Do Your Kids Feel Needed at Church?

Having godly self esteem is a challenge. Adults have shifted back and forth from being super critical of children to making them believe they are practically perfect in every way. Most congregations would say they value the children and teens that attend, but they don’t always act that way. Young people are often siloed away from the adults in special areas for classes and some, if not all, of worship. They rarely see adults, much less develop meaningful familial and mentoring relationships with them.

Perhaps even more harmful, they are made to feel superfluous. The adults take all of the active roles in worship and service. Often children especially are barred from participating in service and other ministry efforts, while teens are given a marginal role at best.

Contrast this to the real world, where schools often encourage students to take leadership roles in every area of school life. Charities often have special roles for children and teens to develop the next generation of volunteers. Young people are encouraged to share ideas and develop their own service and leadership projects.

Children and teens may not be able to express it well, but they are made to feel useless and even unwanted in many churches. They are aware adults put little effort into their classes and they aren’t learning much of importance. No wonder many leave at the first opportunity for something that makes them feel they add value to being there.

Is your church guilty of marginalizing children and teens? Speak up. Volunteer to develop a system for involving them in more meaningful ways. If your church pushes back, encourage your children to develop their own ministry opportunities in their lives. Support them in their efforts to serve others and share their faith. Reassure them God wants them to be involved in their local congregation. Encourage them to keep trying to participate or develop opportunities to serve and share their faith and invite other Christians to join them. Whatever you do, don’t let your kids believe their congregation doesn’t need them to be involved. Because whether church leaders realize it or not, they do need your kids.

Fun Family Devotional and Service Project

There is a passage in Acts that provides not only an interesting devotional topic, but an opportunity for a family service project. In Acts 19, Paul is in Ephesus. Several interesting things happen, but starting in verse eleven (through verse twenty), it really gets intriguing.

Evidently, Ephesus was an area where the people were heavily into magic (not the entertainment kind) and it appears even some of the Jews considered themselves exorcists. When they tried to replicate the miracles Paul had been doing, however, they were unable to do so. Eventually, the people became convicted that what they were doing was wrong and brought out their magic books (scrolls) to be burned.

This story makes a great springboard for discussing with your children the influence books can have on their hearts and minds. What are some books that they believed changed their thinking or attitude about something? Was it a change of which God would approve? Have they ever read a book they believe wasn’t good for them to have read for some reason? Why? What kinds of books might it be smart for them to avoid reading? What types of books should they read more often? This is also a great time to remind them the Bible is a library of 66 books and reading each book is important because they contain things God wants them to know.

Don’t let the conversation veer too far away from self censoring the books they read. This is not the time for a political discussion on censoring others. The discussion could extend, of course, to the content they stream, the music they listen to, etc. Remind them every creator has an agenda. Some are helpful and some not so much. Very little content is as neutral as we want to believe. You may even want to teach them how to evaluate a book for beneficial or harmful content before reading it.

Finally, start collecting good Christian and other books to donate to a ministry that could use them. Urban ministries and faith based tutoring programs rarely have enough books. Ministries that work with children in other countries may have a hard time finding children’s books in their language or bilingual ones in their language and English. Or raise money for children’s Bibles (many languages only have one version – usually in language equivalent to the old KJV and need children’s Bibles to make the Bible more understandable for those who are young) or Christian books for children and teens (remember, not every Christian book contains truth either).

Have fun with it, but make sure your kids have the tools to make wise choices about the books they read.

Fun Service Learning Challenge for Families

It’s abundantly clear throughout the Bible that God expects His people to serve others. Yet many Christians are content with merely writing a check and letting someone else do their serving for them. I’m pretty sure (while every ministry could use more funds) that wasn’t all God had in mind.

Part of the problem is that many of us are oblivious to the world around us. Totally unaware that we have walked past someone crying or who is hurting in some way. When questioned about serving others, we confidently claim we don’t encounter people with needs. If you want your children to be the servants God wants them to be, you have to train them to be noticers and problem solvers.

There is a fun challenge you can do as a family to teach your kids how to better notice needs and meet them. It’s also graduated in difficulty so your kids can progress through increasingly difficult ways to serve others. By the time they have completed the challenge, your kids will be well on their way to not only noticing those who need serving, but also competently meeting those needs.

