Working through our kids’ natural gifts

My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.

Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.

“Organized chaos” at bedtime

“Organized chaos” may be the best way to describe our family’s bedtime routine. With six kids ages 2-11 (two girls and four boys), there’s bound to be noise. But we have a consistent routine that works for us. 

The routine 

When we finish supper around 6:15, the kids are dismissed to do their evening jobs. Depending on their age, they tidy the playroom, wash bathroom counters, load the dishwasher, or start a load of laundry. Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen while nagging —ahem—encouraging kids to finish their chores. 

Around 6:30, my husband gets our toddler ready for bed and reads him a Bible story from My First Bible* by Kenneth N. Taylor. After good-night songs and a prayer, our toddler goes to bed.  

After the older kids finish their jobs, they change into pajamas, brush their teeth, and gather in the living room for an evening devotion. 

We pile on our two couches, and my husband reads the Bible story. Currently we’re re-reading the excellent book Family Time.* After the reading we discuss the story, sing our good-night hymns, say our good-night prayer, and give hugs and kisses. The kids head upstairs. 

By this time it’s around 7 or 7:15 p.m. Our 4-year-old goes right to bed. The big kids (ages 6 and up) are allowed to read or play quietly in their rooms until 8. After that, it’s lights out.  

I suppose the big kids could stay downstairs and read or play until 8. But to both preserve my sanity and give me quiet time to work on my at-home business, the early bedtime is a good fit for our family. 

Variations 

  • On Saturdays, we go around the room as each family member offers a personal prayer.
  • When we have a nursing baby, I feed him/her while my husband handles the evening routine himself. Unless he’s at a meeting—then it’s pure chaos while I try to juggle it all.
  • At different periods we’ve had two separate Bible story times—one for the big kids and one for the littles. We have found that our 2- and 3-year-olds don’t do as well with the whole family Bible story because they need more focused attention and a story written at their level.
  • When we’re out late at an evening event, we do our Bible story and songs in the car on the way home. Then the kids can go right to bed when we arrive home.
  • Currently, instead of singing our regular good-night hymns, the kids take turns choosing from a songbook that I typed and printed. It includes familiar hymns as well as all the hymns they’ll be expected to memorize at school.

Challenges 

Our routine is great on paper, but real life often intrudes. As the kids get ready for bed, the toddler has a meltdown, siblings squabble in the bathroom, or someone remembers that there’s a paper for me to sign for school the next day. During their quiet time, kids argue about whose turn it is with a book, our kindergartner is upset because his older siblings won’t play a game with him, or the older kids come downstairs to tattle . . . one right after the other. 

Even in the rough moments, I’m learning to remember that it’s a blessing and privilege to serve the little souls right in my house—to forgive them, love them, and exercise patience with them. I thank God for the joy and privilege of raising his lambs! 

Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wisconsin. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. She recommends her family’s favorite Bible story books at themeasuredmom.com/favorite-childrens-bible-story-books/

 

*Available at nph.net 

Treasured bedtime prayers and hymns

When our oldest child was a baby, we established a bedtime routine of stories, prayers, and hymns.  

We have a set of four prayers that we speak or sing each night. We speak “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” sing stanzas two and three of “Now the Light Has Gone Away” (Christian Worship [CW] 593), sing a bedtime prayer that has been used by at least two generations in my family, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. This was my childhood bedtime routine, and I’m happy that it is being passed down to my own children. 

After these nightly prayers, everyone gives good-night hugs and kisses to one another, and then my husband or I tuck our two littlest children into their beds and sing them a hymn. Some favorites have been “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep” (CW 436), “Children of the Heavenly Father” (CW 449), and “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” (CW 432).  

Sometimes we sing songs that match the seasons of the church year. Last fall, we often sang all four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (CW 200 and 201). The kids quickly memorized the entire hymn, and they joyfully sang along at the Reformation services we attended. At Christmastime, we often sing “Away in a Manger” (CW 68). Our three-year-old daughter loves “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (CW 61), while our five-year-old son’s favorite is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” (CW 152). Now they request those hymns all year long! 

