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Teaching Children to be Heroes in Selfish World

Each week a new story in the news takes social media by storm and dominates the online conversation.

The story of the appalling crime, disappointing trial and lenient conviction of Brock Turner has filled my feed recently.

As the story grew in scope and more information was made known to the general public, I saw my social media feed go from rebuke of the perpetrator and his father who defended him to sympathy for the victim and her family to a call to teach our children to be like the heroes who stopped the attack and called for help for the victim.

The whole story is sickening and frightening. But it is also revealing of our culture and what our children are walking into as they grow up.

For decades, as a culture, we have glorified individualism. We have said if you want it, you can have it. If you feel it, you can be it. If you think it’s OK, then it is OK for you.

What is most important is that you are happy – that you get all you can out of this life and live it in the most satisfying way possible for you. The almighty “You” is worshipped.

In the land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, nothing should keep You from getting what You want.

This stands in stark contrast to the life that Christ calls us to live. Instead of You being glorified, You is humbled.

Instead of You getting what it wants, You relinquishes its right to what it wants and seeks the good of others.

Instead of You defining what is good and right and best for itself, it looks instead to its Creator and seeks first that kingdom rather than its own.

It looks nothing like the culture into which our children are headed. This is why, as so many people are saying now, we must teach our children something different.

We must teach them to be heroes who:

  • See beyond themselves to others.
  • Care enough about another person to put aside their own individual agenda and seek the good of another.
  • Desire justice more than fairness and truth more than lies.

If we want to teach our children to be heroes, we must teach them to be countercultural. We must teach them to be different.

We must ensure that they understand that the “You” is not more important than “Us” and that we are all part of a community – not individuals living in a bubble of our own pleasure and desires.

The local church has a huge responsibility and vital role to play in this. We have the calling to live this way all the time!

The Message translates Philippians 2:1-4 this way: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.

“Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

This is what we should look like. We should look different.

We should be teaching our children to be heroes by being selfless, compassionate, hospitable and humble in our interactions with one another.

We should be looking out for others, not only when the circumstances are so horrid we can’t help but act, but also in everyday situations when those who surround us need a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a meal shared, a prayer offered.

That is why I am so passionate about discipleship at home and intergenerational community at church.

Because if we, the body of Christ, are not modeling this countercultural behavior for our children through our interactions with them, with each other and with the community at large, we are not teaching them to be heroes.

And if our culture ever needed heroes that stand out, that look different, that hold up a standard of humility and grace in a world of pride and judgment, that time is now.

We teach our children to be heroes by teaching them that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness might be our rights, but laying down those rights for the good of others can lead to the greatest freedom of all.

Like the knights of the round table in the legend of Camelot, let them discover that “In serving one another, we become free.”

Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.