As a fifteen-year missionary overseas, I have had a front-row seat to many storylines where God has used children to accomplish his purpose. As a mother of nine, I know that doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s through intentional parenting our children catch a vision for how God can use them.
Invite children into the ‘sufferings of Christ.
It’s our instinctive nature to put a protective shield around our children. But to cultivate empathy, our children need to see how much love can cost us. Love cost Christ everything and he invites us into that lifestyle, knowing we cannot out-give him. The more we pour out on his behalf, the more he will fill us up. This can be best understood practically when we ask our children to not give their leftovers to God (broken toys, outgrown clothes). Instead invite them to pay a bit of the cost, (sacrificing a birthday gift, giving up an afternoon) believing the short term ‘pain’ will reap in their character a long-term benefit.
Service is a three-step process: look, listen and offer.
We can teach our children to see what they have in their hands (resources, gifts, relationships) and listen for whom God is putting on their heart. Then simply bridge the two. When I talk to children about missions, I explain my heart for orphans as a ‘burr under my saddle’. I can’t sit still or comfortable when I think about parentless children. It compels me to act. I ask what it makes them feel uncomfortable (a lonely child in their classroom, hungry people, a neighbor’s story) and share how that is a piece of God’s heart, deposited in them. All they need to do is offer what they have to those they see. Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.”
Teach children about the exchange.
Service is not a one-way street, in the end, that kind of giving creates dependency with those we want to reach and gives a false sense of accomplishment for children. We have so much more to offer than our money and goods. One of the biggest barriers to adult serving is the disbelief they have something to offer. We have a chance to model for our children everyone has a listening ear, a smile, counsel, company, education, the list goes on and on. Dropping off toys or sending in checks is one step, but alone it won’t cultivate a missions’ heart in your child (or in you!)
Model for them your own relationship with the lost world.
Show them the world is bigger than your family. When we make all our efforts, resources, and time be about the maintaining and growing up of our own kingdoms, we miss out on how God might want to enrich our life with missions storylines.
Start with the teachable moment, rather than the long devotional.
World issues and injustices can creep into our everyday conversations. While you are driving, or at the dinner table, have a matter of fact discussion that, for example, a billion people on the planet don’t have clean water. Maybe mix their water at dinner with a little ice tea powder, so it looks ‘dirty’. Make sure you are the dispenser of these facts. They will learn the truth eventually, it’s better to frame it, then have to later react to it.
If we introduce our children to people, not causes, we will awaken the relational nature God stamped into our hearts. We can then listen together as families to the Storyweaver as He writes our next chapters and uses us to share his love to others.