“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)
When our children were young, it was important to me that we helped them intentionally focus on Christ and others during the Christmas season. One of the ways we did this was by hosting a craft show in our home. We spent weeks making a variety of crafts, which we sold to friends and family. Our children then used the proceeds to purchase gifts for orphaned children in Africa. It was a tangible way to help them share God’s love and think of others during the Christmas season.
Keeping Christ in Christmas seemed easier with young children. However, when our kids hit the teen years, the real challenge begins. Adolescents by nature tend to be both busy and self-focused, neither of which is very conducive to serving others. Yet, this is precisely why it’s so important for us to help them embrace the heart of Christ during this time. Here are a few ideas to help your teen embrace the Spirit of Christmas.
1. Host a Missions Event
While many teens may not be interested in something like hosting a craft show, one thing I’ve learned is they always make time for a party! What would happen if your daughter invited a bunch of friends over for a Christmas Tea or movie night, and they brainstormed ways they could pool their resources or raise money together to donate? And teenage boys love an excuse to sit around a campfire or eat food. You could provide a gift catalog from an international ministry like Samaritan’s Purse or a list of ministry needs from local organizations and let the guys decide together which one they want to support. The students can brainstorm ideas of how to make money or simply decide on an amount that each one wants to contribute. But doing it together makes it so much more fun while keeping the focus on serving others.
2. Volunteer at an Operation Christmas Child (OCC) Distribution Center
Serving at an OCC distribution center is an eye-opening experience that completely changed how I shop for shoeboxes. For teens, I love that it takes something they did as a child (packing shoeboxes) and goes deeper, broadening their worldview and building compassion for children growing up in a totally different set of circumstances than their own.
As teens search through the boxes, they are often confused by gifts that seem underwhelming or even ridiculous to them. I mean, what kid wants to receive dental floss or a screwdriver for Christmas? Yet, what an epiphany when they realize that receiving a water filtering straw, spool of fishing line, or mini-tool kit (instead of a traditional toy) could actually change a young boy’s life. And a teen girl who receives a sewing kit or craft cords may be able to provide an income that feeds her whole family.
If you don’t have a processing center near you, this is an experience worth traveling for. However, if that’s not possible, you could host a viewing party and watch videos of shoebox recipients sharing how God worked through their shoebox gifts. Or you could invite a full-circle speaker from Samaritan’s Purse to speak to your student ministry, school, or church.
3. Visit a Nursing Home
For years, one of our favorite family traditions was visiting the nursing home residents in our community on Christmas Eve. A few weeks before Christmas, our church encouraged families to “Adopt a Senior” by purchasing a gift they requested. Then, on Christmas Eve, several families joined together to deliver the gifts to the nursing home. We sang Christmas carols, read the Christmas story from Luke 2, handed out gifts, and spent time visiting with the residents. Our kids were very nervous the first year we went, as it was definitely out of their comfort zone. However, serving alongside their friends made it easier, and it became our favorite way to spend Christmas Eve.
While this is a wonderful ministry opportunity for a local church, an individual family or group of families can join together to do it on their own. Simply reach out to a nursing home or assisted living center in your community. Share your idea and ask how you can serve their residents. Interacting with other generations is a meaningful way to help your teen embrace the Spirit of Christmas.
4. Serve at a Local Food Bank or Soup Kitchen
Teens benefit greatly from serving directly with people in need. While many local organizations need help stocking their food pantry or organizing thrift store items, it is more important than ever for teens to interact with people in person. Many community thrift stores utilize “personal shoppers” to help their clients select the appropriate items, and there are soup kitchens and food pantries that offer food lines or deliver food boxes to homes. Teens learn important lessons by serving behind the scenes, for sure. However, looking into someone’s face and interacting with a real person in need forces students out of their comfort zone and into someone else’s reality. Coming face-to-face with hardship often spotlights their own self-focused perspective, while increasing their sense of gratitude and compassion.
You may want to role-play with your teen before this type of serving opportunity. Help them come up with some discussion starters in case they are able to engage in conversation. Remind them that the best way to show someone how much God loves and values them is through a friendly smile, genuine interest, and a listening ear.
5. Foster Care or Refugee Christmas Party
During my early years as a youth minister, our student ministry hosted an annual Christmas party for a local daycare that served underprivileged children. We received a list of names and ages of all the children. Then, our teens shopped for clothes and toys so that each child would receive a gift. At the party, we decorated cookies, read them the Christmas story, played games, made crafts, and just loved on them. When the party was over, I could never tell who was more excited—the children or the teens!
There are plenty of foster care and refugee organizations that would be blessed by someone hosting a party for their children. This is an amazing opportunity to grow leadership skills in your teen. They can gather friends, contact the organization, plan activities, and go shopping. The more they take ownership, the better! Offer yourself as a resource, but encourage them to take the lead.
Embrace the Experience
Being grateful for what we have, helping those in need, and serving others with the love of Christ are all things that don’t necessarily come naturally during the teen years. These are lessons we can and should try to communicate to them, but they are simply better absorbed through experience.
Which idea can you incorporate this year to help your teen embrace the Spirit of Christmas? Who knows—maybe you’ll even end up with a new family tradition!