by Lisa Mitchell Hodo
“Paying it forward” has become a common theme in the United States today. From Disney’s volunteer program to the movies, TV shows and even cartoons, we are being challenged to make a difference in the lives of others. In a congregational meeting in my church last Sunday, it was interesting to note that the main topics of discussion were not only the church budget, which might be expected, but all of the upcoming ministry and service opportunities available to participate in.
Financial issues are a common theme today as we all, professionally and personally, are dealing with a tough economy. But interestingly enough, ministry and service opportunities also seem to be an issue that many people, in churches and other settings, are considering and getting involved in. In this time of deep recession, people are not only tightening their own belts but also realizing that others are truly struggling. We are seeing so many ways to minister to others and help make a difference in their lives. And it is not just adults that are doing so. Teens and children as young as four or five years old are also participating in service projects.
As Christians, we label this choice “missions” and “outreach.” We may also call it “Paying it upward”. We are reaching out to others, through the love of Christ, to make a difference in their lives spiritually and physically – not just for the present, but for the eternal future.
When we think of missions, we often think of going to another country to share the gospel; but the Bible also tells us to look out for the needs of the hurting among us (Matthew 25:31-46). And the exciting reality is that our kids today can make a difference in both ways, sharing the gospel with others and also reaching out to others to help with their physical needs.
In our church the children and their families are encouraged to participate in several community outreach programs throughout the year. At Christmas the children are challenged to get involved in the Angel Tree Project, which impacts the lives of children who have one or both parents incarcerated, by purchasing them Christmas gifts. As a children’s department, we raise the money to provide some of the requested gifts, but our kids are also invited to attend the Birthday Party for Jesus that we hold for the Angel Tree families so we can build bridges and, hopefully, make new friends.
Another ministry opportunity the children love, which has become a church-wide tradition, is our Valentine’s Day Outreach to the local nursing home. On the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day, the children prepare a simple lunch for the whole church to share and then we all make as many valentines as we can in an hour. These valentines are beautifully decorated with encouraging sayings such as: “You are loved by God”, “Jesus loves you”, “You are precious” and more. Then the children take the valentines to the nursing home and pass them out personally to the residents.
It has been so precious to see little ones as young as four holding out their hands and giving valentines to the residents and wishing them a Happy Valentine’s Day. One year one of the residents asked two of our fifth graders to pray with him, and they were thrilled to do so. Another year one of the residents refused a valentine, which confused seven-year-old Kendall. But we explained to him that sometimes people are hurting and do not know how to receive love, so we should pray for them. One resident had us all in tears as she said that ours was the first valentine she had ever received. Each year this activity is one of my favorite ministry moments, as I see children reaching out and making a difference.
Around Easter each year, the children are taught how to use a simple gospel tool, such as the Wordless Book or the Flipper Flapper (CEF), and are then encouraged to share the gospel with their friends at school, a sports events and at home. One year Kyle (fourth grade) said, “Miss Lisa, I have ten of these Wordless Books at home; I don’t think I need another one.” I was able to challenge him to get rid of all of the books by sharing them with his friends at school. The next Sunday he came back beaming as he told us that he had taken the books to school and led two of his friends to Christ in the library.
Another young lady, Kayla (sixth grade), held a lunchtime Bible study at her school and shared the Wordless Books with all her friends so that they could hear the gospel. This activity was especially endearing as Kayla is shy, but her heart wanted to make a difference.
Fun Friday, a monthly two-hour outreach event, was started at our church to provide opportunities for kids to invite their friends to a casual church event filled with games, yummy snacks, crafts and a cool gospel presentation. This activity made it easier for our church kids to share the gospel with their friends of other religions and those who professed no religion.
Another major outreach our kids have gotten involved with are the After School Bible Clubs we are now conducting in many of the local public schools (yes, it is legal!). We mapped out all the local elementary schools and began praying that we could start a Bible Club at all four, which are in walking distance of our church. Through the ministry of the local chapter of CEF and Let It Shine Ministries, we are now in all four schools. Each week after school our church helps to conduct a one-hour Bible Club for the students in one of their classrooms. Many of the same things we do in Sunday School and Children’s Church are included in the Bible Club.
The kids who attend love it! In some of our clubs we have more than a hundred students attending each week. It is a wonderful way for our church to expand its outreach and for our children to invite their friends to a Bible-centered event with a gospel message. It gives them an opportunity to come to know Christ, be discipled and, in an increasing number of cases, begin attending church with their families! I have often felt that a quiet revival is occurring; it just isn’t all happening inside the church walls.
One sixth grader, Taylor, was frustrated because his friends wouldn’t participate in any events held at the church. He was very concerned for them to know Christ. Together he and I decided to hold an off-campus After School Bible Club near their school. A friend from church who worked close by allowed us to hold the club in her office once a week. I had no idea what to expect, but to my amazement, the first week we had fifteen sixth-grade boys pile into the office to participate in our Bible club! This activity lasted the entire school year, and many of the boys prayed to receive Christ.
Finally, we reach out to others through our Homeless Ministry. Each year our church hosts the homeless for one week as part of a cold-weather ministry sponsored by many of the local churches in our city. The children provide dessert, and the parents and other adults help them make up personal toiletry bags for each person attending. We have had some great prayer times for the people we have served as well as moments of profound gratitude to God for the blessing of being able to share what we have been given.
These are just some of the ways that the children in our church are “Paying it upward.” We are always looking for new ways to make a difference for God’s kingdom. If you look around and pray, you will quickly find needs you can meet and ways to reach out to others in the name of Christ. And children can and will make a difference if helped and encouraged to.
I firmly believe that if children can overcome their natural fear and begin reaching out, they will keep on doing so when they grow up. I also believe that true spiritual growth cannot happen without service. Once we are saved, we are challenged by Christ to be of service to others, to have opportunities where his love within us can freely flow through us. Children and adults are looking for places where they can serve and feel needed and valued. They want to be sure they are making a difference. So this holiday season and into the New Year, find some ways for the kids in your life and church to “pay it upward.” There truly is no greater joy or reward!
Lisa is the Children’s Pastor at East Whittier Friends Church in Whittier, California and also the founder and director of Let It Shine Ministries, a ministry dedicated to Teaching Children and Training Teachers. She has been in Children’s Ministry for almost thirty years and still loves every minute of her time with the kids. Lisa is married to Tom and they have a happy five year old named Desean. Connect with Lisa by email: [email protected]