Fun Family Christmas Craft/Service Project

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.

Fun Fall Family Service Project

When the temperature starts to drop a bit in the Fall, it’s a great time to get baking together as a family. The kitchen is a special place where children can start to relax and begin talking about whatever is on their hearts. A place where devices can be banned and everyone is having so much fun they don’t even notice. Where the results of your endeavors can not only feed your family, but serve others who may be lonely or food insecure. Best of all, you don’t even have to be a master chef to pull it off.

Call your kids into the kitchen. For the easiest Fall baking project, you will need one box of spice cake mix, one small can of pumpkin (usually on the bottom shelf in the baking aisle near fruit pie fillings at your grocery store), a mixing bowl, spoons and a muffin pan. (I recommend using muffin papers to lower the odds of muffins getting stuck in the pan.)

You can just do the baking as a service project, or turn it into a family devotional by telling them stories like Abraham entertaining three “men” (Genesis 18) or the widow feeding Elijah in 1 Kings 17:7-24. Either way, discuss as a family some of the people you know or know about that may benefit from being given some of your muffins. Your family may want to serve the food insecure, use them to cheer someone up who is lonely or sad or even thank someone who helps others, but rarely gets thanked.

Have your children take turns doing the various steps of the recipe (depending upon their age and the things that are safe for them to do). Open the cake mix and pour it into a mixing bowl. Add the can of pumpkin and about 1/2 to 2/3 of the empty can full of water. Mix and pour into the muffin papers in the muffin tin. If you have dry measuring cups, the 1/4 cup measure is about the right amount of batter to put into each muffin tin. The batter makes more than 12 muffins so unless you have a large oven and two muffin tins, it will take some time to use up all of the batter. Bake at 350*F until muffin tops feel a little firm or a toothpick comes out clean. (Because the batter is already dark, it can be difficult to tell if they are getting too well done.) Note: Checking to see if the muffins are done can be hazardous, so this should be done by an adult.

While the muffins are baking, your children may want to make cards for the recipients. If you want to add a little variety, but minor difficulty, you can purchase other flavors of muffin mixes. If your family has gone apple picking, you can add fresh peeled and finely diced apples (1-2 cups depending upon how much fruit you want in your muffins) to a cinnamon muffin mix to make apple cinnamon muffins.

Have fun with it. Enjoy spending time together baking. Deliver the muffins as a family. Talk about the experience and what you learned from it after it is over. It may just become a family tradition!

Christian Parenting and Tea Parties

If you have young children, you’ve probably attended several pretend tea parties thrown by your children. There’s just something about pretty food, tea cups, dressing up and acting like grown up royalty that screams fun to kids. You may have considered throwing a tea party for your children and their friends, but were intimidated by the ”fancy” part of it. The good news is that not only can you throw a tea party that is affordable and easy, but you can teach your children quite a few Christian life skills in the process. In fact, begin by giving your kids a budget for the party. Have them find ways to do everything they want for the party, but still stay within the budget. Take them shopping and teach them how to find bargains at the store. The better they are at managing finances, the more they will have to use to serve God.

So how can you make a tea party easy and affordable? First of all, it’s a rare American child who will like hot tea. Instead, fill their tea cups with lemonade or caffeine free iced tea. What’s a tea party without petit fours? They are not easy to make and bakery ones are expensive. Thankfully, someone has finally produced a frozen variety that is affordable. If you want your kids to practice patience and perseverance, try making your own. Make it easier by buying frozen pound cake and cutting it into small squares while it is not quite thawed. Then find a recipe for the pourable icing to frost them with. (It is thinner than standard frosting.).

Tea sandwiches? Teach your children some cooking skills they can use to serve others. Cut the crusts off of regular sandwich bread. Make a few favorite sandwiches of your children and their friends, then cut each sandwich into four triangles.

Hospitality is one of the attributes of a strong Christian. Discuss with your children whom they want to invite, but more importantly, how to make them feel comfortable and welcome in your home. This can also be a great excuse to review some basic manners needed at a ”proper” tea party.

