Then and Now Service Learning With Young People

In a microwave world, children and teens can grow to think everything can be done by merely pushing a few buttons. Worse yet, their time on screens has unknowingly taught them that regular dopamine hits from relatively easy successes online should be a fact of real life, too. Yet, serving others can be time consuming, hard work with often little if any of the dopamine hit they are used to getting from winning a video game or getting likes on social media. (Serving others is not always successful or fully appreciated by others, denying young people the expected dopamine rush.)

What if you could tie their service projects to Bible stories and show them what those people had to do to accomplish the same thing? Would the reality check help them see that although serving others can be difficult at times, it’s a lot easier in some ways than it used to be…. and successfully serving others doesn’t have to “feel” good to them in order to please God?

This method of doing service will be slower perhaps than it might normally be, but the process is giving you the time to help them dig deeper mentally, emotionally and spiritually. So how can you design these learning opportunities? Begin by identifying someone in the Bible that served someone in some way. Think about how they were able to do the things they did and how you might be able to simulate a similar experience. Then plan the modern version of a similar project that will actually serve others and point them to God.

For example, look at the story of Dorcas/Tabitha making clothes for the widows. Perhaps you want to have your students make Bible costumes for your children’s ministry or complete some simple sewing project that will help others (We have had upper elementary students work together to make baby quilts for foster children in the past.) After telling the story, explain that without electricity and lots of money and stores, Tabitha had possibly quite a bit of work to do in order to make even one outfit.

Bring in unprocessed cotton and wool. Show them how it was carded and use homemade drop spinners to let them see how thread and yarn were made. Then make simple wooden frame looms and let them experiment with weaving “cloth”. Bring in red cabbage and show them how they would have used natural products to dye the fabric. Finally show them how to hand sew (a skill that may also be useful in the project you’ve chosen for them to complete.) and point out that without sewing machines, the entire garment would have had to be sewn by hand.

Then give them the fabric that has already been woven and dyed and sewing machines to make the project you have chosen. As with any service project, if they can deliver it to the recipients, they will learn a lot more from the experience. While they are working and after the project is finished, have them reflect on how much effort Tabitha had to put in to make one outfit for one widow compared to the relative ease with which they helped multiple people. Explain that serving others is not a competition, but they can learn a lot from Tabitha’s work ethic, patience and perseverance… not to mention her heart for serving others. Have them share their thoughts and what they believe they learned from the experience.

Is it more work than a normal service project? Absolutely. But it gives you the opportunity to frame their service project with scripture, show a continuity of God’s people helping others through thousands of years, teach them a little about the culture in Bible times and possibly teach them new skills like sewing, cooking, woodworking and others they can use in service to God for the rest of their lives. The extra effort on your part can give young Bible students a deeper and richer real life experience that will hopefully encourage them to serve others independently. (Note: Our website has tons of free service project ideas Search under children’s activity ideas for the service category or by Bible story.)

Categories Culture, Elementary, Service, Teens
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