I really want to start reaching out to my neighborhood. I just don’t know where to start! Do you have any ideas of how to serve my community, maybe even things my children can join me in?
Ready to Serve
Dear Ready to Serve:
What an encouragement to hear you express your loving servant’s heart! And you have rightly noted that serving Christ starts in your own family circle and includes reaching to outsiders.
You begin this journey by investing in the lives of your family and challenging them to develop spiritual sensitivities. Young children will be dependent on you to tell them the stories of Jesus and His love for them and for the world. Your teenagers will be watching your life for an example of what it means to live sacrificially and invest yourself in others and their needs. Spiritual disciplines are at the root of all service to Christ. One of the best tools I found for my children and teens is Character Sketches, a three-volume set compiled by Bill Gothard, in which he uses detailed descriptions of animal life and habits to teach Christian virtues. These fascinating studies captured the imagination of my children from a very young age and through their teen years. Character within motivates us to outward right behavior, including the doing of good things and investing in the lives of others.
Furthermore, you must examine your own giftedness and interests as well as those found in the lives of your children. This understanding of you and your family will awaken creativity and help you to find ways to invest in the lives of others.
You will be amazed at what the Lord will bring into your heart and vision—oftentimes something that no one else would even envision!
Now, let’s consider some ideas to spark your imagination and get you thinking of how you can challenge your own family:
- Meeting special needs of someone who is suffering chronic physical challenges or serious illness (e.g., providing a meal or basket of snacks). I have a “chemo” basket especially prepared with what someone needs in the midst of chemotherapy).
- Sharing in celebratory events like the birth of a baby, a wedding, a graduation. Your response does not have to be “things.” You can give of your time to help in the many details associated with such celebrations (babysitting, errands, cleaning, hospitality for those participating from out of town; I have a “mother-of-the-bride basket” that has been very well received, and I have done “IOUs” for specific services that might be helpful).
- Observing festive themes, such as holidays or changes in seasons of the year. This inspires crafts and projects that can keep little ones busily entertained for hours (e.g., handmade and personally delivered greeting cards; snacks such as cookies in the shape of hearts for Valentine’s Day or shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day; Easter-themed activities; May Day pole with ribbons attached to an array of tiny treats). In February, I love doing simple Scripture cards inscribed with a verse on love, using a template from the computer or any pattern. These are very inexpensive and relatively quick to make. I have also baked seasonal cookies, wrapped them in plastic wrap tied with bit of festive ribbon, and let my children deliver them to neighbors or classmates or church friends or even to nursing home patients who do not have regular visits from families.
- Saying thank you to public servants with a pound cake to the fire station or local police precinct, cookies to the public library staff, a bottle of water and muffin for the mail carrier, apples for teachers in the local school. At Christmas my mother prepared boxes of homemade cookies for every teacher serving her five children—my brother is convinced that this produced our good grades!
- Specific evangelistic outreach through meeting needs. A young mother attending one of my seminars inspired me with an idea. She and her children prepared bags to give homeless people reaching out for help on the streets. The children decorated brown paper bags with their art. They filled the bags with Kleenex, sanitizer, some non-perishable food, and any other small items like soap, shampoo, lotion, etc. To this they added a gospel tract. When they stopped at intersection where a homeless person was asking for help, they would roll down the window and share a bag!
Your heart is right to nudge you to put feet to your prayers and to reach beyond your comfort zone for ministry. And you will impart this servant’s heart and ministry sensitivity to your children by doing with them these acts of loving concern. I started with my children when the older was a toddler and the younger a baby in arms! Children find fun in doing these ministries in their early years, and the early start will prepare them for the joys of service that will come over a lifetime.