When service to others is at its best, it not only meets the needs of the moment, but also plants seeds of hope for the future. Most every attempt educators and families make to show children how to facilitate change helps children feel others' pain, suffering or loss. Unfortunately, seeing and doing are limited since youngsters have few resources that allow them to act in a Christian service on their own. The occasional or year-long exposure to a worthwhile project certainly helps to meet the needs of the moment and hopefully opens some avenues for future ministry as adults; however, if our true objective is to help children realize service as a lifelong journey, we need to dig deeper and plant with a predetermined idea of what we want to see flourish.
It would seem that if we want children to go into the world with an understanding of how and why caring for and sharing their time, talent, money and possessions defines them as part of the community of believers called to proclaim the teachings of Jesus, then the step-by-step planting, cultivating and harvesting of service needs our full attention. Currently, children are exposed to virtually every tragedy and social ill on a moment-to-moment basis. They are savvy beyond their years, and, most adults fail to realize, far more capable than we permit them to be. There are few social needs of our culture that are hidden from elementary students, not to mention high schoolers. Our unfortunate assumption is that because we talk about social needs, children will suddenly, at the appropriate age, know instinctively what to do to effect change and how to go about it. Exposer to a food drive, visiting a nursing home, or volunteering at a soup kitchen certainly focuses awareness, nonetheless, such activities still leave a void.
Certainly, the objectives found in any religious curriculum highlight and affirm Christian service as an important response to the needs of others. Recognizing that our goal is to make sure children are given the tools to be successful in meeting that objective only reinforces the critical need to plant the seeds at a young age, support the growth, and periodically check to see how deep the root system extends. The real need for a formal, developmentally designed action plan that allows individuals to move through the spectrum of service from the ground up is best summed up by a Chinese proverb: "...what I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand."
How can we be sure that the "why" and "how" of service is deep-rooted as young adults enter the community and world as Christian? The "why" of service can be summed up simply by stating that the expectations of a Christian includes that one assumes a responsibility to minister to all people. Cognitively, most individuals reach an age where that expectation parallels their belief system. Knowing why one should do something, however, places no guarantee that how to do it falls in place. If we, as the teachers, guides, nurturers of service set forth realistic and meaningful experiences that define "how," our goals can be reached; when the hearing and seeing are watered systematically and regularly with doing, the how of service flows a natural growth pattern.