As a Children’s Ministry Director, my favorite week of the church calendar is Vacation Bible School week. But a close second is going on this week at my church–Missions Festival week. It seems to always come at the right time, to give me a necessary attitude adjustment and a re-focusing of my priorities. I (and my family) need to remember what our Missions Festival theme reminds us: that we all must “answer our missionary calling.”
The opening sermon by Dr. Ed Hartman was especially profound. He applied the theme from John 13:1-17, the passage where Jesus shocks the disciples by washing their feet. Our Lord gives us an example of service to follow–not just for one aspect of our lives, but for life in totality. But here’s the principle that is life-transforming: Christians are to live their lives as HOSTS in this world, rather than GUESTS. That’s exactly what Jesus did! He set aside His deserved status as esteemed guest at the supper in order to serve as the host of the meal. This particular event was actually a parable or picture of His entire life on earth–coming to His lost people not to be served, but to serve. So, as Christians, Jesus serves us, giving us the power to serve as HOSTS to a lost world.
In the first place, I NEEDED TO HEAR THIS! I am far from the sort of Christ-empowered host to my wife, my children, and other people. I would rather be served than to serve. So I pray that this truth penetrates my heart and changes me in very practical ways this year.
Yet this Biblical principle is also essential for our children. As sinners, they are born into this world demanding to be served. Of course, as dependent beings, they must be served in order to survive! But as they grow up, it’s tempting for them to just keep on exercising permanent “guest mentality” rather than learning to serve others. And without Christ, they will only continue to be self-serving in their approach to life–always thinking they deserve more than what they really deserve!
Unfortunately, parents often add to this pervasive heart problem of our children. We are in an unprecedented time of mothers and fathers who act as if they exist to serve all of their children’s wants and desires. American children are especially indulged with material excesses–with rare times of self-denial. Added to that, there is often little expectation to serve others, especially their parents and siblings. We, as parents, can act like children will just learn to be servants some time later in life. But when? As teenagers? Young adults? Senior citizens?
To make the bad news even worse, our children also have the world against them. Our culture only teaches us that we are constant guests, and that we are the center of the universe. We are used to being served when we go to a restaurant, the doctor’s office, and the auto shop. With the modern changes in our educational system, it can also be perceived that teachers exist to serve students rather than the other way around. Even the church can appear to somehow have been created to serve our needs rather than as a community which exists to serve Jesus. Our extreme self-esteem focused culture makes everyone a guest, and no one a host. So, if we all deserve to be served, who will ever serve others, except by compulsion?
With all that being said, it’s essential to NOT turn this into a compartmentalized program for children. This is not about requiring a few “community service” hours for school or just coming up with mission opportunities at church. While that can be a start, these efforts may also send the wrong message that service is just what you do once in a while–a way to “give back” because we have been given so much. Jesus teaches that our entire lives must be lived as HOSTS not GUESTS. Living in Christ means living this life to serve, rather than to be served.
So, parents, I give you Dr. Ed Hartman’s (and the Lord Jesus’) call: Train your children to be hosts in this fallen world! Don’t just make service something they do for academic credit, a gold star, or a resume enhancer. Depending on the power of Christ, make service a lifestyle–training a host mentality rather than a guest mentality. How the Kingdom of God would advance in this world if it had an army of hosts seeking to serve the lost, the hurting, and the needy!