I had the wonderful privilege a few weeks ago to join some of my students from the university I serve for a servant experience where we cleaned and served meals at a homeless shelter. I was also incredibly blessed to be able to take my son Collin (age 4 & 10/12ths) with me. I have always enjoyed participating in servant events. I would like to say it’s because of my great altruistic passion to serve but if I am truly honest it’s probably because serving causes me to grow. I seem to always benefit greatly from the deep reflection serving others causes in me as well as the blessing of seeing others experience growth in both their relationship to God and others. While driving to and from the servant event that day my son asked me some questions that I found myself being served by much more then any service I was able to provide:
Daddy, why are we helping these people?
Why do they not have a house to live in like we do?
Does Jesus love the man who was yelling and smelled really bad?
These were certainly questions I found worth answering for my son in helping to form and shape his thinking about others and Gods desire for us to love one another, but probably more profoundly, these questions were worth answering for myself as I struggle to be a Godly Parent. I suppose it has something to do with the mystery that God has for us. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12).
One of the greatest phenomena that has been sweeping the youth ministry scene in the last twenty plus years is the planning of and participation in servant events. It seems that everyone is doing it now and it has become a key foundation in youth ministry programming. The idea of serving mankind and taking care of God’s creation has been around a long while. Serving others certainly is not a profound or new idea in youth ministry either. Most of you reading this are saying duh, that’s why we do mission trips. We do them with our kids because it is awesome to see how God uses the action of the service and the fellowship among those serving to bring up the issues of life that are worth talking about and give room for the Gospel to do its work.
We are all aware that in informal education the power of the educational opportunity comes in the teachable moment. That point in time when the learning environment intersects with the desire to learn, coupled with an immediate point of inquiry. We most clearly see this in Jesus’ teaching and the use of parables.
Mission trips are ripe for this type of learning and as stated earlier it tends be what drives us as Christian educators to do programming that incorporates this type of methodology.
Eugine Roehlkepartain, reflecting on the results of a study done on influences of faith formation in the book The Teaching Church, indicates that the research done by Search Institute had found three elements that have the greatest impact on a young person’s faith maturity: talking with a mother or father about faith; participating in family devotions, prayer or Bible reading; and being involved in family service projects. We know that when these three social influences are present the field is ripe for the nurturing of faith. Image if all three could be present at one time?
Servant events naturally set themselves up for the teachable moment and oftentimes allow for disorienting dilemmas that cause us to question our preconceived attitudes and beliefs about issues, leading toward a further reflection on God’s truth found in His word. If we look at the three items mentioned above we see that at least two of the factors are at least somewhat being presented minus the context of the family in servant events. Imagine if we adjust our thinking just a tad to include families in a more intentional way. What might be the impact?
A study done by the Corporation for National Community Service found that when youth are members of a family that include volunteering as part of its activities, the youth themselves are more likely to be volunteers in the future. Teens from families with at least one parent who volunteers are nearly three times as likely to be regular volunteers in the future as to those youth from non-volunteer families. Their research also indicated that youth who attend religious services regularly are nearly twice as likely to be regular volunteers as those who do not attend. When parents are involved in volunteering with their kids it has dramatic impact on the shaping of the attitudes and behaviors of teens as they develop. Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Providing opportunities for youth to work along side their parents and encouraging parents to be models in doing service together as families encourages a positive attitude about serving and increases the likelihood of them serving as adults all while opening their minds to issues of social justice.
James Westerhoff III, in his book Will Our Children Have Faith, speaks of a concept he calls enculturation. Simply put, it is surrounding our children with opportunities to grow in faith, at church, home, and in all aspects of their life. He identifies that our best bet in bringing up children “in the way they should go” is to surround them with a culture that allows for faith exploration and teaches them what it is to fear and love God in all the areas of their lives. How are we doing? Are we encouraging and including parents to serve with their youth? Are we creating an environment that is ripe for teachable moments of faith? Are we listening to the questions asked and responding with God’s Word? Are we shaping their serve?
Westerhoff III, J. H. (2000).Will Our Children Have Faith. Ed. Rv. Morehouse Publishing; Harrisburg Pennsylvania.
Corporation for National and Community Service. Building Active Citizens: The Role of Social Institutions in Teen Voluntering. Brief 1 in the Youth Helping
America series. Washington , DC. November 2005.
Roehlkepartain, E.C. 1993, The Teaching Church – Moving Christian Education to Center Stage. Abingdon Press; Nashville.