“Speak, for Your Servant Is Listening”
How service engenders faith
Please tell me the story about Samuel again,” I pleaded passionately with my parents.
Recognizing my awakening curiosity and desire to learn new things, my parents welcomed the opportunity to interest me in stories that taught character-building lessons. Samuel’s story was one of those Bible stories that particularly impressed me, and I could listen to it again and again. How amazing, I thought, that Samuel heard God’s voice as a child. I was fascinated to learn of Samuel’s child-like faith and his desire to serve God. “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10) was a good answer to God’s call.
Looking more closely, Samuel’s story presents valuable principles that help us understand the essential role of godly influences in the faith development of children and teenagers. It’s a narrative that provides insights into the impact of spiritual influences at home, at church, and at school: three key pillars of Adventist educational philosophy. Samuel himself experienced firsthand the profound impact of all three of these sources of spiritual influence at different times in his life.
It All Begins at Home
Similar to the stories of other biblical champions, Samuel’s faith journey began at home. Even before he was born, his faithful mother lived in anticipation of the promise she had given to God to dedicate her firstborn to His service.
It seems that Hannah took the spiritual development of her young child very seriously, as noted in this comment by Ellen White: “From the earliest dawn of intellect she had taught her son to love and reverence God and to regard himself as the Lord’s.” 1
Undoubtedly, Hannah’s spiritual influence and instruction left a lasting impact on Samuel’s impressionable mind and prepared him to stand firmly in his faith even as a child in spite of the corrupting influences surrounding him after he left home. What if all parents regarded the spiritual nurture of their children as a sacred responsibility? Would it make a difference in how parents train their children if they thought of each of them as specially dedicated to God?
Early in his childhood Samuel was taken to the tabernacle in Shiloh, and his spiritual and religious instruction was entrusted to Eli, the priest. Here the child learned more about God and about the meaning of the sanctuary services.
Samuel also learned to perform various simple tasks in the tabernacle. Ellen White notes that what distinguished the child Samuel’s service was the fact that “his religion was carried into every duty of life. He regarded himself as God’s servant, and his work as God’s work.” 2 In his desire to do God’s will, Samuel learned to distinguish between right and wrong, between Eli’s wholesome spiritual guidance and the corrupting influences of the priest’s sons.
A Special School
Once Samuel began his divinely appointed ministry as prophet and judge in Israel, he established the schools of the prophets (1 Sam. 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2; 4:38-44). Perhaps he remembered the important influences in his own life. In these schools Samuel sought to equip the students spiritually and morally for God’s service. The young learners acquired not merely an intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures but a practical knowledge of a faith that works. They learned to apply their spiritual understanding by rendering their service to God and others in the context of everyday life.
By establishing this system of religious instruction based on the enduring principles of God’s law, Samuel left a legacy for Christian education throughout the ages. Samuel’s story provides insights into the child-rearing practices that are foundational to Judeo-Christian parenting and education. It seems that the spiritual preparation of children and teenagers happened by active participation in the everyday duties of life. Samuel knew that service develops character.
As in Samuel’s days, the spiritual influences of the Christian home, church, and school provide a safeguard for today’s generation against the shifting values of contemporary postmodern society that constantly challenge our religious beliefs. But beyond safeguarding young minds, altruistic service rooted in a system of Christian values is also a great antidote against the self-centeredness of individualistic iSociety.
Over the past two decades, Adventist researchers have repeatedly probed the values and beliefs of young Adventists. Findings from the third recent iteration, called Valuegenesis3, showed a strong connection between the spiritual influences of the home, the church, and the Adventist school and adolescents’ involvement in service for others. The data shows that more frequent and positive family worships, including the quality of family worship and the overall family climate, result in stronger parental influence in the faith-development of their children and a significantly increased willingness of adolescents to participate actively in service for others.
