I remember years ago when I first started out in children’s ministry. I would go to conferences and look at all different curriculums. A lot of times, I bought books or curriculum because of the awesome cover of the book, often in haste. But when I opened them up and began reading the content, I realized the only thing unique about the curriculum was the cover. I hate to admit it, but a lot of us do that. As I write this blog, a question comes to mind. How do we define discipleship with children? I remember years ago when someone asked that about discipleship, a red flag would go up in my mind. For some reason, the church quit using that terminology and began calling it Christian education instead.
In most churches today, what we would call discipleship is the impartation of wisdom or knowledge about the Bible. There is nothing wrong with this; however, are we truly discipling children like Jesus did by His example? What I want us to do is look at Jesus’ model. I want to share with you five points or models that Jesus used to teach His disciples:
- He taught them how to pray. On many occasions while Jesus was with His disciples, He would slip away to pray. However, the disciples requested of Him, “Lord, teach us how to pray,” and He did. What the disciples learned from Jesus they continued on in their ministry even after Jesus left this earth. So, what we are called to do with children is to teach them how to pray. We don’t talk about it, we don’t teach it, we just do it. That means we hit a knee with them by our sides, and we show them how to pray and intercede for others. We teach them that prayer is spiritual warfare (1 Cor. 10:3-4). We teach them that through prayer we are doing spiritual warfare for the kingdom of God. We teach them that through prayer we have protection from the enemy (Eph. 6:10-18). We teach them that through our relationship with Christ we can come boldly to the throne of grace to find mercy in times of need (Heb. 4:16).
- He taught them the Word of God and made it come alive. As Jesus taught His disciples, He lived out His words in front of them. He taught the importance of obeying God’s Word and putting it into practice. He taught them that the Word of God comes alive through action and application. He taught them in a small group as well as in large groups, and He lived out before them what He taught. Jesus did not teach His disciples merely through lecture. He taught them and then modeled for them through His personal actions. He taught them that by doing what the Word of God said, they would have a foundation that would withstand the storms of life (Matt. 7:24-27).
How does this apply to children? We teach the Word of God just like Jesus did—by word and through action (modeling). Every teacher in your church should embrace the idea that our goal is to make the Word of God come alive, not just to impart wisdom. Discipleship is not only teaching the Bible, it is making it come alive by putting it into action and immediate application.
- He taught them about submission and surrender. Jesus modeled before His disciples His submission to the Father in obedience even to death, death on a cross. He called them, if they wanted to follow Him, to lay down their lives in abandonment and to follow Him in wholehearted devotion (Luke 9:23). He taught His disciples to see where God was working and how to join Him in this work (John 5:19). Jesus taught His disciples that they had no rights because their lives were no longer theirs. Lordship is something that should be taught to every believing child in your church. Help them understand that they should surrender their lives to Christ daily in total abandonment to Him and His will for their lives.
- He taught them about service and putting others first. Jesus told His disciples that all authority in Heaven and Earth were given to Him, and then He grabbed a towel and basin and washed His disciples’ feet. Afterward, He commanded them to do the same. Jesus shared with His disciples that in order to become great in the kingdom of God, they must become the least—the servant of all. Jesus tells us, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Through service, the disciple discovers the key to true joy when they turn their focus on others and meeting their needs. In order for children to be able to grasp service, they need to serve now. Each believing child in your church has been given spiritual gifts for service in the body of Christ and to build up the body of Christ. Service through spiritual gifts connects the child with their personal identity in Christ and their purpose in His church today.
- He gave them authority to represent Him on Earth and commanded them to go and make disciples. While the disciples were with Jesus, He sent them out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of God. They came back rejoicing because of what God did in and through their lives. When Jesus left the earth, He commanded His disciples to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus gave His disciples authority and promised them power from the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). After Pentecost, the disciples fearlessly shared with the world the Good News of Christ. Every believing child in your church should be taught how to share their faith and be given opportunities to do so in your church, in your community, and on mission. Missions education is only that if children are not trained how to share their faith and allowed to become missionaries today. Every child should become a disciple-maker themselves. I made it my priority to look at our older preteens’ spiritual lives. Were they walking with the Lord? Were they faithful in their personal devotional life? Were they a discipline problem at home, school, or church? If their lives lined up, then I would allow them to teach younger children under the supervision of an adult leader.
I make these points to you because we’ve embraced many times in the church today a secular education model. We have accepted the idea that there are certain things that children can and cannot do in the church. We put out spiritual growth charts that have often robbed children of their greatest joy in the body of Christ—their gifts and their calling today to minister. If you want the lives of children in your church to come alive, turn your attention and focus to how Jesus taught His disciples. Then, you will witness true change, spiritual growth, and transformation like you’ve never seen before. About 15 years ago, I took this path at my church, and I will never go back to the old ways of educating children about Jesus. Now, I teach leaders to model, disciple, equip, and release children for ministry and missions today. When you do this, you will find true joy in your ministry setting and lives changed for His kingdom’s sake.
My dear brothers and sisters, we have a broken model in our churches today. If you’re like me, for many years, Sunday school was my discipleship model. I would walk down the halls and watch teachers circling around tables with children and teaching them things about the Bible. I watched those children move into the student ministry with very little change in their lives. But then I began this journey, and I now see “kids” 15 years later still serving in the church, loving the Lord Jesus, and giving honor to His name in and through their lives.
We’re here to help you. We are committed to the body of Christ as a whole to train leaders who disciple like Jesus did. We would love to hear from you. If you would like more information about our ministry and how you can learn to truly disciple children in your church, click here.