A lot of churches think of service projects for young people as ways to keep them out of trouble, keep them busy, or to make them earn their way… If they’ll work, they can get a camp scholarship, or we’ll make a donation to the youth room, etc. There are a couple harmful byproducts of this approach.
1. The service is nearly always tainted with ulterior motives.
“I’ll serve in the clean up day because I need money to go on the ski trip.” Now, I fully agree that an important value to pass on to next generations is to not expect handouts. But it is very easy for students to get the message that if they’ll jump through the right ‘service hoops,’ then the church will ‘bless’ them with assistance. This is a dangerously deceptive attitude that is often projected onto God, leaving students feeling like they have to live a boringly religious life of obligation in order to gain God’s favor. Nothing could be farther from the truth of grace.
2. The church becomes the only place to serve.
Students begin to see service projects as something they do FOR the church. The yards we rake are usually the yards of the older church people. The families we do free babysitting for are usually church families. The garages we clean out are usually owned by church people. We are definitely called to “love one another” in practical ways like this, but if our service stops at the church membership list, we’re missing a vital component of God’s mission to reconcile humanity to Himself.
At WestWay, we want our students to develop a commitment to local service as the church. A comment from Rick Rusaw has really been sticking with me the past couple months. He said that we need to seek to be the best church FOR our communities. That’s what I want for our student ministry. I want our Scottsbluff High School, Gering High School, Bluffs Middle School, Gering Jr. High, Mitchell Jr./Sr. High, and Community Christian School to be better places because our Wind and Water kids are going there to learn AND TO SERVE. (I hope I didn’t leave any of our kids’ schools off the list – Homeschoolers, make your home a better place, too!) We need to see service as something that the church does for the community, not just something we do for ourselves.