As our children have gotten older, we’ve added a new tradition after our nightly bedtime prayers. We help the kids to create their own prayers. We ask them to share things for which they’re thankful and think of people for whom to pray. Then we put their thanks and requests into a prayer. As the children have gotten older, we encourage them to think of and speak their own prayers. Then, my husband and I also add our own prayers.  

Sometimes the kids’ prayers reflect their age. After a Christmas of Frozen-themed gifts, our youngest daughter thanked Jesus for her Frozen castle, water bottle, and suitcase—for three months! But as they’ve grown, we have seen them learn to recognize that people around them need prayers. Our children pray for family members or friends who are hurting and people affected by disasters in the world. They also thank God for blessings big and small. 

Busy family schedules sometimes keep all of us from participating in bedtime routines every night. So, we try to find a little time to connect with them every evening on a meaningful level before they go to bed. It doesn’t always work, but it is our goal. We hope that the habits we’ve established with our bedtime routine will last throughout our children’s lives, and they will create a bedtime routine for their children that helps them to pass on the faith too. 

Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 3 to 13.  

What legacy will you leave your children?

Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  

Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 

Kids and cell phones: What’s right for you?

Disclosure alert . . . my husband and I are definitely not the poster parents when it comes to cell phones and kids. In fact, I originally declined writing this article because we have made so many mistakes along the way—it’s embarrassing! But if someone had laid it all out when we were having the whole “I need a phone” conversation with our first child, who is now 18, I’m pretty sure we would have done things differently.  

It’s true. The pressure is huge for kids to get a phone. All of their friends have them, and as a parent, you see it as a way to keep them safe. But be cautious—once you enter this realm, there is no going back. Be over-prepared in this journey and plan it out. Here are just a few things we have learned along the way with our kids and their phones. 

 Start with the basics 

Back when we were kids, no one had cell phones. Today, if we forget our phone at home, it’s like we have lost a limb. That feeling of safety and convenience when your child has a phone is undeniable. But do they really need a smartphone? A basic cell phone really can be sufficient, especially when they are in grade school.  

I’ll be honest—we fell into the trap of “everyone has a smartphone at this age,” thinking it must be the right thing to do. I wish we could go back and start our children off with a basic cell phone. Sometimes I think parents are just as worried about fitting in as their kids are. Try not to let the crowd decide what is best for you and your family.  

 Set limits 

Phones truly do become a huge part of our kids’ lives, so you need to know and own this fact: YOU are the one that needs to be the enforcer of limits. Before you purchase a phone, sit down and think through exactly how much phone/screen time your child should have, and then make that happen. Be intentional. Tons of apps are available that limit screen time. OurPact (ourpact.com) is one that a friend recommended to us. It can block Internet and app usage on your child’s phone and set a schedule for activities like school, dinnertime, or bedtime. Also, take the phone out of their room at night—even if they tell you they need it for their morning alarm (yes, we hear that one all the time). 

Personally set limits on your phone/screen time. Consistently take time to do meaningful things with your kids that don’t involve technology. It’s amazing how different we are as a family when phones are put away and we are playing games without that constant distraction. 

 Social media 

Snapchat, group rooms, Instagram . . . these are lifelines for our kids. It’s the way they stay connected with each other, but it can also be a place where they can get seriously torn down. It is crazy what kids will write on social media sites that they would never think about saying in person. Remind your kids that what they write on those sites is there for all to read . . . potentially forever. And if you don’t think they are ready to be on these sites, stand your ground—even when their friends claim they have to be on a particular site for their “group project.” They’ll find a different way to connect. 

