over their head, but where they will truly grow and become fully who God created them to be is in their personal ministry.
Start now by helping them build strong faith foundations and develop and use their gifts from God. Talk about ways to find those good works God wants them to do. Encourage them to be as content in taking soup to a lonely neighbor as they are in going on a mission trip to Africa. Teach them how to find ways to share their faith and encourage other Christians as they do those good works.
God doesn’t give any of us a list of the good works He has prepared for us so we can check them off as we go. If I had to guess, it’s because that list is possibly based on our reaction to each opportunity as it is presented to us…or in this case your kids. What God has done is told us to be on the look out for those opportunities He gives us to do those good works.
Your child may never be a “professional” minister. His or her good works will most likely take place more in the world than in the church building. Some of them will be based on the gifts God has given your child. This isn’t a competition. It’s about being fully the person God has created your child to be – His child, doing those good works He has prepared for him or her. It’s worth the time and effort to help your child learn how to live that Christian life.