By Julie Hagen
I recently taught the Parable of the Fig Tree to my Sunday school children. I always struggle with this lesson. I don’t like that we never find out if the fig tree makes it or not. Don’t you want to know what happens to the Fig tree? Reflecting on our topic of “Reclaiming The Servants Heart” has helped me gain some insight into what I believe the parable is all about. I hope you have been able to be a part of the Webinars hosted by the Center for FirstThird Ministry. If not, you should at least go back and read the past blogs written by students, pastors, and professors who have much to share with us on the idea of what a servants heart looks like in terms of a mission trip, experience, or journey.
Back to the parable…Our story starts with the owner of the vineyard, who after 3 years of no figs, decides to chop down the tree. The gardener resolves that he give it one more year. You see, we plant the seeds and don’t know where they may land or when the trees will bear fruit. That’s the exciting part of our faith. When the seeds of service are planted in the hearts and minds of children, there is no knowing how big they will grow and how far their hearts will reach. And it doesn’t mean you have to travel to a different culture.
Finding a servant’s heart starts as a child and congregations can become the key place where children discover what it means to serve. Journalist and broadcaster of On Being, Krista Tippet, recently spoke at Luther Seminary and talked about how the church is one of the few places where intergenerational connections are taking place. Congregational service projects allow children to serve alongside parents and adults of all ages. Elders teach skills that will help children as they mature in their faith. They learn a sense of responsibility, seeing the needs in the world and realizing that they are a part of the solution. Even the smallest of actions can inspire a child to continue to live with a servant’s heart.
Here are a few ideas of how children and families can engage in mission experiences that reach out locally and beyond.
Sunday School Offering. If children bring in offering each week, help them make the connection about where their offerings go. Bring in pictures of missions your congregation supports (or better yet, have a person who has participated in that project come and share stories with the children). Help them learn about the partnerships that are being built among people and places locally and internationally. Encourage them as they discover that through their gifts of money and prayers, they are an important part of the mission.
Souper Bowl of Caring. During the weeks surrounding the Super Bowl, collect canned goods and money for a local organization of your choice. Instead of just celebrating how many cans you collected, ask children to help you deliver the cans to the local food shelf. This allows children to tangibly see, what the needs in your community are and what they can do to help.
Offering banks for Word Hunger. It is important to make sure your Hunger box is in a location where everyone can see it every day. Try setting it as the centerpiece of your dining room table. Instead of just throwing loose change in there, make it a part of your dinnertime routine. As you put in some change, talk about the size of your garbage can. What would it take to adjust it to a smaller size and think about ways you can reduce the amount of waste in your household? Or hand wash your dishes once a week. Talk about how you can save electricity and water for a dishwasher and donate that money to your Hunger Bank. As a congregation set a collection timeline (during Lent, Advent, or summer programming).
Family Service Projects. Look at what the needs in your community. Does your congregation support a local soup kitchen? During a day off from school, invite some neighbors and friends to help prepare food. Make sure you carve out extra time to visit with your children about where you are going and how they can pray for the people there. Or visit Feed My Starving Children and help prepare meals for children all over the world before you go out for dinner as a family.
Where do you see seeds being planted in the lives of children? How are they participating in acts of service?
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Julie Hagen works with Lower Elementary children and families at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove. She is a pracitioner on the ground who is a First Third Voice for 2012-2013.