Okay, so yes, you probably will end up getting your child a smartphone. It’s the world we live in. But my biggest piece of advice for you is to have a plan, and, of course, pray that God will guide you in this huge growing-up process for your child. This little piece of technology has the potential to change your child’s life in a big way—so make sure you do everything you can to make it positive. 

Ann Zuleger and her husband, Matt, have four children—Zachary, 18; Faith, 16; Isaiah, 13; and Ellis, 10.  

Kids and cell phones: One family’s experience

Parenting sure has changed! I remember a two-week trip abroad as a high school junior. My parents heard via one very quick and expensive phone call that I’d reached Germany, but the only other communication was a postcard arriving after I’d returned to Wisconsin. Now I worry if my high school junior doesn’t text me that she made it to her babysitting job 10 miles away.  

On the plus side, cell phones provide a quick and easy way to check up on our kids, make plans or adjustments to plans, send a picture of the puppy to the one away at college, or ask for someone to please pick up more milk. Bible verses on a stressful day or an “I love you!” randomly sent are wonderful ways to use this technology. 

 Our family policies 

Although every family is unique, eighth-grade graduation is the time when our children receive their first cell phone. Once in a while there’s a free bonus month, but the kids pay the monthly service fees themselves. And, besides reminders about Christian conduct, general encouragements like “No phones at the table,” and an expectation that a timely response is necessary if Mom or Dad texts or calls, we don’t really monitor their phone use. This seems to have worked, but I wondered what the three kids, ages 22, 20, and 17, who currently have phones, and the 13-year-old, who doesn’t yet, thought of our family policies? 

On waiting until eighth-grade graduation for their first phone, our kids all agreed it was fine. “For our situation, it was just right because that way we wouldn’t get caught up in social media until we were a little more responsible and we would entertain ourselves in other ways. In some cases it might be better to get it earlier if that particular family member needs to be able to communicate for rides and stuff when they are younger.” 

On our relaxed phone rules, all four said there aren’t any other policies we should have that we don’t: “It is good for us because we have built a trust bond so you can rely on us to be smart with them. Some kids do need a feeling of being watched over their shoulder or else they will do really dumb stuff.” And, “As a parent, you should be able to trust that you raised your kids to be responsible enough to make good decisions.” 

As for paying their service fees: “Nothing in life is free, so it’s good to learn basic responsibilities like paying for a phone.” Another commented, “It makes you think that it is a privilege that you’ve earned not just something given to you,” but “younger kids should not have to pay for it because their parents are the ones giving it to them as a necessity.” (I would also like to add that no one has lost their phone for longer than a few minutes, which seems to be somewhat of a rarity these days and perhaps due to the fact that these kids are paying their own way.) 

 Some positives and negatives 

I also asked, “Did a cell phone change you or your life?” One said, “It did not change me, but it changed my life. It made it easier to contact friends for homework help or just to socialize.” Another mentioned, “[A cell phone] definitely came with negative and positive changes. A lot of the time I overuse my phone when I could be doing something else or talking person to person instead. You’re oftentimes so worried about what everyone else is doing that you don’t take advantage of what you have in front of you. Social media tends to warp your mind and make you ungrateful, but on the other hand, it can also be simple entertainment.” One also commented on useful apps like GPS and managing his bank account, but says, “It can take too much of your time or [lead to] spending money because of wanting the newer or better thing.” One other note from the child who admits to being rather “anti-phone”: “I don’t have an excuse for not knowing certain things or being ‘off the grid.’ ”  

So, friends, there you have it! Not necessarily the definitive guide to parenting in the cell phone age, but, at least, what has worked for us. May God bless our families as we use the tools at our disposal to raise our blessings in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  

Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 22 to 13. Their oldest son, David, shared his thoughts about cell phones in this article titled “Don’t let your cell phone run your life.” 

