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Training Kids for a Lifestyle of Service

Marty Alan Michelson

The Bible tells us to, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This proverb is as old as Solomon, but as relevant as today's Barney! Well, I'm sure even more relevant than today's Barney.

If there's one thing I've learned in my work with children, it's that we need to train our children to be ministers -- willing to be involved in Christian service to others! I want to teach kids how to serve and not simply tell them they should serve. I want them to be willing to serve others for the rest of their lives! As children stay involved in areas of Christian service, they'll bear fruit 30, 60, and 100 times over!

SERVICE WITH A SMILE
Children generally like to serve others. And contrary to what many people think, they can be a great service to many organizations and people. In fact, the children from my church -- ages 4 to 12 -- recently did a service project at a local transitional apartment complex for homeless people. The director has employed literally hundreds of service groups. And yet, he told me in private that the kids we brought to work for him were "the most productive group" he's ever had in his six years as director! The kids may've been too small to move furniture or paint the ceiling, but the simple work they did cleaning, pulling weeds, and sorting through boxes was a benefit to the apartment complex and its homeless tenants. And best of all, it was a benefit to the kids!

Service projects have immediate and future benefits that are almost impossible to estimate in advance. Here are the benefits our children got from their one day of service:

• They became aware of a housing project and people who live differently than they do.
• They met homeless families and learned that homeless people aren't to be feared.
• They practiced the art of service in the name of Christ.
• They served together and had fun.
• They saw with their own eyes the needs of other people.
• They met needs with their own hands.
• As a result of their ministry, some of their parents are getting involved in ministry.

DOING IT RIGHT
If you'd like to help your kids make a difference in the world around them, start with these five steps.

1. Do your research. Find out about service agencies in your area. Generally speaking, once you get in touch with one or two agencies, they'll have a network of affiliated agencies they can tell you about. Depending on the size of your community, you may be surprised at how many service agencies you dig up once you start looking. If your community has any form of soup kitchen, food pantry, Salvation Army, or downtown mission, start with these. If you live in a large enough community, you may find service agencies in any of these areas: alcohol/drug rehabilitation, teenage pregnancy, soup kitchens, ethnic outreach programs, environmental programs, clothing closets, food pantries, employment education, homeless shelters, Alzheimer's and AIDS hospices, prison ministries, or people with disabilities. If you can't find any services in your community, perhaps your children can start something.

2. Dig a little deeper. Check out the agencies that interest you and find out what they're all about. Who sponsors the agency, and what exactly do they do? Visit their facilities on a regular working day and look over possible service arrangements. As you talk with different service agencies, tell them about your interest and ask if they have any area where children might be able to help. My experience has been that children can always help if led in the right direction.

3. Choose an agency. Get involved with the ministry you feel most comfortable with. And keep in mind that we're called to serve others in the name of Christ. You can work for a non-Christian service organization and still serve in the name of Christ.

4. Schedule kids' service. Set up the dates and times for children to serve. Arrange for proper supervision and assistance from adults or youth group members. Prepare the kids for the experience in advance, especially if the environment will be foreign to them. Begin with a devotional and end with a debriefing time to talk about what they did and why they did it. Use Matthew 25:31-46 for a devotion.

5. Stay involved. Have kids minister on a regular basis. If we simply take our kids to do service once a year, they'll learn that service once a year is acceptable. But if we take them more frequently and regularly, they'll learn that Christian service is something done on a regular basis-with consistency. And, with regular contacts, kids will be able to see the continuing benefits of their ministry. For example, I've been taking the children of my church every other week to a clothing house operated by a local homeless agency. After several months, the house has become so clean and organized we've almost worked ourselves out of our jobs!

Let me forewarn you about one thing: Don't be surprised if you and your children begin to view the world in a whole new perspective. Coming face to face with human need can be a truly transformational experience!cm

Marty Alan Michelson is a children's director in Oklahoma.


17 KID-FRIENDLY SERVICE PROJECTS

Get kids involved in ministry with these ideas.

  1. Clean and organize give-away clothing closets.
  2. Sort through and organize donations given to agencies.
  3. Help prepare and serve the food at a soup kitchen or hospice.
  4. Clean up, set-up, or tear down at a soup kitchen.
  5. Help move small furniture for shelters.
  6. Perform puppet shows, musicals, concerts or choir performances at shelters, soup kitchens, or hospices.
  7. Do yardwork or general cleanup of any facility -- from weed pulling to vacuuming.
  8. Help prepare bulk mailings to benefit an agency.
  9. Promote fund-raisers on behalf of the service agency.
  10. Paint furniture, walls, or items that don't need to be "perfect."
  11. Paint over graffiti.
  12. Gather and deliver items for people in need. This is a great way to get involved with inmates' families.
  13. Play with homeless children on day visits or by sponsoring a trip for children in homeless shelters.
  14. Visit and serve people in an elderly community.
  15. Work at the Special Olympics.
  16. Plant trees and shrubs at a location in dire need of environmental care.
  17. Organize the canned and boxed goods in a food pantry.

Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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