This year I have taken on a new role as Disciple (small) Group leader at my church. From September until now, I have watched as the lightbulb goes on in these young sixth-grade boys’ hearts.
What I love seeing the most is watching their spiritual gifts manifest before my eyes.
I have a young man in my group who is borderline ADD, as I am; however, when it comes to spiritual matters, I am amazed—he is a gifted teacher. He can articulate Scripture in crazy effective ways.
We were practicing how to share the Gospel several weeks ago. When he sat down with another young man in our group and shared, I was blessed to see his God-given gift manifest right then. He is only 12 years old.
It has really come to my attention more recently that many times the spiritual lives of children are being underminded in our churches today.
We often look at their age and convince ourselves that they are not developmentally ready for the “bigger things” of the church.
However, throughout Scripture, it is apparent that God never looked at what a person could do for Him.
He made it pretty clear that He would work through people to accomplish His will. It was more about a person having an open heart before God.
He worked through a person’s weakness. That way, the glory was always given to Him. The Lord made it clear to Jeremiah:
The other day I was talking with a children’s pastor in my area. She was very frustrated because she had moved a group of preteens that she felt were ill prepared into the student ministry of her church. She talked with the student pastor shortly after the transition, and he told her that it was too late, that they were set in their ways and there was little hope of their lives changing at this point.
The fingers point in many directions in the church trying to cast blame; however, the answer to the problem is to stop doing what we are doing and move to a model of intentional discipleship and empowering of children and preteens for ministry.
Allen Nelson shares,
As children’s ministers, we have to ask the question, are my teachers teaching or discipling children in my church? Are we more concerned about the developmental learning styles of children, whether they are concrete or abstract learners, than about whether they are being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives? I believe we should be fascinated with the idea that every child that is saved (or born again) has received the Holy Spirit into their lives. Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, including children. He is not a “baby” Holy Spirit; He is THE Holy Spirit. This changes everything! In the body of Christ, we don’t look at what a child can learn. We look at what the Holy Spirit can do through them. We don’t worry about concrete and abstract thinking because the Holy Spirit is not restrained by learning styles. He works in and through open and receptive hearts. If the majority of children are saved between the ages of four and fourteen, you better believe that in their innocence, He can do a powerful work in and through them. What does that look like?
I remember the first time I allowed preteens to serve in children’s church at my church. At the time, we were meeting in the gym. We had a stage set up in the corner where the automated projector screen was hanging. We would lower the screen right above the stage and project the words to the worship songs on it. That first Sunday, I was anticipating great things from the preteens. As the service kicked off, everything was going well. Then, I saw two of my preteen leaders in training running back and forth behind the stage. You know the rest of the story…the kids sitting in the service were focused on the girls going back and forth, like watching a basketball game. The children in attendance saw nothing except these two young ladies running back and forth. Out of frustration, I finally caught up with the girls and questioned, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” They told me, “We are helping.” I got a little angry at them for being a distraction from the service like they were. Then it hit me—it was MY fault. I never told them what I expected of them or gave them any form of on-the-job training. From that point on, I would sit the whole group down and explain my expectations. We would go through step-by-step what I expected of them. The amazing thing is that I saw them step up to the task like I had never seen before. Here are four steps to successfully train and equip children and preteens for ministry: