(Second in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
While all schools in North America do some type of service projects with their students, it is in the Christian school that a deeper foundation for service can be laid. At the heart of our beliefs is the truth that, as Jesus’ followers, and out of deep thanksgiving to him for our salvation, we are given a desire by the Holy Spirit to model after him and emulate his life of self-sacrifice (John 21:15-19, Matthew 20:28, Luke 22:27, Phil. 2:7). Simply, if we truly love Christ, we should desire to love others created by him in his image and help to meet their needs. Because we can tie service to our deepest beliefs, we might hope that it has more staying power than something that is done seasonally or as part of high school graduation requirements. Instead, it is our hope that our students seen service modeled and practiced in such a way that it becomes a way of living out one’s faith.
An essential part of helping students learn to serve others is to help them identify the gifts that God has given them. We experience joy when we get to use our “natural wiring.” In order to help students discover more about themselves, they will need to do some projects that flow from their passion areas as well as some that may not be immediately joyful. However, I think we could do a better job of identifying kid’s “wiring” at an earlier age and I commend the listing of the Throughlines concepts (see graphic) as helpful ways of assisting students to see how they are bearing God’s image and how to imagine using that in service to others.
Motivation to serve may be existent in some of our students and not in others. Some children are compassionate and have a high motivation to make a difference because of a personal experience of loss or grief. Others have had parents who built empathy into the life experience of their children or parents who have modeled compassion well. “Feeling-focused discipline” is an approach that turns the child’s attention to the pain caused by the child’s inappropriate behavior. Other specific strategies to build empathy (Johnson, quoted by Stonehouse) include: care for extended family, creation care, connecting hard circumstances of life experienced by people you know, comparing/contrasting different needs/wants of global people groups, and showing hospitality by welcoming others into your home. There are many opportunities for service today and for helping to build that desire into students as a habit.
We must make manifest the vision of Christ for our world in our schools. This vision and our consequent desire to serve is not for profit, for self-advancement, for personal satisfaction, not to win a service award. In the end, a desire to serve and make a difference is rooted in our desire to worship God. Frederick Buechner states it eloquently:
“To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done – run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do – sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what is on your mind and heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.” (Cited in May, Scottie. Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2005.)
We have the opportunity to help students flourish by equipping their heads, hearts, and hands to worship God through serving him and a world in need. What an amazing opportunity and challenge!