We have eight children 14 years old and under.
Over the years, a number of people have remarked to me and my wife that our children are unusually interested in helping others.
If a lady is carrying a heavy bag, they often run to carry it for her. If a man is changing a tire, they walk over (unsolicited) to hand him the tools. If congregants need song sheets, they rush to assist. When the meal is over, they’re pretty good about clearing the table quickly and washing the dishes so the adults can talk.
“Show us the secret,” they say. The secret is really no secret at all. You can find the answers in the Bible. We believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is all we need. This doesn’t mean that Scripture will teach us how to remove stitches or win at horse shoes or pass the chemistry exam. It’s not sufficient in that way. The Bible is sufficient for faith and practice. This means that the Bible teaches us, either directly or indirectly, everything we need to know about salvation and sanctification.
In other words, if you want to know how to draw blood, you go to nursing school. But if you want to know how to live a good life, you go to the Bible. This includes teaching your kids how to serve others.
Here are five tips:
1. Show them serving is Christian
Serving others is to Christianity what ivy is to the outfield wall at Wrigley Field. When you look at Christians, you’re really looking at servants. The word “servant” is found well over 250 times in the New Testament. Paul had a hard time introducing himself without calling himself a doulos. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rm. 1:1).
This is totally foreign to our narcissistic world. Some years ago, Tim Tebow said that the girl of his dreams would have a “servant’s heart”. Though this is standard Christian parlance, much of the media lost their minds. The wife, servile? Yes, and not just the wife but the husband and all the kids too, all in an effort to serve just like Jesus. The Master said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).
“Service” should be a major theme in your family. It should be to your home what ugly Christmas sweaters are to your uncle’s year end party. Everyone that enters your house should expect the kids will be on their toes to serve. This is only weird to goats. To sheep, it’s normal. Their Shepherd said so. “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt. 23:11).
2. Praise it when you see it
I’m fond of telling my wife that when our kids are small, about 90% of everything they do is wrong. This includes immoral infractions (like pouting) and moral infractions (like drawing a moustache on the baby).
This means parents must be mucho pro-active when it comes to saying “yes” and praising the kids. Yes, there will be reams of rebuke. There should also be piles of praise.
Coaches get what they emphasize. If the basketball coach rewards diving for loose balls, then he should expect plenty of floor burns on his players. If parents laud their children every time they serve others, they shouldn’t be surprised if the kids are swiping dessert forks when the cheesecake is only half way eaten.
3. Encourage competition
I think it was Joel Beeke that once said competition is often at the heart of much fighting between siblings. That’s true to a point. Quarrels and fights often stem from pride and unholy rivalry (Jms. 4:1). But there’s also a godly side to competition. “Outdo one another in showing honor”, Paul says (Rm. 12:10). The goal of the husband should be that his love surpasses the love his wife has for him. The goal of a child is that he or she serve others more than they are served. I don’t see how this is possible without a level of Christ-like competition.
Certainly you can’t believe it’s wrong when two teenaged guys get together and the one says to the other, “Bro, just say’n, but your sister can totally outwork you. Gotta pick it up my man.” This is real friendship that uses competition as a lever to increase godliness.
Practically, it often looks like this in our home. “Children, we’re going to arrive at the Smith’s home two minutes. We expect you to be on your best behaviour. We don’t want you to be asked to help clean up. Do it on your own. Don’t worry if the other children are playing video games after dinner. We expect more from you. Clean up with a happy heart, then ask again if there is anything else you can do to help.”
4. Model it
Dads, don’t expect your boys to run and wash the dishes if they always see Big Pappi on the couch watching TV. Show them what it looks like.
Get dirty. Pull out the chair for mama. Stack the hymn books. Finish the to-do list. Take on extra responsibility. The servant is not above his master, and the Master washed feet. Christian kids, then, should be the first people holding doors and giving their arms to the senior citizens.
5. Show them that servants are the happiest people
Spoiled kids aren’t happy. Lazy kids are miserable. This is because it is more blessed to give than receive (Ac. 20:35). “Blessed” means happy. God has hardwired this fact into human DNA. Almost everyone has felt the joy of helping another person in need.
Here’s the difficulty. We love ourselves more than we love others. Children are the chief culprits. Whitney Houston lied when she sang: “Learning to love yourself…is the greatest love of all.” She should have said: “Learning to love yourself…isn’t love at all.” We don’t have to learn to love ourselves. That comes natural. Learning to love others more than ourselves, selflessly (1Co. 13:5), is hard to do. So teach your kids to do this and show them all the joy that comes from it.
One problem I see with Christian parents today is that they coddle their children. “Coddle” is such a great English word. It comes from a Latin word meaning “hot drink”. For a time it may have meant to serve gruel to invalids. This is the way many parents are today. They view their kids as invalids, incapable of finding elbow grease anywhere. So they feed their children gruel through a Sippy straw, with lots of sugar. These kids are rarely joyful. So stop babying them, parents. Urge them to serve.
Don’t underestimate your children by assuming they can’t serve others. They can and they should. Expect it. Model it.
Don’t overestimate your children by assuming they’ll want to serve. They probably won’t unless their parents teach them how or their father convinces them it’s cool. Then you’ll have a hard time getting them to sit still.