In case you didn’t notice: FALL IS HERE! This is my favorite time of year because change creates a symphony for the senses. The temperature is cooler on our faces, the visuals are a stunning masterpiece painted by our great Creator, and the smell of crackling fires perfume the fall air.
I often stop to gaze at a tree, wondering how God has programmed it to burst into a cacophony of color. As I was looking at a group of trees today, it struck me that the trees do not change for the sake of change. There are a series of factors that trigger the carotenoids and anthocyanins within the leaf. (Hey, I’m a teacher, I have to throw some vocab in!) The glorious mixture of cooler temperatures, less sunlight, and shorter days tell the leaves to begin their descent to the grass. But not before they put on a spectacle for the eyes. Change is triggered by something bigger than the thing itself.
As a small group leader, this truism applies to the lives of our students. Our students don’t experience change unless a series of calculated moves occur first. And while we hope that these moves start in the family, we know that when change is initiated by both parents and small group leaders, BIG change happens. So how can the church create a climate where students want to change and want to be the change in the world? Well, here are a few “colorful” ideas:
Encourage students to serve. The transition from elementary to middle and high school environments is pretty big. Our hope is that students go from being fed on a regular basis to feeding others. But this only happens through serving others. In our church, we encourage all students in grades 6-12 to serve in a ministry in our church. It’s not uncommon to find the guys from my freshman group handing out programs to guests on Sunday morning, or performing as hosts in our elementary environment. My own daughters also serve in our elementary environments. Once a month Grace runs tech and Lily greets families while checking them in. Have the conversation with your students about serving. And don’t forget to keep asking them how they’re doing.
Help students find a place to serve. Discover your students’ interests and talents, and find a place in your church where they can use their gifts for others. If your student has the gift of gab, perhaps helping greet and welcome people is the right fit for them. Maybe your student is all about music and the arts. Does your elementary or preschool ministry need performers? The simple act of service plants a seed that grows into an active faith, which is what sending them out is all about. Plus, serving teaches your students responsibility.
I remember a few weeks back, Grace was noticing that she had two conflicting events on her calendar: warmups for JV basketball and serving in her role on tech. Both of these events were lined up for a Sunday, and a very brief quandary ensued. But she was quick to say that she wanted to serve, so she figured out another way to get ready for basketball tryouts. When service is rooted deep in our students, our students will choose wisely.
Make sure you are serving. From a very early age, my daughters watched my wife and I serve at church. For me, I’ve served in worship arts, welcome ministries, student ministries, and as an elder. It’s important for them to see our faith in action so that they can understand what it looks like to serve others. As your students age, you can even serve together. Serving at a soup kitchen, a Trunk-or-Treat, or other places in your community shows them that you care for others beyond the walls of your church, and creates a habit of service in their own lives. Some of my absolute favorite memories come from when I went on projects with my daughters. Watching their faith come to life through giving to others made my heart swell bigger than any Grinch’s heart!
We cannot hope to send students out to serve unless we as small group leaders and parents provide the right conditions for them to do so. When we encourage them to serve, we create the environment for God to work a masterpiece in his greatest creation: Us. And, dare I say it? The sight of our students serving others is more glorious than any fall-painted tree in creation. It’s a beauty not wrapped in leaves, but in the simple act of putting others first in their lives. Glorious bliss indeed.
By Peter Carpenter