Don’t let your cell phone run your life

As a 22-year-old, soon to be college graduate, the day I got my first phone seems so long ago. The thing is, I can still remember that moment, as the moment I finally caught up to all of my friends. As a seventh and eighth grader, I can still remember the jealousy I had whenever I would see my friends using their phones to communicate with friends or family. (And they only had flip phones back then, I can’t imagine the agony I would have been in if they all would have had smartphones!) My family has always had a rule, and they have kept to it for all four children, that no one gets a phone until after eighth grade. Growing up, I hated that rule, but looking back, I think that rule was fair and necessary.

Our world is so technologically driven, and much of it starts and ends with phones. It is important that there is a line drawn between freedom and control when it comes to parents and monitoring their kids’ phone use. My parents did not have any strict rules regarding phones besides no phones at the table or at places like church, and I think that was necessary. It is important to trust your kids with their phones and to not be too overbearing. Kids should be able to make decisions for themselves regarding phone use, but at times I think almost everyone gets to a point where phone use becomes too prevalent.

With all the communication and social media phones are capable of nowadays, it is very easy to be constantly wrapped up in your phone. Teenagers and college-aged individuals are so interested in what everyone else is up to they often think they need to check their phones so they don’t miss out on a social opportunity.

I feel that throughout my time as a phone user, I have often become too interested with my phone. Recently, I have begun to limit the amount of time I spend using it, and I try to be more focused on the activity I am doing or on the people that I am around. I think it is also important to try to do that with teenagers, who tend to take for granted everything they have in front of them. Stress that they focus more on the task at hand or the moment than their phones. Whether they’re having family time, doing homework, or attending a public event, it is important that they spend more time in the moment than on their phone. There are so many things that can come from leaving your phone behind, it is important that everyone does that every now and then. Phones are a fun and entertaining blessing, but they can also be a hindrance at times and it is important that everyone from adults to kids understands that and keep themselves from spending too much time wrapped up in their phones.

David Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minn., and a student at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. Read the article his mom, Ann Ponath, wrote titled “Kids and cell phones: One family’s experience.” 

 

Balancing strength and gentleness

Teaching our kids to find a balance between strength and gentleness is tough, because there’s a tension, isn’t there? On the one hand we’d like to see our kids strong—leaders making use of their gifts. On the other hand we want them to understand the value of gentleness—a humility, putting others first.  

As Christians we know to look to God’s Word for answers, and what we find is very satisfying. Whether we’re talking about the strength side of the scale or the gentleness side, it’s not about us; it’s about God. That takes the pressure off. 

For example, a child who is strong in an area tends to gain a level of notoriety. If the child takes credit for the strength, there is a lack of gentleness toward other children who don’t have that strength. There is an unspoken condescension, a misunderstanding that she somehow achieved things on her own to be better than other kids. God’s Word tells us that our talents and abilities are gifts from God, and it is God who should receive the glory. A child who properly understands this can be strong and gentle, humbly thanking God for opportunities, and acknowledging that other kids, through their own strengths or even weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), are equally blessed with opportunities to glorify God. 

A child’s acts of gentleness can also be flawed. He may figure that niceness should earn him niceness in return. If that doesn’t happen, the child might decide there is no longer any advantage to being nice. The Bible teaches that since God has shown us undeserved love in forgiving our sins against him through Jesus, we are called by God to show love to friends and enemies alike. A child who properly understands this can be gentle and strong, showing the grace of God even in the face of resistance. 

As parents it’s beneficial to regularly be in God’s Word ourselves and with our kids to really grasp God’s strength as well as his grace and how it affects our lives. The Bible is full of good examples, but perhaps the best place to start is with Jesus himself, our perfect model of strength and gentleness. His Sermon on the Mount offers a great perspective.  

Remember how it felt to be kids dealing with social pressures? We can pray that God through his Word would help us relieve our kids’ stresses by teaching them that they aren’t alone when it comes to demonstrating strength and gentleness. Rather, God through Jesus has blessed us with the privilege of sharing his strength and gentleness with others. 

Adam Goede and his wife, Stephanie, have four children ranging in age from 5-12.  

