My husband James eats very fast. Count 1-2-3 and he’s finished. Our girls, on the other hand, could easily stretch dinner into bedtime, leaving food untouched for long periods of time while they talk and laugh. That’s why I was surprised the other night when our youngest Lucy finished quickly and stood behind me.
“May I take your plate mom?” she asked with a smile.
“Why yes, thank you, Lucy,” I replied in wonder.
My 8-year-old daughter had performed an unexpected act of service. It wasn’t major or miraculous, but it was certainly a surprise!
Serving others doesn’t quite come naturally, does it? I know when I see my dirty stovetop, I don’t jump for joy proclaiming, “How wonderful! I get to serve my family by doing a little scrubbing!”
Yet Jesus exalts the way of service. As we learn in Mark 10:45, He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. As parents, we must teach our children the way of service, both by example and by invitation.
Several years ago, God put something on my husband’s heart to do at our public elementary school. He was compelled to start a weekly after-school Bible club. To make a long story short, we began that afternoon club with two dozen kids from our kids’ classes. Today we average 80 children, laughing and learning about Jesus afterschool.
Does this take work? You bet! We have to recruit volunteers, buy prizes and snacks, type out rosters, prepare lessons, and more. Our three kids help clean up, count attendance, lead worship, lend stuffed animals for props, act in skits and lead small groups. But the effort is well worth it. There are so many benefits of serving others as a family.
Service projects for your family might include:
Saving money to sponsor a child (with organizations such as Compassion International)
Giving someone a ride to church
Bringing a meal to a bereaved family
Volunteering with a non-profit
Writing thank you letters to our military heroes serving overseas
Going on a short-term missions trip
The key is looking for opportunities where your whole family can serve together. When you are working together, you bond as a family over common experiences and plant service into your family’s DNA.
There are many benefits of serving together such as:
Your kids observe you serve. This helps authenticate your faith. They catch that you don’t just go to church on Sundays; you actually practice the way of service you espouse. As my kids watch me say “Jesus loves you” to their friends at school, it encourages them to do the same.
Your kids learn how to care for others. We live in a selfie generation of “Me first” and “What’s in it for me?” We’re so concerned with putting our best foot forward we’re not even aware of who else is in the room with us. As your kids learn to serve, it helps them to focus on others instead of being selfish. “How can I help you?” is a wonderful phrase for your kids to practice often.
Your kids are pushed out of comfort zones. It can be intimidating to walk into a soup kitchen or meet someone from a different culture. It’s hard to wake up early in the morning to visit an orphanage instead of sleeping in on Saturday. But as your kids serve others, their strong work ethic builds, making them an asset to any future employer.
Your kids develop leadership skills. Even though my daughter Lucy is only eight, I watch her at our Bible club act as a leader. She sits next to new kids and makes them feel comfortable. She explains the rule of a game if a teammate doesn’t understand. She raises her hand to answer questions. She feels at home at Bible club, and that confidence helps her lead others.
Your kids learn how to steward their gifts. What is your child good at? Is there a way for him or her to serve others with that gift? Our patriotic oldest son loves playing the piano, so he plays once a month at a Veteran’s home near our house. You should see the residents light up when Ethan plays jazz and swing songs they know so well. These heroes are blessed by concerts from a middle schooler, and Ethan is learning how to perform in front of others while honoring veterans, some who even served in WWII.
Serving others as a family is a win-win-win. Your kids win, parents win, and the recipients of your service win. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Sometimes your kids will volunteer to serve like Lucy picking up my dinner plate. Other times, they will need to be “voluntold.” Don’t worry if your kids don’t eagerly jump on the service bandwagon. In time, they will see for themselves the satisfaction and joy that comes from serving others in the name of Jesus.
Yes, it takes effort and commitment to put a service project on your family calendar. But it’s all worth it when your child lives with the attitude, “How may I help you?”
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Calm, Cool, and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life and Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World which she wrote with Dr. Gary Chapman. Learn more at ArlenePellicane.com.