By Bev and Phil Haas
As our kids have gotten older, Sundays have become a struggle because they resist going to church. It’s not an all out rebellion, but their “thumbs down” attitude is obvious. We don’t think changing churches would help. Do you all have any suggestions?
Our hats go off to you for not making your kids’ opposition your church’s fault. That would have been easy to do, and too many parents fall for that ploy. Did you know there’s something more important than just getting your kids to attend church on Sundays?
More and more church leaders are pointing out that to win the next generation, we must move from a “come and see” to a “go and be” church. However, that’s not a totally new thought. Billy Sunday, a famous American evangelist from the 1900s, used to remind people that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” By urging kids to serve others, we’ll be encouraging them to be the church instead of just going to church.
Shift Your Focus
Why focus on serving? The obvious reason is Jesus’ example. Look at the primary method Jesus used to make disciples. Jesus didn’t have his followers just sit around and listen to him talk about life and ministry. He did life and ministry with them while he taught them. We’re not saying stop taking your kids to church. We are saying to help them find a place to serve while there.
Mark 10:45 reminds us that Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve.” Refocus more of your efforts on leading your kids to serve rather than be served. Don’t underestimate what serving can do to the heart of your son or daughter.
Another reason to focus more on serving is that it will help your kids develop a sense of ownership. If I serve in church, I have invested in it; it feels more like my church. The same is true for serving at home or in the community.
Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University, reports what makes the most impact on a student’s spiritual life. In her book Inside Out Families, Garland concludes, after extensive surveys and research, “Service was significantly more closely related to the faith development of teens than attending church services. Service appears to be more powerful than Bible study, youth groups, or participation in worship in the faith development of teenagers.” Dr. Garland goes on to document that when teens serve alongside adults, the experience broadens their faith and redefines their understanding of church. Helping our kids serve together is a powerful way to build their sense of commitment and connectedness with other kids and adults.
Help Find a Place
Here are a few thoughts to contemplate as you help your kids find their place to serve at church:
• Talk with your kids about leveraging their talents. Rick Warren, founding minister of Saddleback Church, uses the acrostic SHAPE—Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences—to talk about the way God wired us. He also talks about why we need to not just know our SHAPE but use it to do the things God made us to do.
• Don’t limit serving to one place. Encourage serving in the church and beyond. There are things to do and needs waiting to be met all around us, both inside and outside the church.
• Consider serving alongside of your kids at times, but not all the time. Your example is your best lesson on the value of serving. Psychologist Bill Maier points out “serving (together) allows parents to model positive character traits.” The same is true when your kids serve alongside other adults who share your faith and values.
• If your child gets frustrated serving, find out why. The solution may be as simple as guiding them to find another ministry to serve in. Passion in life is developed through exploration.
Most kids will never really believe they are significant until we give them something significant to do. And when they have something significant to do at church, they will want to be there.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and two grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.