Reflecting God’s love begins with grace

As a mom of five, I admit to times of spiritual and physical exhaustion when I barely reflect God’s love to my own family, let alone my community. This seems like an overwhelming task, and the last thing you or I need is one more item on our to-do lists. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that when I get stressed out about the things I have to do, he reminds me of what he’s already done. In order to reflect God’s love to your community, first reflect on God’s love for you.

As a parent, I see the best and worst parts of myself and my husband mirrored in our kids. They pick up on all of our sins—ones we’ve fought for years and new ugly sins that might have remained dormant had we not signed up for this lifetime tour of parenting. Can you relate? Has raising little sinner-saints unearthed any ugliness in your heart? One of my sweetest friends confided to me with wide eyes, “I had no idea I struggled with anger or fits of rage before I became a mom!” Bless her heart!

Mom, Dad, your parenting sins are gone. Empty tomb-gone. Drowned in the baptismal font-gone. This daily washing of rebirth and renewal is crucial. We cannot hope to pour out to the people around us without first filling up on grace.

Just as our kids are always copying us, parents need a model to follow. Who better than the sinless Son of God? How did Jesus engage his community? Before completing his redeeming work, the Bible tells us he wept, he showed compassion, and he retreated to quiet places.

Jesus wept. New tragedies come at us every week. Terror, bloodshed, self-worship, injustice, and disaster fill my newsfeed. It is tempting to squeeze my eyes shut and hide the horror from my kids. Instead, we open our eyes and weep. We talk through the news at a level their maturity can handle, and we pray through the pain.

Jesus showed compassion. The thing about living in a sin-darkened world is that it doesn’t take much light to make a big difference. Consider the impact of scheduling buffer time for everyday errands like trips to Walmart and the gas station, and asking God to send someone messy your way who needs the gospel. Messy people are everywhere, but we normally give them wide berth. A big reason for that is we have no margin in our schedules for interruptions.

How many miracles happened when Jesus was on his way to another town, and then he interrupted his journey to show compassion? I bet there was at least one disciple shaking his head and saying, “Jesus, we don’t have time for this.” I hear those voices, too. But may this one be louder: “God, I don’t want to miss your divine interruptions just so I can get my milk and bananas home faster!” Lending a hand to messy people, listening to their stories, or sharing the message of Jesus takes a few minutes, but at the end of the day, don’t you want your minutes to count for something with eternal impact?

Finally, Jesus retreated to quiet places. For those of you in the trenches of toddlerhood or teen angst, this is just a metaphor. There are no actual quiet places for you right now. Ha! But if you have a teammate in this parenting thing, you can create places of rest and Sabbath for each other. Encourage one another to rediscover what the Message calls “the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30). What recharges your spiritual batteries? Jesus would go up on a mountainside to pray. Whatever your mountainside looks like, help each other get there to recharge frequently.

Parenting articles are usually filled with tips and tricks, but reflecting God’s love to our community can’t be boiled down to catchy pull-quotes. It starts and ends with soaking in the grace that Jesus won for us. We ask for God’s eyes to see his hurting children. We lay the idol of our busyness on the altar. We recharge and repeat in the unforced rhythms of grace. By God’s grace, our kids will pick up on that, too.

Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Ariz., with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.

Cultivating a mission heart in children

These are my five ways to cultivate a mission heart in children.

1. Build awareness: When I was a young child (think three years old), I thought that everyone knew and believed in Jesus. As I grew older, the reality that a kind neighbor, relative, or friend in my small world didn’t believe was heart boggling. What did that mean for them?

When children learn that not everyone believes in Jesus, they can feel sad. We have the opportunity to build them up. We know Jesus and the comfort that God our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

That knowledge comes with an opportunity. God gives us—young and old—the privilege to share the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Romans 10:13,14 says, “ ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

It is such a joy to witness children sharing their faith! They talk about Jesus with their neighbor, the hurt child at the playground, or even the cashier at the store. When children learn that they carry the powerful good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with them, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves.

