My son sat on the edge of his bed, arms folded tightly across his chest, a look of anger mixed with defiance in his eyes. He stared up at me and said, “It’s just not fair! I shouldn’t have to do any work. It’s the weekend!” While I strongly believe in people, including children, taking responsibility for their own actions and attitudes, my son’s attitude that day was partially my fault. You see, that Saturday was the first Saturday where we had instituted a time of family work.
My son is eight years old. In those eight years, we have periodically asked him to do different jobs around the house, but have failed to hold him, or his sister, accountable to following through. We have also seldom worked together as a family. My wife and I consistently fix and clean the house on the weekends, but much of the time we leave our kids to play or read, thus teaching them that work is for adults.
It is a wonder that we bemoan the attitude of many adults toward work, yet neglect to instill a sense of the virtue of work when they are younger. It’s as though we believe human beings could somehow grow up carefree, without responsibility or an encouragement to pursue any type of labor, and then, when they hit adulthood, flip a switch that would leave them fulfilled in the work they must do.
While there are many things that can increase the sense of purposefulness and fulfillment of work in our churches and culture, one key piece is creating a culture where work and enterprise are valued by our children. This is something that needs to be pursued in the home and in our churches. Here are five things that can contribute to creating this type of culture.
Teach children about the value of work.
Teaching does not, in and of itself, lead people to understanding or action, but it is a key activity if those things are to happen. How does your church’s children’s ministry curriculum address the area of work and vocation? Are children in your church encouraged to view their schoolwork as something good and worthwhile that God has given them for this season of their lives? These questions are ones we are only beginning to ask in our own church, but I believe beginning young can have a significant impact on the view of faith and work for future generations.
This is also something families can teach in the home. As we have begun implementing family work time and jobs for our kids to do each day, we have also begun a weekly family meeting. One purpose of this meeting is to talk about the ways our work (or lack of it) is impacting the whole family. Our hope is that over time, our kids will come to have a deeply internalized understanding of the way our work impacts the entire family. Eventually, this can translate to an understanding of the way work impacts a church family, community, and the world.
Part of the impetus behind the family workday was a conviction that our work was taking place in ways our children didn’t naturally see. We did things around the house and occasionally asked them to chip in. In general, adults tend to go to a job away from home and away from their kids, so their children don’t observe them working. More often, they see their parents watching TV or engaging in recreation. Intentionally working with our kids is a sure and active way to impress the value of work on them.
This can be true in a church as well. When there are service opportunities, are adults and kids able to participate together? In the various ministries of the church, are kids incorporated into tasks that need to be carried out, or are they sectioned off to the side so that adults can do the work?
A couple months ago, my kids decided to open a lemonade stand. They got out pens, markers, and paper. They brainstormed a menu, going through our cupboards and adding almost everything in our pantry to the list. They made signs and a logo for their stand. I am ashamed to admit that part of me didn’t want them to do it. The last thing I wanted was our neighbors feeling an obligation to come over and buy a handful of pretzels. But in retrospect, this was exactly the kind of thing I should have encouraged. As parents, we can fuel our kids’ attempts at enterprise, and whether they succeed or fail, help them to see the good in what they have attempted.
In our churches, the first step in this regard is publically celebrating our entrepreneurs and workers in ways our kids can see. They need to see that we value enterprise in the life of the church. Then, when they have ideas about ministries they could start, causes they’d like to raise funds for, or even tasks in which they’d like to participate, we can wholeheartedly endorse their efforts and give them the support they need.
Talk about your work with them.
As I mentioned earlier, kids often don’t have the opportunity to see adults work. But they need to hear about our work—both the joys and the struggles. There will be opportunities to connect with the work they are doing at school and at home. When they are frustrated, you can share how you handle the frustration of work with real-life examples. When they have success, you can share how much you value the successes you have as well. Don’t let your work be a mystery to your kids, whether in the family or the church.
Point out how others’ work benefits them.
Each day we are impacted by the work of hundreds of people. Simply driving to work is made possible by those who make all the parts of our vehicles, pave and maintain roads, patrol streets, and work at gas stations. The chain of people who impact our lives through their work in nearly infinite. But this is not something that is self-evident to most adults, let alone children. We have the opportunity to make our kids aware of the connections that exist between us by periodically pointing out all the work that contributes to life.
A great opportunity to do this is with things kids enjoy. If they like to read, talk about all the people involved in getting their favorite book into their hands. If they like to play basketball, think through all the people involved in allowing them to play. As this becomes something your kids are more aware of, you could even challenge them to see how many people they can list who contribute to different parts of their life. This could be a fun activity in a children’s class at church as well.
As we continue to pursue an enhanced understanding of vocation, faith, work, and economics, let’s not miss the opportunity to instill the value of these things in our kids. This will contribute to a greater opportunity for them to flourish. As they grow, it will challenge us to live out all this stuff we’re talking about.
Trevor Lee is the lead pastor of Trailhead Church in the Denver area. He is passionate about making the kingdom of God visible in everyday life through compassion, justice, peace, hope, joy, and love. He blogs regularly. This post originally appeared on the Kern Pastors Network. Image: Jennifer Woodruff Tait.