Service projects are a great way to help young people begin to put together the pieces of their faith that will create their Christian life. Unfortunately, some of ways we serve others leaves young people as confused as ever about what God really wants from them when they attempt to serve Him.
One of the changes we need to begin making is helping our students better understand the people whom they are serving. Often, service is rushed. We want to finish the project so the people are helped, our young people grow spiritually and we can get back to our lives. When we rush though, often the only thing we actually do well is getting back to our own lives.
There are three basic questions you need to help students answer as they begin serving another person or groups of people.
- Who are the people we are serving? You may assume your students understand homelessness or being elderly and alone. Often though, our students know little if anything about those they are serving. They just know they were given a task to complete and completing it seems to make everyone happy. Taking the time to help them understand who these people are helps. What helps even more is when students have a chance to have meaningful interactions with them. True empathy is not just learning about our differences, but also learning what we have in common. Your students also need to appreciate that those they serve may have important things to teach them, too.
- Why are we serving them? Terms like “poor” or “lonely” are actually subjective. I have met young people from extremely wealthy families who genuinely believed they were poor because they didn’t have as many things as someone else at their posh private school. Numbers don’t necessarily help either. If you have never had to go grocery shopping on a budget, the fact that someone only has $X to spend has little meaning for you. Activities where students are put in scenarios trying to live life as those they serve do can help them have a slightly better understanding as to why your church has chosen to serve these particular people.
- What is the best way to serve these people? Sometimes what people think they want is not what is best for them. And sometimes what we think is in their best interest has no helpful value to them at all. Teaching students how to ask respectful questions, listen well and do meaningful research will increase the likelihood your group is serving in ways that actually help. Don’t forget that one of the goals of our good deeds is to point others to God. Make sure your students have some concrete ways they can share their faith as they serve others.
There are other changes we need to begin making as we serve others with our young people. Addressing these three questions though can make a huge positive difference when young people serve others – both for those they serve and for themselves.