Start with the level that will stretch your kids service skills a bit. Once they are comfortable at one level, move up to the next. Some families can get through all of the levels in a few weeks, while others may take months or even years. The important thing is to serve regularly and consistently and challenge your kids to grow during every opportunity to serve others.

Here are the challenges at each level.

  1. Neighborhood (if you have very young children, you may even want to start with your family before tackling the neighborhood). Find ways to serve those on your street or in your neighborhood. It’s fine to be creative, but make sure the needs are what the neighbor needs and not what you want them to need! If you are going onto the property of someone to serve them, ask permission – especially if you don’t know them well.
  2. Town/Your part of town. Expand the challenge to beyond your neighborhood. You should try to get your kids to notice needs first, then approach the appropriate organizations to see if they are willing to let you help them. Because your kids aren’t as familiar with the locations or people they may be serving, this requires some growth. It may also require more creativity and problem solving skills.
  3. Another town or a part of your town unfamiliar to you. This requires meeting new people and finding out how things work best in an unfamiliar area that’s still relatively close to home.
  4. Another state or country. This is probably more appropriate if you have teens in your family. It requires more research before embarking on your service journey and navigating different areas, cultures, rules/laws and perhaps even languages. If your kids can research, plan and execute a service experience in another country, they are probably read to do independent complex projects serving others almost anywhere.

Don’t forget that Jesus almost always tied serving someone with teaching them about God. Work with your kids on also increasing their ability to have spiritual conversations with the people they encounter while serving.

You can also use these experiences to teach them about various nonprofit management skills like budgeting, long term planning, sustainability, fund raising and more. There are various place to find resources to help online.

Raising kids with servant hearts requires intentionality and a plan. This challenge can get you started.

Top Tips for Raising Kids With Servant Hearts

I was reading a parenting book by a secular author who was amazed to stumble across a home in another culture where a child saw dirty dishes in the sink and got up to wash them without being asked. As she had a secular mindset, her book then looked at all the parenting differences she thought might create children who were equally helpful. I smiled to myself a bit as I immediately recognized what had happened in that home. The parents were raising the child with the heart of a servant.

Children with the heart of a servant think about how they can help their family and friends before they think about how they want to spend their time in leisure activities. When they see someone at work or struggling in some way, they jump in to help and make the load lighter. They are the helpers and encouragers in their worlds. They are a parent’s delight – even though they still make mistakes and sin.

So how do you raise children with servant hearts? It takes more intentionality, but in the end actually can mean less work because you aren’t having to do everything yourself or nag and punish to get the help you need. It can also mean a more peaceful home as your children focus on helping each other over protecting their “rights”. It can also make your kids stronger Christians as they understand that being a servant of The King (God) means obedience and not getting their own way.

Here are some of our top tips for raising kids with servant hearts.