Involve your children in the cleaning and decorating. They will learn responsibility and begin developing a strong work ethic (hopefully!). Chances are, you will even get to remind them of the Bible verse about doing everything without grumbling and complaining more than once! Help your children plan a few activities to keep their friends engaged before or after the tea party if they want their friends to stay a little longer. Talk about “considering the needs of others” and making sure they choose activities they know their friends will enjoy.

When everyone has gone home, “let” your children help with the clean up. It’s a great time to talk about working “as for the Lord” and how we all must do some things we don’t enjoy in life, but are necessary. While you are cleaning, talk about the party and what things you want to change or try the next time. It is a great way to begin teaching them how to reflect and make improvements in their lives and ministries.

Most of all, have fun! Be the house where your children and their friends want to be. It takes extra time and effort, but when your kids are teens, you will be glad you did.

Hosting a Service Sleepover

If you have school aged children, you are familiar with sleep overs. Many parents don’t like hosting them because behavior can get out of control with the combination of lack of sleep, junk food and too much unstructured free time. With a little extra effort, you can host a sleepover that’s still lots of fun, but helps others and teaches the kids or teens attending about serving.

First, you need a theme for your party of service. Does your church support service efforts in your community or mission efforts in other countries? Contact someone you believe the young people attending the party would be interested in serving and find out if there is something your group can do to serve them. Local service has the advantage of a possible field excursion to serve or deliver needed items. Service projects for the mission field make it fun to carry the theme throughout the evening with food, music and games from the country you are serving.

Once you have identified the group you are serving, you will need to gather the items you need for the project. If the group does not have a suggestion, our ministry website has dozens and dozens of service project ideas. Our family has hosted parties where the girls made fancy hair ornaments for girls in a homeless shelter and decorated onesies for children served by a Christian foster care agency. Your party can plan a collection, making posters and fliers to distribute or physically go somewhere and execute a project. (Some organizations have minimum age limits, so call before going.)

Have fun with it. Older children and teens may want to plan the entire party. The more ownership they have of the service project you complete, the more they will enjoy participating. If possible, have party goers interact with the people they are serving – either during the party or at a later date. It will make the entire experience more meaningful for them. Done well, you may be hosting many more service sleepovers in the future!

Fun Ways to Use Gardening to Teach Your Kids About God

Have you ever noticed how many parables contain some element of gardening in them? Growing things is a great way to teach your children about a lot of biblical principles. You don’t even have to own land. Container gardening works well, too. All you need is a little sunlight or even artificial lighting and any sort of container that can hold soil.

The more you involve your children in the process of planning, planting and caring for your garden, the more they will understand and remember what you are trying to teach them. Start by determining where your garden will be and what plants you will grow. If you want them to learn about plants in the Bible, you can find online lists of plants mentioned in the Bible. (Note: To be really accurate, use botanical names when ordering plants and seeds. Many modern varieties may differ from those mentioned in the Bible.)

Or your family may decide to use the produce in your gardens to serve the food insecure in your area. Talk to local food banks and ask what fresh produce would be most appreciated by their clients. Vegetables like carrots, tomatoes and peppers are fairly easy to grow and are used in a variety of common recipes. They also do well in container gardens.

If your children are older, they may want to help research not only what plants are mentioned in the Bible, but also historic recipes containing those foods and which parables, proverbs and other scriptures mention plants, gardens and/or vineyards. You and your children can also discuss how the lessons you learn while gardening illustrate other scriptures that may not directly mention plants or growing things. For example, you may want to talk about what happens when a plant is denied something it needs to grow well. Then explore what they will need to grow spiritually. What would happen if they denied themselves one of those things?

The great thing about gardening is that it is a year round process. Even in winter, planning your garden and starting seeds indoors can make it easier to garden in the Spring. What kind of preparation do they need to be able to use their gifts to serve God when He wants them to use their gifts for a good work He has planned for them? Why does procrastinating about important early tasks impact the garden (and their lives) negatively?

Gardening is a great spiritual tool for teaching, application principles, mentoring, service, faith sharing and more. So grab a seed catalog, a Bible and your kids and start planning your garden!