I grew up hating church. I didn’t have any theological problems with church, I was just bored. Sitting still for more than ten minutes was torture, and sometimes our services went on for two hours! The worst part is that my dad was the pastor, so we were there every time the door was open. And the door was open a lot: Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night.

Sometimes we had “revivals” (which I assumed was a Greek word for “torture young children”) It meant going to a church service every night of the week. My number one goal was to grow up and not go to church. My number two goal was to be an astronaut, but I figured that would get me out of church as well.

Several decades later, and I still attend church almost every weekend. How did I wind up right back at the place I loathed? There are a few reasons:

One is a strong conviction that, as flawed as it is, the local church is the hope of the world.

Another reason I never left the church is that something changed in me between elementary school and when I left for college.

My attention span didn’t increase; I still struggle to sit still for more than ten minutes. The big change for me was that in middle school, I began serving in the church; I joined the children’s ministry puppet team.

For the first time church wasn’t something I watched, it was something I did. I was part of a team, and we enjoyed what we did. Eventually, I became a leader in the student ministry. And by the time I graduated from high school, I was speaking on a regular basis at our weekly high school gatherings.

Serving transformed me from a reluctant spectator to an engaged participant. 36 years later, and I’m still committed to the local church.

I saw the same pattern in my own kids. When they were young, we had to drag them to church. But in middle school, when they began to serve, their attitudes changed. By the time they graduated from high school, they were each spending more time serving at church than my wife and me, and we were both on the church staff. Today each of them serve full time at their local church.

As a parent, one of the biggest things you can do to help your children connect with God and with the local church is to model and encourage a lifestyle of serving. Here are a few ideas how to get started:

Find serving opportunities as soon as possible

It is never too early to sow the seeds of a servant’s attitude in the hearts of your children. Reward them when they help pick up the toys at home. Encourage them to offer to help their teacher clean up when class is over at church. Always look for ways they can begin serving others.

Invite your children to serve with you

Volunteer to serve regularly in their class at church, and invite them to help you. They can help pick up toys, hand snacks, and clean up when the other kids are gone. If you serve in a younger class, invite your older kids to help.

Help them find a place to serve on their own

When my daughter was in middle school, she began teaching herself to play the guitar. It quickly became apparent she had a lot of natural ability, but she was too shy to ask if she could play in the middle school band. I talked the youth pastor into inviting her to play, and that opportunity still shapes how she serves. There are many places in your church where your middle school kids can serve; children’s ministry, greeters, ushers, musicians, vocalists are just a few. Don’t be shy about asking adult leaders how they can involve your kids in serving.

Make serving a part of the rhythm of your house

One of the reasons I began serving in church is it was just a regular part of who we were as a family. My dad, my mom, my brothers and my sister all served in the local church, and serving took the highest priority.

As you look at your family schedule and all the activities you juggle on a weekly basis, which are most likely to have a long term impact on the spiritual development of your children? Baseball? Cheerleading? Chemistry homework? Learning a lifetime of serving others?

I believe, and have seen in my own family, few things in life have a more positive impact than learning to serve.