As I was helping friends move on a crisp fall morning, I got a text that tore my heart in two: the father of one of my former students had taken his own life.

This family was very typical: mom, dad, two boys. They were regulars at church and their youngest boy, Brady, was in student ministry every time the doors were open and he served each week in children’s ministry.

The wife and boys were devastated and shaken to their core. Having recently moved to help plant a church, I was hundreds of miles from the hurting family and felt powerless to help.

Though I could not be present with them, I knew the church that sent me, this family’s faith community, would hold them up and walk with them in this terrible season.

Fast forward over a year to last week. I was on the phone with another former student, David, who keeps in regular contact. After talking for a while, I asked David how Brady was doing.

“You know,” he said, “all things considered, he’s doing really well. They’re having to downsize their house because they can’t afford it, so that’s tough, but he is really leaning on the other high schoolers to get him through.”As I have reflected on what David said about Brady, I can’t help but wonder what it is about Brady that keeps him from sliding into the same dark place his father found himself in. What gives him resiliency in the face of something so crushing?

After all my reflecting, I believe it is these two things: strong connections to other believers and a perspective that can see beyond his own pain. These two things both grew from the soil of serving others.

When Brady was a middle schooler, he began serving with a couple dozen other preteens each week in our church’s preschool ministry. As he grew older, he began serving at elementary camps and even took leadership roles among his peers in high school ministry. All of the hours serving and the moments attuned to the needs of others brought him wisdom beyond his years and relationships that were life-giving at just the right time.

Here’s a truth I’ve observed over and over again in student ministry: when teens serve others regularly, they naturally mature in Christ. Serving is like a turbo boost to their faith journey. When teens listen to teaching they learn, but when teens serve they grow. There is an undeniable link between serving and maturity. So how do parents facilitate this growth through serving?

  1. Encourage your teen to serve somewhere he or she enjoys. He may have to try out a few things to find his thing, but doing something he enjoys is key.
  2. Encourage your teen to serve with friends. Not only does serving with friends dramatically increase the likelihood of serving long term, but it also strengthens the bond between friends through shared experiences.
  3. Encourage your teen to make serving a part of her weekly rhythm. Serving sporadically has some benefit, but serving others consistently changes the way we think—we begin to put others first.

Serving is much more than “helping out”—serving is a life-transforming practice that bonds teens to each other, matures them in Christ, and gives them perspective beyond their years. Serving is a tangible way to carry the burden of another and bond relationships with those in the faith community. Brady was able to cope with the loss of his father because serving bore fruit in his life and his friends were able to comfort him in his time of need. Serving is critical to our teens.

Parents, let’s not only encourage serving to our teens but model serving for them. After all, our teens will do what we do, but not always what we say. Let’s lead the way for them.