It was a beautiful spring evening. I was in the kitchen making dinner, and the kiddos were making happy kiddo noises in the living room. I came in to check on them and realized that the noises also accompanied some pretty significant mess. Now, with three little ones, there is hardly ever a time when a toy isn’t on the floor during the day, but this was extra bad. “Hey guys,” I said, “let’s stop playing for a little while and clean up some of these things before Daddy comes home from work.” Jude, our five-year-old who is a black-and-white little guy, chimes in, “We usually do our cleaning up before bed. Why do we need to clean up right now?” “Well,” I responded, “it’s a lot more messy than usual, and I think it would be really special for Daddy to come home to a clean house. So let’s clean up right now because we love Daddy!”
That was all the convincing they needed to begin sprucing up the house in preparation for Judah to come home. Their motivation was fueled by a love for their father that outweighed any desire to get out of cleaning up in that moment.
You’ll be hard pressed to find Christian parents who don’t desire their children to grow up to be people who serve. However, it doesn’t take long into the parenting journey to realize this is something that does not come naturally and cannot be forced. Our little ones come into the world with sinful dispositions, seeing only their own wants and needs, just as we did before them. Sure, we can train them to have the correct behavior, but true service goes far deeper than outward conduct. True service flows from a heart of love for God and others, and this is something only He can bring about.
It is essential that as we teach our children the importance of service, it is done by prayerfully and intentionally pointing them back to the ultimate Servant, Jesus Christ. His service toward us was loving, humble, and pure through and through, and it is from this foundation that our children must learn what being a true servant really is. As Jesus Himself said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Our children must understand that, as followers of God, a life of service isn’t optional, and this in large part will come from the example of their parents. We must first see ourselves as servants of the Lord, ready to obey Him and do whatever He calls us to out of love for Him and others. And our kids need to see from our example that this isn’t a drudgery but a privilege and a joy because we are following in the footsteps of our Savior.
If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26
“And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
Yes, service is sacrificial. It will often mean forgoing something we want to do in order to love someone else, and we don’t have to be afraid for our children to know that. Jesus “endured the cross” because of the “joy set before Him” (Heb 12:2). His service to us cost Him his very life, but it brought Him joy because it was motivated by love.
As my husband and I have prayed about how to help cultivate this mindset of service in our children and observed the examples of other godly families, here are some things that we’ve begun to put into practice in our home.
This should be a given, but we’re amazed at how often we need to be reminded of just how critical it is to be praying for our children in the course of training them. As I said earlier, only God can transform the hearts of our little ones to have a true, God-given desire to serve others. Only He can change them from the inside out. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, our children will either become legalistic and prideful in their service to others, or they will not embrace service as something that is important to them. So as we seek to obey God by teaching our children how to live godly lives in Him, we must continually ask Him to change their hearts, to give them a love for Him, and to give us wisdom and insight in pointing them to Him every moment of every day.
Impart a Vision
As parents, we need to be proactive in imparting to our children a vision for Christ-centered service. They need to see in our lives an excitement for this, and they need to see that it isn’t something that is limited to just our family, either. As much as possible, we need to expose them to the many ways that others in the Body of Christ are serving (and have served over the years) so they begin to grasp the significance of how this can impact others, both Christians and non-Christians.
Talk about Jesus and His service on our behalf. Read biographies of those who have spent their life in service to others. Point out people in your church who are actively serving those in your church body, and be intentional about thanking them in front of your children (or having your children thank them when it involves them). Talk about the joy that comes from obeying God by following the example of Jesus to love and serve even the “least of these.”
Some of the most significant and impactful times in my life were when my family served together. One time, along with some other missionaries and native Mongolian Christians (our family lived in Mongolia at the time), we set up a soup kitchen in a really poor area of town, and we had the opportunity to serve and share the gospel with these people who were “the least of these” in the eyes of the world. Another time we decided that, instead of Christmas presents, we would buy coal for a family who were really struggling. These things imparted to us kids the incredible joy of serving, even when it required sacrifice and getting outside our comfort zones.
It may be as big as going on a missions trip as a family or as simple as baking cookies for the new neighbors across the street, but no matter what it is, it’s so important that we are making Christ-centered service a priority as a family. Have service become a lifestyle for your family. Our children need to see this modeled from a young age so that it becomes something they expect and something they gain a vision for. Ask the Lord how to keep your eyes wide open for the opportunities He brings to do this together.
For every family, this will look different, depending on life circumstances, the age of your children, and so forth. But what matters is that we are taking seriously the call upon our lives to be “servants of all” in order to point them to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19). And as we consistently, faithfully, and joyfully cultivate an atmosphere of service out of a heart of love for Jesus, both within our homes and extending outward from our homes, we will begin to see the beautiful fruit of God’s blessing in our lives.