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Cultivating a life of service

Even kids can learn to give back 

By J.L. Martin

You have probably heard it said: “Youth are the church of tomorrow.” I disagree. I believe that children and youth are the church today. When we make statements like the one above, we give our young people an “out” from what God has called each of us to do. We offer middle school and high school students opportunities to serve and to go on mission trips. What about our children? Do we think they are too young to serve?

One of my most rewarding ministry times is when our children are given the opportunity to serve others. This happens at Hesston MB Church (HMBC) in several ways. Probably the most common is our monthly service projects for 5th and 6th grade students. As I prayed and studied this age group, I realized that this group is at a great stage of development. They are moldable, are seeking who they are and are discerning their gifts. So I decided to give them a wide range of service projects, giving them the chance to give back in practical ways.

Service projects for 5th graders and older:

· Raking leaves for the elderly.
· Delivering Valentines and playing games with residents at the nursing home.
· Cleaning and completing various projects at a homeless shelter.
· Preparing boxes for Operation Christmas Child and school kits for Mennonite Central Committee.
· Work projects around the church.

Wondering if this was chaotic? We have a large group, but they were so engaged and excited when they had the opportunity to serve that it went smoothly. We have received many cards and emails from the people we served that talk about the maturity of this group and the hope they have in the future. You might expect our midweek attendance to decrease because of the service projects, but it has remained consistent.

What about service projects for younger children? I have a four-year-old daughter. Can she serve too? Absolutely! I have been blessed by how God has used families to serve at HMBC. Each quarter, I plan at least one family service project. These are geared to children of all ages and their parents or grandparents. You have to be a little more creative with the younger children, but they also have done some great service projects.

Service projects for 4th grade and younger:

· MCC kits.
· Clean up at local schools.
· Cards and caroling at a nursing home.
· Taking the offering or serving in other ways during worship services.
· Church workdays.
· City work projects; we painted playground equipment and cleaned up local parks.
· Scavenger hunts collecting food for local food banks.

I challenge families and church leaders to look for opportunities for children to serve at a young age. We expose our kids to sports and academics at younger and younger ages. What would happen if we developed a heart of service at a younger age too? I think we would see our churches, communities and world dramatically impacted for the better. 

Let’s help our children experience and understand Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

J.L. Martin is pastor of children and family at Hesston (Kan.) MB Church.

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