How Children Learn to Serve

Written By Jill DuBois

If you’ve ever been around a toddler, you know that serving others is not always an innate, natural response they have to someone else.  In a toddler’s defense, much of their life is waiting for others to take care of them, whether it is bathing, feeding, changing, or putting them to bed.  It takes a bit of coaching, teaching, and sometimes correction for children to learn to put the needs of others in front of their own desires.

This is not unlike us as we get older!  For some of us, apart from Christ we are selfish and not able to see the opportunities we have every day to serve others.  We must look for coaching, teaching, and correction from Jesus’ example to show us how to truly serve others. The idea of putting others first and our own desires, ideas, and feelings last is not only unnatural for most people, but it’s also counter-cultural!  

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9: 35

If you want to be first you must be last?  Have you ever tried to explain that to a child?  If the answer is yes, you likely got a blank stare.  It just does not make sense!

However, when our children are shown how to serve, and they are invited to use the gifts they have for others, they begin to better understand what Jesus meant.   

Have you ever had child want to help make a meal for you?  Perhaps it has been as simple as having a fancy “tea” party during a babysitting job with precious plastic tea cups filled with the most gourmet water you can imagine.  Perhaps you’ve been served a delicious breakfast of Pop Tarts in bed by your eager preschooler because he was finally tall enough to reach the cabinet to get the box down.  Perhaps you’ve even had the honor of having an older child take the time to plan and prepare an entire meal for you and your family. I can guess that no matter what kind of food was presented to you, the joy that child felt in giving you their best could not be denied.

Children are great at observing.  

They see the way you serve them as you get up and get them ready for the day.

They see how you poured extra time and energy into carefully planning an activity for their class at school.

They see how you care for your spouse, even when things get difficult.

They see how you held the door for others, even when you didn’t have to.

They see how you faithfully take an hour of your Sunday morning to choose to spend with them, partnering with their families to help build their faith.

And even if their natural instinct is not to want to serve others in a way that might be meaningful and helpful, they are learning by observing, first, and by doing with you.

Some of my most precious moments as a children’s ministry director have come from observing children in our congregation as they serve others.  Our kids regularly visit a local nursing home, and over time, they’ve built relationships with many of the residents there. When I see the faces of the residents light up when the kids enter the room, I know these children are making a difference in a way that no adult can.  The relationships that have been forged over games of Bingo and holiday crafts have helped shape the tender hearts of our kids. They take time to carefully peel the backs of stickers off of decorations for people who’s fine motor skills are not the same as they used to be. They share in the joy when their Bingo partner gets 5 in a row, and they love helping their elderly friends make their way back to their rooms at the close of our time together.  Sometimes serving requires our kids to step out of their comfort zones. But I see these children continue to grow in their capacity to serve the residents. They are learning. They are doing.

Children notice from their examples how to behave.  What greater legacy can we instill in them than one that focuses on serving others – not for recognition or self-promotion.  When serving others becomes a regular rhythm in our own lives, it will become a rhythm in the lives of the children we impact.  

When we continually show our children how the first can be very last, we are helping to further show them just what Jesus meant about serving others.

Write This Way: In what areas of your life are you demonstrating service to children or someone you mentor?

About the Author:


Jill Dubois joined Commonway as the Children’s Pastor in 2012. She grew up in rural Wabash before venturing to Muncie where she studied elementary education at Ball State. Jill taught in a local school until she transitioned from the classroom to staying at home full-time with the birth of her first child. She finished her Masters Degree in elementary education just before starting this new adventure in children’s ministry.  Jill and her husband, Kevin, live outside of Muncie with their three children.

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