The job description of a parent is pretty basic. We're to prepare our children for life and eternity. Of course, that entails instruction in a myriad of tasks—from brushing teeth and good dating habits, to undiluted character and a spiritual heart. The list of parental objectives is daunting enough, but I dare to add one more.
If our children are to navigate their larger world well, they'll need to carry a social conscience. Some think a social conscience applies only to environmental causes or is covered by governmental policy. Hear Micah's prophetic voice (Micah 6:8). We are to walk humbly with God on the path of justice and compassion. We are not allowed to privatize our faith and care only for our backyard. A social conscience extends compassion and justice to all. That's what God does. It's what we ought to do, and our children as well.
I am not naive. I've had kids. The egocentric bend in all of them is a gravitational pull towards “If it doesn't involve me, then it can't be important!” But they also possess wells of empathy and a compass for what's fair. Their bend can be straightened. Let me offer some targets to aim for and practical suggestions to help hit the bull's eye.
We want to shape our children's:
Vision—to see God's world
This is God's world. All of it. It doesn't belong to the devil or to us. It's true that the world is broken with real danger in it, but it is still God's. Help your family to look at the world and see God in every part of it.
Heart—to care about God's world
Since God owns and inhabits our world, apathy is not an option. What happens down the street and around the globe matters. It matters to God. It matters to us.
Will—to engage God's world
Seeing and caring intersect in responsibility. Open eyes and open hearts compel us to face the challenge of justice and compassion. The enormity of that challenge may tempt us to run and hide. But don't. Allow your child to start small and then dream big.
Hand—to redeem God's world
Here is the core of social conscience. Many see the need, shed a tear, and offer good intentions, but justice and compassion are actions, not just ideals. It is something we do.
God has borne the patient pains of redemption through Jesus Christ. We carry His grace to the broken places around us, even with patient pains.
Faith—to trust in God's good purposes
Compassion and justice are not failing efforts. We may sense frustration and confusion in the unfolding of God's plan but there is no debate about the destination. God's Kingdom comes. Hope in it.
That's our lesson plan for shaping our children's social conscience. But how do we actually do it? We start now, even if it hasn't been on our radar before. Then we lean completely on the grace of our Lord. Only God can shape a soul. Next, there are practical ideas that can steer young spirits. Here are some suggestions for starters, which you can add your own to:
- Get out of the four walls of home and church. Don't let fear paralyze you
- Educate yourselves on global and local issues
- Less sitcoms and more documentaries or news programs
- Institute a family project to address a community need
- Do a neighbourhood walk to pick up litter
- Sponsor a child through a compassion agency
- Volunteer weekly with your local food bank, hospital, community garden, etc.
- Escort your kids on a cross cultural experience and don't use an airplane to do it
- Practice neighbourhood hospitality and use table talk to enlarge perspective
- Make sure that what you want to see in them—you see in the mirror!