2. Be an example: Children imitate what they see more than what they are told. As we consider how to cultivate a mission heart in young ones, we first need to discern our own heart.

  • Do we hold Jesus as our own example to follow?
  • Do we view lives from an earthly perspective or an eternal one?
  • Do we believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ in whatever job or role we have?
  • Are we willing to make personal sacrifices (time, comfort, materials) for the good of others?
  • Do we treat and speak about others who are different from us with compassion and respect?

When I was a young teen, my dad asked me to accompany him on his guitar for the new Spanish worship services at our church. At the time, I did not want to share my time or talents, but out of reluctant obedience I agreed. God certainly reached more than the Spanish-speaking believers who walked through the door. He changed my heart as I watched families strengthened in their faith with others in worship and got to know them personally.

Now I greatly treasure that experience. My dad not only encouraged me to serve others but also took me by the hand and led me by his example. He still does. Thank you, Dad!

As 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

3. Use resources: There are many different tools that can cultivate a mission heart in children:

  • Read and talk about God’s Word. This is where children learn their own need for a Savior and see that the entire Bible points to Jesus as their risen hero who has won eternal life by grace for them. The Spirit strengthens their faith, knowledge, and heart through the Word to share the gospel.
  • Learn about past missionaries, persecuted Christians, and martyrs throughout history from books, magazines, videos, and audio books. You can start with Jesus (of course!), the disciples, Saul/Paul, Polycarp, John Huss, and Martin Luther.
  • Pray for missionaries and persecuted Christians who are alive today. We have missionaries in East Asia, South Asia, and other places. Their work is often difficult. Make a list of their names, print off their pictures as reminders, and bless them as a family. Consult the World Mission office of our synod for assistance (414-256-3234 or bwm@wels.net). Children can be pen pals with mission children from a different country or in orphanages. The opportunities to serve others in your own community and abroad are many. Your family can help stuff meal bags or help pick out food for the hungry when you go grocery shopping. They can even share hope with a child whose parents are in prison.

4. Take a trip: Consider taking your family on a mission trip. Often when family vacations are planned, they are purposed to serve ourselves with entertainment and rest. There is nothing wrong with taking a family vacation. But consider how your family can grow closer to each other and closer to God when your vacation has a greater purpose than yourselves.

When I think back to family vacations, I remember a variety of bad attitudes that would creep up—entitlement, bickering over small issues, and discontentment. Serving others can cause little ones to see the needs of others as well as their own. What if we considered taking our time—yes, even our vacation time—and using it to serve others and our Lord?

5. Serve at home: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary! Look in your backyard, your community, or elsewhere in your state and discuss with your children ways that you can reach others with the gospel in words and action. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Often Christians are criticized when it comes to helping others in need because we’d rather send a check than get our hands dirty. But you can go out and be a testimony of Jesus’ love by how you treat others.

Who are the weak, poor, or neglected in your community? Is there an elderly neighbor who could use help with lawn care? Is there a population of homeless that can be intentionally served by your family? Are there any recent immigrants that could use a helping hand? Is there a women’s shelter in need of donations? Include your children! They may complain at first, but they will see how God can use not just their money but also their time to bless others.

Your home is an excellent place to welcome and serve others with hospitality. These opportunities can be big or small—invite a new guest at your church over for dinner, hold a Bible study, host an international student, allow a family member in need to live with you, plan a play date for the young families on your block, or (on a grander scale) have a block party for the neighbors. You’ll find out that they are just as weird and uniquely made as you. Food brings people together!

Let’s give others true food that never leaves them empty: “ ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ ” (John 6:33-35).

Jesus brings believers together eternally.

Amanda Rose and her husband, Frank, have four young children and live in Kingston, Wisconsin.

 This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog with “chatter that matters” for women of all ages.