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Nurturing a Servant’s Heart in Kids

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Father with son who is holding a hockey stick
©; iStock; XiXin Xing
Encouraging a Christlike heart in our children starts with being authentic in our faith, modeling Christ's love and allowing our children to experience Him. Then they can respond to what He is doing in their lives.

Serving others in the body of Christ doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s a decision – and our lives, and the lives of our children, are the product of that decision.

My book Experiencing God was not merely a curriculum. It was a reflection of how I have tried to live my life – capturing my spiritual perspective and my relationship with God. Because my wife, Marilynn, and I wanted to create a home atmosphere where God had the maximum opportunity to put His hand on our children and use them as He chose, we committed to consistency in our own lives.

What our kids saw and heard as I pastored my church had to be the same as what they saw and heard at home. We aimed to live our lives authentically and as close to Christlikeness as we could, trusting that our example could help foster a Christlike servant’s heart in our children.

Serving my children

As a parent, I have tried to demonstrate my faith to my family and give my problems to God. My family knew the problems we were facing. So when I allowed God to give me His heart and mind, I was able to see things differently. I did this through spending many hours praying for and with my children. My prayer became: “Lord, help me to live transparently, honestly and openly before You in such a way that my children will want to serve the God they see in me.”

Many times my children would get up early and find that I was in prayer, and they knew I was praying for them. This is one way I showed I was serving them. And when I took my problems to God, my kids saw that I trusted Him and His willingness to answer my prayers.

Marilynn and I also watched to see how God was working in the hearts of our children, and we worked to support them in those areas. When my daughter, Carrie, was a teen and had cancer, I looked for what God was doing in her heart – so I would know how to encourage and affirm her. I searched for God’s calling on her life, even though I didn’t know how long that life would be.

During this time, I discovered that Carrie had a heart for stewardship. She believed that God let her live for a specific purpose. So I’ve walked with her in the direction she was called, and she became a career missionary.

Accepting our connectedness

God didn’t make people independent; He made us interdependent. We were made to depend on each other. Our families are one place we can practice this interdependence and service. But each person is an individual and has a tendency to want to do things his own way.

I often think of service in terms of how we can be an encouragement to someone who is struggling. If we can be an inspiration to others, that is our whole ministry – helping people experience God’s fullness whether it is in our family or our community or with people we don’t know. And this is something that kids can get excited about.

This desire to serve others comes from following God’s lead and does not stem from doing our “duty” of service to others. God has made the process easy. Through our interdependence on each other, relationships are built, and we serve each other as the first church served each other.

Asking for help

A second good place for children to practice this interdependence and service is through our churches. If a family needs help and does not ask for it, they are denying God’s people the opportunity to fulfill what they are called to do: to share their burden. Often, it is this humble interdependence on each other that allows God to provide for us.

When one of my sons was rebelling, I realized my wife and I would have a difficult time turning his life around by ourselves, so I looked to other men he admired for help. One of them fixed cars. I asked him, “The next time you are fixing a car, would you invite my son to come and work on it with you? He needs encouragement to walk with the Lord.” Another guy I asked had a powerboat. I knew my son would listen to him. I asked five or six men for their help.

Most were thrilled to come alongside us, and I began to see a difference in my son. When these people later asked us for help, we gladly served them and their families. It’s a beautiful web of interdependence that God has given us that allows us to live authentically with one another, instead of painting a classic “I’m fine, and my family is fine, and we have it all together” picture.

Serving the world together

My children needed to know that my service was not a part of a religious duty but done out of relationship, in response to God and to them. To show this, I always invited them to serve alongside me. I didn’t force them to participate, but I would say, “If you want to, I’d be thrilled to have you join me.”

I deliberately never tried to do anything alone. Even now, I seek to work alongside them. When I do something, I consider which of my children might be the best fit for the task and then ask for their assistance.

As my children learned my heart by being around me, they saw how they should respond to others. My wife and I are blessed because of God’s grace in helping our kids understand what a servant’s heart looks like, and today, they’re living it out in their families.

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