What follows is an extract from a much longer article by Krista Petty entitled 'How Externally Focused Churches Minister to Children' (the full article in PDF format can be found here).
I have selected a passage that particularly addresses the question of how we build a worldview and a legacy of holistic ministry in our kids when we give them the opportunity of working alongside us in serving others.
This article is used with the permission of the author - Ed.
The Making of a Movement
On September 4, 2006, the world, including children of all ages, mourned the loss of Australian conservationist and television personality, Steve Irwin. Omar Reyes believes that there were many things to learn about service to and for children through Irwin's life. “While watching the ceremonies celebrating his life, I realized that Steve Irwin started a movement—a true, bona-fide movement. Thousands of people are now giving their lives to animal preservation because of his work. Here was a man whose influence will go on for generations. What were the keys to his success?”
Omar outlines two points to creating a movement as successfully as The Crocodile Hunter. “First, he had passion. He was very passionate and believed in animal preservation. His finances were right there with it, too. He created zoo and animal conservation funds. He put his money where his passion was.
"Second, he touched presidents, scientists in the field as well as the little child. His life spanned every generation. He brought the message down to where kids understood and appealed to the kid in all of us. You can see his legacy already living in his daughter,” says Omar.
Jesus attracted children and sinners. The normal church today attracts neither.
If churches fail to span the generations Omar says, “We have a shelf life. When you look at the life of Christ, what kind of people were attracted to him? Children and sinners. There was something about Jesus and kids related to him. Sinners related to him. The normal church today attracts neither. We will die out if we fail to bridge that. I saw Steve Irwin's influence span every generation and embrace his passion. The church must find ways to do the same.”
A Legacy of Service
How important is it to help kids receive service as well as learn to give in service to others? The Bible records several accounts of families that served together such as Noah and his sons (Genesis 7-9); Aaron and his sons (Exodus 27:21) and Joshua's household (Joshua 24:15). George Barna writes, “Attitudes about the viability and value of church participation form early in life. Habits related to the practice of one's faith develop when one is young and change surprisingly little over time.”
Many churches are implementing one-day service events to complete large projects and give people short-term opportunities to try serving. Eric Swanson, Externally Focused Leadership Community director encourages churches to provide many family-friendly projects for all ages and abilities.
“Find projects that should be so easy that every family member could do something,” says Eric. At his home church, Calvary Bible Church
, in Boulder, CO Eric annually participates in ShareFest, a day of area churches serving the local public schools.
“I've seen a single mom scrub down lockers with her kids and grandparents serve with their grandchildren. During one-day service events, you can create a mechanism by where good things happen in the long-term for the next generation,” says Eric.
When we do not tap into this beautiful and wonderful resource of ministering to children, what is lost?
The result is that each generation feels as if it is re-inventing Christianity.
If you visit the Kids' Cafe at the Christian Center, you'll likely find Chuck Langford, associate minister, there along with several youth and children who aren't eating a plate of spaghetti,but serving it. “We have five words we say a lot around here: serve, serve, serve, serve, and then serve,” says Chuck. This emphasis on service isn't just for adults. This message flows down to the youth and children. And when the youth group comes to serve, Chuck says, “I don't micromanage them. It's amazing watching them step up.”
That includes watching his daughter, Hannah (10), serve dessert to the entire room of 50 kids. Why does Hannah do this weekly? “Because these kids need food. This is their dinner,” she says. Kids eating at the Cafe see what giving is all about through the servant peer leadership shown by Hannah.
Calvary Community Church
, Westlake Village,CA is working hard to serve children and teach serving as well. Vanessa DeVere, Community Care Director, wanted to engage families in meaningful service together with her ministry, Angel Threads. Angel Threads provides clothing and necessary items to Honduras, a place she has visited several times.
To prepare for hurricane season, Vanessa organized a service day at her home for families where they prepared first-aid kits and clothing boxes. “Parents sorted clothing while the kids wrote letters to go in the packets. The kids also packed the first-aid kits. While working together, we talked to the kids about missionaries there and the kids who live there,” says Vanessa.
Ariel Holochuck, member of First Baptist Church Elk Grove
, in Sacremento, CA is one of those next generation servants. At 14, she could be spending her summer shopping at the mall or playing at the pool. Instead, she chooses to serve at a camp for special needs children called Camp Barnabas which is connected to the ministry at the church.
Ariel says, “I felt very blessed after serving as a volunteer at Camp Barnabas. I worked as a barnstormer, which was basically kitchen patrol.To my surprise cleaning dishes was tons of fun!” Besides kitchen duty, Ariel served campers their meals and had opportunity to talk with them one on one. “Knowing that I was helping people with mental and physical disabilities enjoy a week at summer camp was a blessing to me. During the week I had a handful of spiritually deep and mentally challenging conversations with several campers, which I thought I wouldn't have. Some of the campers, to my complete surprise, are the brightest crayons in the box.”
Imagine raising up a generation of kids that did service projects and then found it hard to walk away from faith when they went to college because they had a history of faith in action.
Ariel admits that she had a stereotypical thought process towards others before her Camp Barnabas experience. “The world makes people who aren't the same as us seem like complete strangers with no feelings. Camp Barnabas really opened up my mind to people I had avoided before. I was completely wrong!” Ariel's mom, Mary, says that the camp experience had a tremendous effect on her daughter, long after the week of camp has ended. “She is now more sensitive to people who are physically or mentally challenged and makes a special effort to make eye contact with those in wheel chairs.” In a very polite but firm way, Ariel told her parents that if family vacation plans interfered with serving at Camp Barnabas, she would not be with them on vacation. “She is very certain of her new priorities in life,” shares Mary.
George Barna notes, “When we do not tap into this beautiful and wonderful resource of ministering to children, what is lost? The result is that each generation feels as if it is re-inventing Christianity.” By giving children like Ariel and Hannah opportunities to serve others, externally focused ministry will not be a wave that passes, but a sustainable movement, improving the future of the church's ability to reach the lost.
Eric says, “Imagine raising up another generation of kids that did service projects and then found it hard to walk away from faith when they went away to college because they could not walk away from the history of faith in action.”