Regarding the influence of the local church, Valuegenesis3 indicated that faith-related experiences at church, the quality of religious education at church (including Sabbath school programing), and the meaningfulness of youth activities at church were strongly related to adolescents’ involvement in service. Similarly, the data suggested a strong relationship between school influences and students’ engagement in voluntary service. The three key pillars of home, church, and school all contributed significantly to adolescents’ service to others.
Participants in Valuegenesis3 on average expressed enjoyment of volunteer service activities and interest to some degree in joining others in service projects. They indicated that they would participate once in a while in service activities that involved encouraging others spiritually, reducing poverty in the world, and applying their faith to find solutions to social issues.
Students also reported that they had shared their faith in Jesus three to five times over the previous year by encouraging others to believe in Jesus, by sharing how God has worked in their lives, or by encouraging someone to connect with the Adventist Church. In regard to volunteer altruistic behavior, students indicated being involved less than once a week, perhaps a couple of times a month, in activities such as tutoring other students, volunteering with community agencies, participating in church activities and in youth groups, as well as helping neighbors.
Students rated youth programing at church to be meaningful to them, and ranked attending an Adventist school highest among the influences that contribute to their spiritual development.
However, while students rated their family worship to be meaningful, they reported that they hardly ever experienced family worship. Also, while adolescents indicated having a sound understanding of the Bible and of Ellen White’s prophetic gift, they reported reading the Bible up to three times a month and the writings of Ellen White less than once a month.
More than half the students responded that they had never participated in family service projects, a fact that seems to contradict students’ reported enjoyment of service activities.
These findings raise a number of questions: What can parents do to encourage their children to adopt regular personal devotional practices, including the study of the Bible? How can parents incorporate regular family worship into their daily routine? How can they ensure that their children participate in family service projects? How can young family members catch a vision of the joy that comes from making a difference in the world by serving God and others? These questions surely warrant a closer look at how parents and educators can inspire children and teenagers to follow Jesus’ example of unselfish service.
Influences That Count
The metaphor of the three-legged stool is often used to describe the partnership that needs to exist between the home, the church, and the Adventist school in order to support the consistent spiritual development of the next generation.
As educators model the importance of service in practice, they help lay the foundation for active service involvement. God calls parents to model to their children consistent habits of personal devotional life and to encourage them to study the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Data suggest that consistency in family worship represents one of the most important factors for spiritual growth. In addition, parents can provide opportunities for involvement in service projects at home as well as in their community.
Altruistic service rooted in a system of Christian values is also a great antidote against the self-centeredness of individualistic "iSociety".
Similarly, church leaders can nurture adolescents’ spiritual growth by engaging them actively in the life of the faith community. Serving at church in any capacity helps adolescents discover their gifts and provides future direction to utilize their God-given talents for the blessing of others. If rightly channeled, the gifts and talents of children and teenagers will prove to be of great value to the community of believers.
Adventist schoolteachers can further enhance adolescents’ spiritual development that was begun in the home and at church. By adding spiritual elements to every service project and service initiative, teachers can highlight the strong connection that exists between loving God and serving people. Adventist educators can leave a lasting impact on the learners through their spiritual influence and could leave a legacy for Christian service.
Whether in the home, at church, or at school, the spiritual influence of parents and educators will go a long way in leading children and adolescents to Christ, inspiring them to adopt a service-oriented mind-set and make a difference in the world.
Imagine the transformation that would take place in our homes, our churches, our schools, our communities, our society, and our world at large if each child, teenager, and adult sought to answer God’s call as readily as Samuel did. What would happen if we would reflect Samuel’s child-like faith and his willingness to serve others? How would this affect a younger generation watching us?
“Speak, for your servant is listening” must be more than a well-known quote from Scripture.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 572.
- Ibid., p. 573.
- The Valuegenesis3 research project involved a large sample of research in the values of sixth- through twelfth-grade students at Adventist schools, and was co-sponsored by the North American Division Office of Education and the John Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry at La Sierra University.
Andrea Nagy, Ph.D., serves as an associate editor of the Children’s Sabbath School Bible Study Guides at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.