How the church can disciple kids
We hear a lot of buzz in the church world about how little time we have with kids. It’s true! Whether we like it or not our time with kids in our church building is limited. Here in the U.S. you are now considered to be a regular attender if you come to church twice a month. That works out to maybe 24 hours a year that we have to impact children and families.
We could stop there and be extremely discouraged, but wait, don’t give up! The church is the bride of Christ and God is at work in and through the church. Keep in mind that light always shines brighter than darkness, love always leaves a bigger imprint than hate, and we serve a God who has never once said “Oops!” He saw this, sees it, and is in control of it. I believe God still desires to use the church to reach and change the world.
Before we get into ways the church can help disciple a child, let’s back up and talk about the church. I don’t know about you, but usually when I hear the word “church” my mind conjures up the image of a building. After all, we go to church; that is our church building. And, church is something we do on Sunday. Right? Wrong. The church was never intended to be a building; it was intended to be a community. The Greek word for church is ekklesia. The definition is an “assembly”, or “called out ones.” I find it interesting that it does not say “a building with a steeple and well-groomed grounds.” The very heart of church is a community of called out ones. That tells us that when we think about how the church can disciple kids it’s going to go well beyond what happens on Sunday and where it takes place.
If you’re reading this and you’re a follower of Jesus, you are the church. As a part of the church, as one of the “called out ones”, it is your job to help pass faith on to the next generation. This idea of discipling a child does not rest solely on the children’s pastor or volunteer; it rests on all of us. We often use Deuteronomy 6 to call parents to pass on faith to their children. In verses 4-9 very practical suggestions are made for teaching and training children in the way of faith. “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.” While parents are called to pass on faith we cannot forget who the audience is in this passage. In verse 4 it does not say, “Hear, O parents” it says, “Hear, O Israel.” It’s a call to the community of called out ones to pass on faith to the next generation. The beautiful thing about this is that no one is left out. Regardless of your age, your belief in your own abilities, or your like or dislike of children’s ministry, you have a call and you are useable by God. In Psalm 78 it speaks of passing on our stories of faith and God’s goodness in our lives so, “That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children” (v.6). Your life and your story matters.
Discipleship can be an intimidating word, especially when you think of it in light of children. It’s a big word to consider when you’re trying to get a 3-year-old to stop eating a crayon. Do not let yourself get stuck in the word. The best form of discipleship is doing life alongside someone else. When we disciple we are teaching, and more importantly, showing what living life as a follower of Jesus looks like. As we dive into some ways the church can disciple children please keep in mind that this is intended to go beyond the building and beyond Sunday. This should be happening outside the building as you rub shoulders with the littlest of the “called out ones.” For those of you who teach and parent and lead, each of these happens when you hold your lesson plans loosely, are willing to be redirected, and keep in mind it is about the kids … not about you.
Transformation Over Information
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of pushing information into our kids. While information is not bad, I fear we often focus more on it than we do on the transformation part. Information focuses on the head, transformation goes further and deals with the heart. The tough thing about transformation is it is not as easily measured and it’s not something we can force. We can measure how many verses are memorized, how many books of the Bible are sung in the right order, and how often visitors are brought to church. We can’t, however, measure the things that really count—matters of the heart. It’s difficult to measure: kindness that flows out of a heart to love Jesus not out of a desire for a reward, prayer in a confusing situation, decisions to extend grace and forgiveness instead of hate. Discipling a child means helping them fall in love with Jesus. If they fall in love with Jesus the rest follows.
Teacher tip: Take the time to explain why and how the information they are learning applies to their walk with God. Information is a wonderful tool and helping kids see how it affects them is a great way to facilitate transformation.
A Safe Place for Questions
The way of Jesus is not easy and never has been. Kids are questioning God in ways far deeper than we as adults do. Discipleship means walking alongside kids as they question and not admonishing them for it. In their questioning they are learning. Allow space for kids to ask the tough questions and let them wrestle through it. Let us be slower to answer and quicker to provide a place for them to process.
Teacher tip: A great way to encourage the tough questions is to share about a time you had a tough question. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have the answers.
Authentically Share Your Story
No other generation has cried out for authenticity quite like this one. In a world of false fronts and scripted reality our kids deeply desire to know what is real. They can argue with the Bible but they can’t argue with your own stories of faith. Kids need to hear how God has changed your life. They also need to hear beyond that, a time when you have questioned, or been sad, or have conquered a fear. When we disciple we do it best by being authentic. We don’t always understand what’s going on, but we serve a good God who never leaves us.
Teacher Tip: Authenticity can be tough! If you’re having a hard time, write down a couple stories and share them with the kids. Your method matters far less than your authenticity. Kids will connect with you through your authenticity, which is always returned with authenticity.
Listen to Them
Our world is busy and it’s filled with noise. As I work with kids I am constantly surprised at how little they are listened to. As much as they need to hear your story, they also need to share their stories. Be careful to not assume you know their story. I guarantee you there are elements of their stories that will surprise you and break you. As they share, pray with them, point them to Jesus, and do not take lightly the fact that they trusted you with their story.
Teacher Tip: The best way to allow kids to share their stories is to give them a specific time to do it. It’s okay to tell them to save their story for 10 minutes. It’s also okay to give the especially long-winded ones a time limit and let them know they can finish telling you their story later.
Release Them to Ministry
Discipleship is all about modeling. If we want to raise up kids who serve Jesus well, it starts now. Don’t hesitate to ask kids to pray for you or for someone else. Don’t hesitate to ask them to serve or help in some way. Don’t hesitate to ask a child to help you teach the lesson. There is no age limit for serving, allow them to start ministering now.
Teacher tip: When prayer requests come up ask the kids to pray for them. Try to remember to engage your kids in your ministry. Look for ways they can serve.
As a community of “called out ones” I have no doubt that God is going to use us to reach this generation of kids. They are not the church of tomorrow because they are already the church. Love them well and keep in mind that your role in their life matters greatly. Whether you see them in your church building, in your neighborhood, or at the grocery store, never forget that you are called to disciple them and point them to Jesus.