Rote vs. Real

My kids received some money in the mail recently from a relative living in a different state.  The instructions were for them to take that money and buy some treat for themselves.  The good news for them was that this happened to take place right after Halloween, so there were 50% off sales on candy.  Those that know me, know that I really enjoy the different candy seasons of the year.  (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day) Needless to say, my kids had bargain candy to eat and their treat money got forgotten.  Thanksgiving comes and that treat money is still sitting there.  I decide that I am going to have them give that money to a Thanksgiving offering at church for CAMA Services.  My kids have no idea what that money was for, even though I tried to explain it.  The plate was passed and they put their money in it willingly, but without any context as to what was happening with it.

This leads me to something that has recently come to mind in ministry to youth or children.  Where does the line get drawn between something that is just a rote activity, to something that is real?   When does doing something become simply doing something without any lasting life impact?  I have seen youth memorize whole sections of the Bible without any of it actually making any life change in them.  I have also seen youth start to pray for  friends or family regularly only to develop a deeper faith and connection to God as a result.    There are a few areas where I have really made effort in this, for better or worse.

1- Prayer – Jesus taught his disciples to pray by having them pray.  He didn’t tell them to study up and then try it out.  He just told them that when they pray, here is a way to do it.  As I consider asking kids to pray for one another regularly, I understand that they likely won’t do it with 100% participation.  But, discipleiship is a process and this could be a helpful part of that process.

2- Reading the Word –  There are so many different excuses as to why people don’t read their Bibles.  I have been pondering how to get teenagers to read their bibles for years.  We have bought devotionals for them, given them memorization materials, encouraged the use of bibles at Youth Group and Sunday School and given out take home devotional guides.  Some of them have helped, some of them haven’t.  I still think that even if youth are just checking it off the list to get it done, God will develop in them a real hunger for the Word.  After all, “the Word of God is living and active.” (Hebrews 4:12)  I would rather they risk it becoming routine than never opening their Bibles.

3- Service – The same idea applies here.  How do people learn to serve?  How do people develop a servant’s heart?   It is amazing how much is actually learned by doing in the realm of service.   This played out for me at a senior home one time with a mixed group of teenagers.  I notice one girl was sobbing.  She came to me and said she suddenly was overwhelmed with compassion for these people.  This was something she had never experienced before and likely wouldn’t have experienced without being in that situation.

Yes, anything can become rote and routine without a connection.  But, with children I think that is a risk that we take in order for them to experience something right in front of them with hopes that the Holy Spirit takes that and inspires something lasting in them.    God is a master at doing that, so why not put youth in the position where they might be more apt to notice.


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