Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Empowering Children to Serve

In Children's Ministry that Fits: Beyond the One-Size Fits All Approaches to Nurturing Children's Spirituality, David Csinos writes about four spiritual "styles"(or ways of drawing closer to God) among children: word-based, emotional, symbolic and action-oriented. Of all these styles, the action-oriented one can be the most challenging style for most churches or parents to facilitate (for children in particular), because it requires observation, creativity, planning and lots of flexibility. 

While this is not the dominant style of many children, I am committed to exposing children to ways that they can serve with the hope and prayer that we as a church are empowering them to use their gifts to make a difference in the world.  I am learning more about how to do this all the time and one of my teachers just happens to be my 8-year-old son . . . 

Coming to and from school we pass a lot of homeless people who appear to have alcohol and drug problems. When he was about 4 years old, my son heard the story of St. Martin giving half of his coat to a beggar for the first time. Since then, he has been very concerned about the homeless and has wanted to help them. This year, during Advent, he expressed the desire to take them some gifts.  After Christmas Day was over, when we had time off from school, I suggested that we bake cookies to distribute.  We baked all day, my son tied all the packages with ribbon,  and then my husband set out with both children to pass them out. Well, on that particular day it was cold and rainy, so they didn't find anyone . . . not one person in all the usual places. And then they set out on another day and the same thing happened . . . not a single person to be found. Pretty frustrating . . . 

So when some friends from our Serve the City chapter decided to throw a party at the local Salvation Army soup kitchen, the kids and I decided to join in . . . 

Friends from Serve the City

As soon as we got there, my son, who doesn't like crowds, got a bit shy.  To help him overcome his shyness, he wore a headband pushed down close to his eyes.: ) A Serve the City friend helped him pull out some board games and he immediately got into an intense game of Sorry! with an elderly lady. 

An intense game of Sorry!

We also baked chocolate chip cookies (again!) for the occasion and they turned out to be a huge hit with the regular visitors. Every single one was eaten!

My son eventually chatted with several of the people sitting at the tables.  I asked him afterwards how he felt about the whole experience and he said that he had a blast!  I am sure that he brightened the day of some of the visitors to the Salvation Army that day, and he also got some valuable experience in mixing with people who are different from him.  

Dad and friend giving a mini-concert for everyone.

My six-year-old was a little too young and didn't have such a great time.  She complained about being bored a lot and was not really in the mood to talk to anyone.  Oh well, it was another lesson for me about what kinds of projects are best for which age groups. 

I'm really glad that we took a couple of hours out on a Saturday afternoon to do this. My son was able to give in child-friendly, age-appropriate way and I know that the action side of his spirituality is being developed through it. 

I'd love to hear more about service projects that you have done with children. If you would like to share, please leave your ideas or links in the comments!

linked to One Hook Wonder

and The Magic Onions

and Sarah Bessey's Practice of Parenting Carnival


  1. Loved this post, esp the headband helping with shyness, and the involvement of young people with the homeless. Mine are 4 and 6 - I have considered taking them to a loaves and fishes morning at a local church where I used to help before kids. Your post informed in several ways - thank you.

    1. Hi Jennings, One thought I had after writing this post is that my 6-year-old might have had an easier time if we had given her something concrete to do (like passing out cookies). That might be helpful for your children as well at the loaves and fishes morning. Would love to hear how it goes for you and your little ones!

  2. What a beautiful post, and what a wonderful experience for your family! Thank you so much for sharing. So glad you linked up to 12 Months of Giving. :)

  3. I am in awe. Go you! This is something I very much want to do with my children--because "faith without about useless as a screen door on a submarine," to quote Rich Mullins. But I'm one of those who's scared of it. You inspire me. I will do it. I will.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Kathleen. I'm certainly no expert in this field and am learning tons from my kids and others. You're right, you will do this! Thinking about a smaller, less intimidating step might be helpful. Maybe something like picking up trash as an act service might be easier than starting with the homeless? It is all pleasing to God when done in His love.: )

  4. What a fantastic example. I love it - so practical and spiritual. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Sarah, for the encouragement and thanks for hosting the Parenting Carnival!

  5. teaching your kids to serve is going to make a beautiful impact on the rest of their lives, I am sure of it. what a great practice!