During one of our recent leadership training events, Breanne shared, “When I look at the youth group at my church, I realize I have taught a lot of them from every age group (7th-12th grade) in the past six years.” You might think, “So what?” Breanne is 18 years old. Have you ever wondered if children have a greater purpose in the church today? If you look at traditional approaches to childhood education in the church, it would appear that they are primarily knowledge-based. You have to ask, “Will sitting and listening to someone teach develop you into a fully-devoted follower of Christ, as well as empower you for ministry?” The answer is clearly “no.”
Here are seven steps you can take to disciple and equip children in your church for ministry using the “Discipleship and Equipping Wheel.”
- God and Church
As the church, we have to fully understand our role and the mandate of Christ. First, we must recognize that at the time of Jesus’ departure from the earth, He commanded His disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). That means we must reach children with the Gospel and disciple them so that they might grow in their personal relationship with Him.
Second, we must realize that we as pastors and leaders are called to equip these younger saints for works of ministry in His church. Yes, that’s right, the younger saints! Paul tells us, “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12a). Paul also wrote, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). At the moment of belief, children receive the same Holy Spirit as adults, not a “baby” Holy Spirit. At the point of salvation, they also receive gifts for works and service in the church today (1 Corinthians 12). Adam Stadtmiller in Discover Your Kids’ Spiritual Gifts says it beautifully, “One thing that we must understand going forward is that God desires that we offer the whole faith to our kids, not just the bits we think they can assimilate. This means that, like us, our kids have a calling to minister now!”
We know that parents have a calling by God to teach their children. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). These verses show a family in motion: sitting, walking, lying down, and rising up. A great way to teach our kids is when you are on the go and when situations arise. Families are very busy, so spiritual training has to happen on the move. Then it is something that is lived out all the time. It is our goal to teach families to live out six spiritual disciplines at home and on the go.
Lordship. We encourage families to put Christ first in everything they do. That means:
1) Everyone in the house spends 5-15 minutes doing a daily devotional, and we provide the resources.
2) We urge families to give church priority over activities and sports.
Prayer. Parents can teach prayer by putting it into action. When a need arises, pray about it. As you leave to go to school, pray before you go. Someone is sick or hurting? Pray for them. “Pray at all times” (Ephesians 6:18).
God’s Word. God’s Word is the standard by which we live our lives. We want children to learn how to read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and put it into action.
Evangelism. Parents can help their children by encouraging them to pray for lost friends and neighbors and to share their faith with others. We encourage families to reach their neighbors and lost friends. The family can be evangelistic by filling all the empty seats in their vehicle with lost friends and taking them to church.
Gifts and Ministry. We recognize the importance of the family ministering together. They can cook extra food at dinner and take it to a sick or hurting family, clean up an elderly neighbor’s yard, or prepare a sack lunch and give it to a homeless person. Simple acts of service make for a lasting faith. Parents also help their child take a Spiritual Gift Test. Their child’s highest scores from the test reveal their gifts. Then parents can look for creative ways the child can use their gifts at home, in the community, and in the church. If a child has the gift of teaching, allow them to teach the family what they are learning in their personal Bible study.
Life of Obedience. When parents instill in the hearts of their children that Jesus is Lord and teach them to do what His Word says (James 1:22), their faith grows deep and their walk is real.
The church provides screened and trained leaders who walk alongside the children to help them apply what they are studying at home. These leaders are involved in two phases of the children’s spiritual walk: spiritual disciplines and equipping the younger saints.
The disciple (small) group leaders teach on a weekly basis the six spiritual disciplines the children are learning at home. The teacher is a model and example for the children to follow. The Lordship of Christ is the target and focus of their lives and teaching. The leaders teach them how to pray and intercede for others. The leaders encourage the children to be in the Word of God daily and help them understand what they are studying through application. They teach the children how to share the Gospel, pray with them for their lost friends, and encourage them to go and tell about Jesus. The leaders help the believing children discover their spiritual gifts and encourage them to use their gifts in their disciple group and in the church. The leaders exemplify and foster the idea of living a life of obedience to Christ.
It is impossible for the children’s minister to know all the gifts of the children in their church. However, properly trained leaders can move children from being observers (“I do, you watch”) to servants and leaders (“You do, I watch”). The leaders recognize each child’s gift(s), equip these young saints and release them to minister within their group. The leaders give the children achievable and sometimes difficult tasks so that when they accomplish them, it builds their self-worth and gives them a deeper understanding of their role in the church.
- Ministry Training/Involvement
The church trains the children in ministry skills, such as tech, puppets, praise team, and drama. Then they are provided places in the church and the community where they can minister using the skills they’ve learned. Children are properly trained, equipped, and released to do ministry.
The ultimate goal of discipleship is to send disciples out into the world to reach the lost for Christ. Staying on the corner is not fulfilling the Lord’s command to “Go.” For missions, Acts 1:8 outlines three steps.
- Jerusalem—This is where you live. Children are trained how to share their faith and are encouraged to reach their neighbors and friends for the Lord.
- Judea and Samaria—This is your community at large. The church creates evangelistic ministry opportunities in the community surrounding the church (backyard Bible studies, one-day events) where children can share Christ.
- The End of the Earth—This refers to international missions. The church can help children obey this command by providing out-of-state or international mission trips.
- Discipling Others
Through the recommendation of adult leaders, believing children are trained to disciple younger children in the church and minister with an adult leader present. At this point, children begin to understand what a disciple is as they teach other children how to follow Christ. This is also a point of exponential growth for the child who is leading. They have a higher calling to model their faith to the younger believers they are discipling and serving.
- Discovering Their Purpose
When children and preteens are discipled and equipped for ministry, they grow up knowing who they are in Christ and understanding His purpose for them in the church and in the world. They use their spiritual gifts in ministry and discover their place in the body of Christ and in God’s creation.