When I was a kid, I used to love the pages my teacher would give us where we would draw a picture by connecting the numbers and dots. I am not fully sure what the purpose of the activity was, but you needed to know how to count or the picture wouldn’t turn out right. The best part of going step-by-step was seeing the picture develop before your eyes.
I have had the privilege of teaching and training for many years now. As I researched about kids staying in the church, I began to see a trend. There is a critical connection between service, staying in the church, and becoming a fully-active member of the body of Christ. As I have taught this on many occasions, leaders have come up to me and said that this is why they themselves are in the church today. Last spring, I was leading a training in Alabama. One of the leaders talked to me afterwards and said, “You are right. My children’s pastor did this for me. I started teaching VBS when I was in the 4th grade.” One leader from a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shared with me: “This is exactly what happened to me. My children’s minister took twelve girls and had us teaching and serving alongside her in the church. All twelve of us are now in full-time ministry.” The preschool minister at the last church where I served told me that she had the same experience. She started teaching when she was 12 years old. The dots began to connect for me. Kids who serve at a young age become active teachers and leaders in the body of Christ as adults. It connects them to the church and gives them meaning in life.
When someone talks about spiritual warfare, I sometimes raise an eyebrow. The truth is…it is very real. It’s often obvious to see in our world that seems to be falling apart and going crazy. In the past 28 years of doing ministry, I have seen it become more and more prevalent. I have begun to notice that there is an intensity of attacks against our kids. About 17 years ago, I was Camp Director at Fort Lone Tree in Capitan, New Mexico. It was a camp for 8- to 12-year-olds. Every year, we seemed to be having a lot of problems with kids with emotional issues. One evening during our camp fire worship time, I taught them about spiritual warfare and taking thoughts captive to Christ. I asked the kids, “How many of you are having thoughts that you are worthless or have no value here on Earth?” More than half of them raised their hands. This past summer during one of our mission trips, I asked the same question. One hundred percent of the kids (preteens and students) raised their hands! How do we help kids break through the attacks on their minds and thought-lives?
Here are some suggestions I have used to train children about spiritual warfare and the battle for their minds:
Have you ever noticed that it is difficult at times to get adults to serve in church? You can plead and make your case to no avail. While I was doing research for my doctorate one day, it finally hit me…and it wasn’t rocket science! When you ask a child for eighteen years to just sit still and listen while you minister to them, the results are always the same. They grow into adults who see church as a spectator event. They want to come and be fed. This is church to many adults today, including parents. So, we should not be surprised when we ask them to serve and they give us a shocked look or avoid us all together. This isn’t what they were taught that church is. There’s an old saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” So, we can no longer point at the adults in our church and be upset that they don’t want to serve. There are four fingers pointing back at us. We have a broken system.
As the Lord prepared to return to Heaven after His years on Earth, His last command was for His followers to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
Eric Geiger says, “A church can excel at anything and everything else, but if the church fails to make disciples, she has wandered from her fundamental reason for existence.”
How do we do this with children? It doesn’t come through teaching only; it comes through engaging them in ministry.
We must be cautious in embracing the idea of a secular education model to disciple children. Simply flooding a child’s mind with knowledge of Scripture doesn’t bring transformation.
Nicki Stranza warns, “School is designed to cram information in our kids’ heads. Experience is more effective in creating an opportunity for thinking and evaluation.”
The church isn’t a school; it is the body of Christ on mission.
Here are five essentials for discipling and seeing the lives of children transformed: