Chris Field is the Founder and Executive Director of Mercy Project. He traveled to Ghana for the first time in August 2009 and has since been on a mission to bring new life to children in slavery as well as empower those around him to make the world a better place.
Chris and his wife Stacey have been married since 2005. They have four children – Famous, Micah, Beckett, and Lincoln. Chris is a gifted speaker, avid runner, and inspirational world-changer.
I’m grateful for his contribution to the conversation today. Welcome, Chris.
Practicing the discipline of service with our kids is really, really hard, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking.
The biggest problem with practicing the discipline of service with our children is that they are just so darn generous.
Probably more generous than we would really like for them to be! If we do this discipline correctly, and by correctly I mean we allow our kids to lead the way, we must be prepared to give more, keep less, and walk into uncomfortable places we might have never been before. And what a gift to us, and our kids, and the kingdom it can be!
Our kids have not yet been jaded by the world like many of us have. They do not overthink simple scenarios, they are not focused on what might happen 10 years from now, and their ideas and perceptions of service to others has yet to be worn out by years of political, cultural, and church baggage. Thank God! Thank God for all of that. Because their vision for the “other” and genuine love for their neighbor is the closest thing to Christ’s love for the world we have. We must embrace this gift and lean into it rather than try to explain it away or help our kids understand the actualities of the “real world.”
Try this experiment next time you’re with your child and spot someone in need: “Hey kids, see that person over there? That person (doesn’t have food, has a car that broke down, needs money for gas, can’t buy the kind of clothes they need, etc). Is there anything we can or should do about that?” I can guarantee you that your kids are going to want to help. They will not consider: A) why the person is in the situation, B) how much it might cost to help, C) if it is safe to help, or D) if you have “time” to stop and help. They will simply see a need and respond. Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?
Now before I lose you, because I know I’m about to lose some of you, I want assure you that I am not a guy who lives in some utopian society where danger doesn’t exist. I know one of our jobs as parents is to keep our kids safe. I get it, totally get it. But we also have to be honest that personal safety isn’t one of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t list “comfortability” as one of the characteristics of the blessed. Not because those things don’t matter at all, but maybe because they don’t matter quite as much as we’ve allowed them to matter? Maybe they should be on the list rather than being at the top of the list?
Here’s my point: we’ve too often insulated ourselves from helping those around us. But our kids have not. If we tell our kids someone has a need, they will say we should help. And more often than not, they are right. We should help. Because we can help. Because Jesus commanded us to help. Because the entire law and all the commandments can be summed up with this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Our kids remove all of our added asterisks, caveats, footnotes, and disclaimers to this—not out of spite but out of purity of heart. This can be such a gift to us and the world if we aren’t too scared to let them use it.
Here are five very easy ways we can get our kids (and us!) more involved in the discipline of service:
First, and this might be the hardest/easiest, we can sit our kids down and ask them if they can think of any ways our family might be able to love our neighbors. Then just be quiet! Listen, let them think, let them brainstorm, and let them dream. You’ll be surprised and delighted by their kingdom creativity.
Second, start looking for those people out in the world who need help and ask our kids if they think our family could help them and how. Warning: they will say “yes” almost every single time!
Third, involve our kids in our charitable giving/monthly tithing. My wife and I try to involve our children in our monthly giving by allowing them a set amount, not $1 or $2 or $5 but something more significant, and giving them a few options of where they want to give that month. This helps our kids understand that giving is important to our family and also involves them in the process.
Fourth, don’t be scared to leave the news on. What I mean by this is that it’s okay for our kids to hear about world events and things happening outside of our own neighborhoods. We’ve had several talks with our kids about the current tension between black Americans and law enforcement officers. They don’t understand it all, because we don’t understand it all, but they are beginning to understand that it’s hard. They are also beginning to understand that one of our roles as Jesus followers is to go into hard spaces and sit with our neighbors who are hurting. They’ll never learn this if we shield them from all the world’s pain.
Fifth, find creative ways to engage our kids with truths of our blessings in the world. The mere fact that you are reading this article means 1) you can read, 2) you have a computer, 3) you have internet access, and 4) you have time to read. These things alone place us in the top tier of the world’s population. It’s good for us to teach our kids how fortunate we are. Receive gifts with open hands, and give them back to the world with open hands. That’s what we want to teach our children.
Let me end with a quick story of what this has looked like for our little family: we live in a neighborhood with lots of new construction so our kids are very aware of the hard work that many construction workers put in every day. One day, my then 4-year old daughter Micah said, “the workers building the house down the street work really hard and probably don’t make a lot of money. We should take them some pizzas.” Instead of dismissing her, we went and got pizzas and took them down the street. Our first language was their second (and vice versa), but it was great. Hugs are universal. And our neighbors felt seen and appreciated. Kingdom come.
As I said to start the article, practicing the discipline of service with our kids is really, really hard. But not for the reasons we probably think.