“My son has more opportunities to serve through Boy Scouts than he does at our church.”
“My daughter has learned more about building relationships with homeless people through her school’s required community service than she has through our high school ministry.”
I have heard these statements repeatedly from parents across the nation. Whether it’s through Scouts or a service club at school, kids often have their most meaningful service experiences outside of the church.
On the one hand, it’s good for students to grasp that God’s love and grace flow through all sorts of channels. On the other hand, I believe that the best hope for our world is the Church.
I yearn for the day when we as the church are known for what we are for instead of what we are against. I pray that the long list of “what the church is for” includes remarkable Christ-centered care for the least, the last, and the lost.
Of all principles in The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, this one is the hardest for our family to live out. Our church has many, many strengths, but engaging families in service locally or globally isn’t one of them.
So together with our kids, Dave and I have picked some low-hanging fruit from the family service tree. Most summers, our kids do a special fundraiser for a ministry we choose. (One year our kids raised $733 selling brownies and Rice Krispies treats to friends; that’s a lot of sugar exported from our kitchen.) We sponsor a child in India through a monthly donation. Every once in a while we take our kids shopping so they can use their own money to fill a Christmas shoebox or participate in a food drive. But in the fabric of our family’s life, those events feel more like nubs of yarn than like threads that weave their way through our priorities. Unlike every other area of our research, when I speak at conferences and churches about our Sticky service findings, I usually talk about other families instead of my own.
You might think that makes me a hypocrite.
You are probably right. There is a degree of hypocrisy in urging families to hop on the service highway when my own family is only about two-thirds down the on-ramp. But hopefully my disclosure of our family’s slow headway will lift any self-condemnation you may be feeling. We are all in process. If Sticky Faith is a marathon, there will be some laps that you’ll feel you’re making good time. But there will be others where you’ll feel you’re frozen at the starting line. Or even worse, your calf is cramping and you’re not even sure you have the strength to don your running shoes and head for the course.
The good news is that your family isn’t running the faith race alone. Whether you’re hitting the wall or you’ve gotten a second wind, you can draft off others who are a few steps ahead of you.
In no other area of our research is this truer for me personally. I’m drafting off a good friend whose desk at Fuller Seminary is about seven feet from mine. Our associate director at the Fuller Youth Institute, Brad Griffin, and his wife, Missy, help set the pace for our family when it comes to engaging in Sticky service.
When Brad and Missy’s oldest daughter, Anna, was four years old, their church sponsored a Christmas box outreach to impoverished children in Ensenada. Long after they turned in the box full of toys and toothbrushes, Anna kept reminding Brad and Missy to pray for their recipient, Ariana — both that the gifts would make a difference and that God would remember her (just in case He needed reminding).
But Anna wasn’t satisfied with praying for Ariana. Anna wanted to meet her.
In many parts of the country, that requires an epic journey involving planes, trains, and automobiles. But since we live in Southern California, it’s less than a four-hour drive. So a year later when their church organized a weekend service trip to Ariana’s neighborhood, Brad and Missy decided to pack up their minivan and head across the border. They told Anna they couldn’t be sure they would meet Ariana, but it turned out that she lived right across the dirt road from the church with which they were partnering.
That was eight years ago, but Anna and Ariana are still friends. Anna’s family made it a priority to visit once or twice each year, sometimes taking the lead to coordinate trips for their church. In between visits, Anna and Ariana occasionally write back and forth. The Griffins keep a picture of Anna and Ariana near their dining room table to prompt conversations about Ariana and other friends in Mexico, as well as people in the Pasadena community who live with poverty or injustice.
During one visit to Ensenada, the Griffins learned how much this relationship means to Ariana. She showed them a special photo album she keeps in her bedroom with pictures the family has sent her through the years.
The impact of this relationship spills over into the rest of the family as well. Anna’s younger sister feels a special connection to Ariana, and her little brother treasures a toy car given to him by Ariana’s father, Romero. Brad notes, “This family has adopted us just as much as we’ve adopted them.”
Brad and Missy would be the first to say they don’t have it all figured out. Some months they are intentional in the way they serve others, and other months they are hit by the same calendar wave that washes away everyone’s good intentions. But what I love about Brad and Missy’s service is that they listened to their daughter, took one faithful step at a time, and unleashed a flood of Jesus-centered ministry that continues to change both Ariana and their own family.
Excerpted with permission from Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Kara E. Powell, copyright Zondervan, 2014.
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Do you have people in your life who model Sticky service? Can you be a model of Sticky service to others? If you’re not already, how can you put faith to work in your family? Start small! Just start! Come join the conversation on our blog. We’d love to hear how your family is impacting the world around you with Jesus’ love!