Preparing Children to Serve From Young
Guat Kim Tan—Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim 4:12)
Children are a heritage from the Lord (Ps 127:3), and God expects parents to be stalwart stewards of His children. To ensure they mature into godly Christians, parents have to diligently pursue various positive goals in raising them. Teaching children to serve in the church is one of these major goals. God admonishes parents to prepare and teach their children, early in life, to serve Him in a godly manner and to provide care to others (1 Pet 4:10). Serving must become a part of a child’s faith journey—works must move in tandem with faith.
WHAT IT MEANS TO SERVE
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. (Mk 10:45a)
Involving children in church work helps them learn to live the life of a servant, just as Jesus did (Mk 10:45a). It will also help them acquire qualities such as humility, discipline, responsibility, submissiveness, self-respect, and tolerance.
With this understanding, parents have to teach their children to think and see beyond themselves— to focus less on themselves and more on others. Serving will foster the joy of helping, allowing them to demonstrate their love through acts of kindness and service, as they willingly give to accomplish what is good for others and glorify God.
Furthermore, a commitment to serve is also an act of honoring God, which is central to our Christian faith. Teach your children that it is their responsibility to serve and be concerned for members in the church, as well as for those outside the church. Involve children in different aspects of church work. For older children, encourage them to participate in home visits and in children’s hospital visits. Encourage them to serve elderly members who are lonely and in need of help. Encourage them to preach to their peers. Be a mentor and a buddy to them. You may also assign them duties such as hymnal or prayer leading and piano playing. For younger children, let them do small tasks first, such as tidying the classroom after lessons and praying for friends and family. Encourage them to share and be a friend to those in need. These will teach them the meaning of responsibility and cultivate a sense of dependability.
SERVE FROM YOUNG
When should we start to train our children to serve? Hannah, the mother of Samuel, brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh when he was very young (1 Sam 1:24). She surrendered her son to the Lord and left him in God’s care and protection, where he submissively learned to serve. Likewise, we can train children to serve from young.
Parents and Religious Education (RE) teachers play a crucial role in nurturing a child’s heart of servitude. This, of course, requires motivation and perseverance. When children serve God, they learn to acknowledge the grace of God in their daily lives and to repay His grace (Ps 116:12). Parents and teachers who guide their children to walk this path can work together to lay a good foundation of preparing their children to serve. As with all things, commitment from both parties to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit when laying this groundwork is important.
WALK THE TALK
In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works. (Tit 2:7a)
Personally, I believe that first and foremost, parents have to teach and lead by example, because they are their children’s role models (1 Pet 5:3). Children tend to mimic their parents’ behavior. Hence, as parents, we need to reflect. Do we serve in church? What can our children learn from us about serving God? If we adopt a lackadaisical attitude when serving, more likely than not, our children will imitate this negative attitude. We may persuade and encourage them to serve, but unless they see us doing likewise, our words carry no weight. Let’s be exemplary in our own service, since actions have more impact than words.
SERVE AS A FAMILY
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Jos 24:15b)
Here, Joshua boldly affirmed his faith—he and his family would serve the Lord and live by faith in God. Likewise, parents should stand firm on these words spoken by Joshua. It is their sole responsibility to take the spiritual lead. Moreover, each and every member of the family needs to find a place to serve in church. Serving as a family unites everyone’s commitment to God as they jointly pursue a mutual objective of honoring and glorifying Him.
IDENTIFY GIFTS AND ABILITIES
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Pet 4:10)
God has blessed every child with certain skills and talents. Some may be more gifted and are often thrust into the foreground. But this does not mean that those who are less gifted are to be left behind. Our children need to understand that no one in the church is insignificant and that everybody’s service is equally important in God’s eyes. God appreciates and honors every sincere and honest service (however unimportant or menial it may seem) rendered to members and to the church.
Parents and RE teachers are responsible for teaching children to use their skills to serve and honor God and those in need. Help our children to identify the spiritual gifts God has given to them. Involve them in areas where they show aptitude and interest so that they can offer their best to God. For example, some children and teenagers love to write or are gifted writers in school. We can nurture and inspire these young writers to utilize their gift to serve God in literary ministry. Encourage them to contribute articles for their local church publications. Teachers can also post their written work on the RE notice boards. In doing so, our children can gain confidence and develop a positive attitude in writing Christian articles to promote the truth. They learn to use these God-given talents for a more important purpose in life and not as a showcase of their abilities.
SERVE WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23–24)
Constantly remind our children to serve with the right attitude. Only then will their efforts be fruitful and effective. Ask them to search their hearts and examine their motivation to serve. Is it spiritual fervor, self–esteem, gratefulness to God, or selfish ambitions that motivate their service? What God desires is a consistent service that is God-focused—one that does not succumb to mood or impulse, and a heart that sincerely yearns to serve Him and not to win the praises of men (Eph 6:7). Their service will then glorify God and benefit the church. On the other hand, if their goal is to gain the praise and admiration of others, their service will be insincere and futile. An enthusiastic and fervent worker of God has to develop a Christ-like attitude, characterized by humility and submissiveness.
Children, particularly teenagers, are sometimes reluctant to serve in church. They often make excuses such as, “I do not have time.” Undeniably, today’s young people do live in a demanding world. In some countries, their workload in school is prodigious and their hectic, overloaded schedule of activities eat even further into their remaining time. What little free time they have is often spent on social networking sites or on their mobile phones! Knowing that their children are so busy, parents may feel guilty to ask them to serve in church or help those in need. But if we do not involve children in church work, their commitment and ability to serve God will not develop. Do not allow our children to use “no time” as an excuse. Parents need to cultivate the importance of serving. Let’s teach our children that God has put them here for a purpose—to serve Him and to serve others.
Another reason for inaction and reluctance might be a lack of self-confidence or a fear of inadequacy. This happens when we make unfavorable comparisons between children who are serving the same task. Instead of doing this, parents and RE teachers should constantly reassure and encourage them to pray and put their complete trust in God to overcome their fears and anxieties. A good starting point is to serve together with them and to be their mentors. Pray together and share ideas on how to serve and improve by the strength that God supplies. Imprint in their minds that a service which embodies the earnestness and simplicity of hearts is approved by God. Once children have gained sufficient confidence, they will feel comfortable serving on their own.
LIVING A LIFE OF SERVICE
Raising children to be good servants of God begins at home. Together with RE teachers and church ministers, parents should make a concerted effort to train children to serve from young and nurture the love and joy of serving to ensure that they are well equipped for a lifetime of service. Those who serve when they are young will most probably serve when they are adults. Today’s young church workers will indeed be tomorrow’s generation of God’s stewards who will bring to fruition their pursuit of a lifelong service to God and men—a service that God will surely esteem.