  1. Teach them what it means to be a servant in the biblical sense of the word. In our modern vernacular, slave is probably closer in meaning to the word often translated as servant in the Bible. Christians with servant hearts obey God’s commands – even if they don’t understand or agree with them. They understand God gets to make the rules and we get to obey them – because God knows what is best for us and by obeying Him we have the best possible life in a fallen world.
  2. Let your children see your servant heart. If they see you consistently obey God, serve others and share your faith humbly, they have a great example to follow. If they understand why you “don’t look out only for your own interests, but the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-5), they may just follow your example.
  3. Help them learn to see the needs around them – even the subtle or partially hidden ones. Raise kids who don’t have to be asked to help. Who see someone with a sad expression and ask how they can help. Who notice when someone drops all of their papers and help to pick them up without being asked. Often, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it is easy to pretend we didn’t help because we never saw the need. Raise kids who see the need.
  4. Teach them they don’t personally have to solve every problem they see, but they should at least try to find someone who can help. If you take first aid classes, the first thing they teach you to do is to look around, point to someone and tell them to call 911. If not, a huge crowd can be standing around watching the medical problem and no one calls 911. Teach your kids how to help when they can, but it’s just as important to teach them how to quickly and efficiently get other people helping, too. If not, they may burn out trying to solve every problem by themselves.
  5. Teach them to think of others before themselves. This always gets a lot of push back in our culture. Our world believes we shouldn’t raise doormats who allow everyone to walk all over them. Or people pleasers who care about pleasing others more than taking care of their own basic needs. Thinking of others before yourself, however, is a command and not a suggestion. It should be a constant discussion of what it truly means – especially when looking at the life of Jesus. It’s not an easy command and we shouldn’t ignore it or pretend like how to live it is always obvious and easy.
  6. Help your children be encouragers. We tend to breeze right by the scriptures commanding Christians to encourage one another. The world can be a tough place. Encouragers make it a little easier to hang in there and make good choices. Raise encouragers.
  7. Teach your children to assume the best in others. I understand the importance of teaching kids how to be safe around strangers in a dangerous world. It’s a philosophy, however, that assumes the worst in others merely because some adults are dangerous to children. As they get older though, the attitude of assuming everyone is dangerous needs to be tempered a bit or they will never serve others and share their faith. It’s also important to teach them that when they feel offended by someone in some way to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the teacher had a really rough morning and was a little more curt than normal – rather than the teacher hates me. Even if the teacher dislikes your child, coming at the conversation willing to assume the best rather than the worst can make discussions a bit less heated and easier.

While it may take some time before your children jump up to help you without asking or are kind to their siblings, it’s worth taking the time and effort to raise kids with servant hearts. Those are hearts God finds it easy to work with to do His Will.

Are You a “Get” or a “Give” Family?

In her book Generations, author Jean Twenge looked at an analysis of how many times the words “get” and “give” appeared in American books published each year. Before WWII “give” was more common than “get”. Over time, the top word varied from year to year, but the margin was always fairly close. Now? In 2010, the word “get” was twice as likely to appear in a book as the word “give”.

And that’s not the only sign of a growing selfishness in the world around us. Ask any non-profit or ministry and they will tell you that the vast majority of their donors are over the age of fifty. Like any problem, there are probably dozens of factors contributing to this growing selfish behavior. You may not be able to influence the world’s generosity, but you can impact that of your children.

God calls on His people over and over to be generous – not just in the amount they give, but in the percentage (the widow’s mite) of their income and most importantly having a generous, willing heart. That generous heart is best developed in childhood. One of the reasons we were pro allowance is that it provided a way for our daughter to give part of her “income” back to God.

We modeled giving and as a family we gave of our time and possessions as well as our money. We discussed why we couldn’t do some of the things other families were doing because of the needs someone else had that were more important. We didn’t force her to give up presents on her birthday in favor of charitable donations or dictate how much she gave. We did, however, have lots and lots of discussions about generous, sacrificial giving. We Meereen as intentional as possible about being a “give”family rather than a “get” family.

Not sure if you are a “get” or a “give” family? Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Are there more conversations about buying things than giving things in your home?
  2. What percentage of your income is given to church, ministries and charity? (There’s no rule, but “give”families usually donate much more than ten percent of their income.)
  3. Are your children encouraged to give weekly to God? Even though many congregations have gone to online giving, most have a box somewhere where your children can place their cash donations. Make it a weekly habit if you really want to raise a giver.
  4. Do you and your kids always have to have the latest and greatest or do you get as much as possible out of the things you own? Once again, everyone is different, but many givers try to keep a new car at least ten years and don’t continually replace other items meant for long term use.
  5. Do you toss (or sell) outgrown clothes or items you don’t use any more or do you give them to someone who needs them? You may be able to give because you sell used items and that’s great! If you are selling or tossing without any thought to others, though, that can indicate an issue.
  6. If someone had a desperate need for something you own, how hard would it be for you or your children to part with that item? Sometimes, it’s just not practical. You can’t give away the car your family needs to get to work. A gut check though is your initial reaction to a need someone has. Do you immediately start thinking about how you can protect your assets as much as possible and still be seen as helping or do you start trying to help even though it may be inconvenient to do so?

This is not a one time issue. “Give” families can become “get” families and visa versa. Have regular discussions about giving and generosity. Ask your kids which type of family you are and why. Raise givers and not getters.