Why Is the Word “Discipleship” a Red Flag in Children’s Ministry Today?

I remember going to a Children’s Pastors Conference years ago, and there were a couple of people there who I thought were strange. TheyAdobeStock 214746628 were using the words “disciple” and “discipleship” when talking about teaching children. When I heard or saw that, it was as if a red flag went up concerning the person or group. You see, I have three seminary degrees. What does that mean? Nothing. I am very grateful for my training, but I don’t consider myself an expert in childhood education or in theology. What I do remember throughout my education was that I rarely heard the words “discipleship” or “making disciples” when referring to children. I would say that I never heard it at all in seminary. So, it was normal for me to have a red flag when someone used those words. The problem is not with the word “discipleship,” though. The problem is that in many Christian schools and seminaries, we have replaced it with the words “Christian education.” Somewhere in the grand history of the Christian church, we have gotten off track. We have jumped ship. I believe that education is very important for every child to be successful in life. However, there is a difference between education and discipleship.

What is the real problem then? Educating our kids. We have taken a path of imparting knowledge to our children versus teaching them the heart of the Gospel, that God truly loves them and wants to have a living, vibrant, personal relationship with them every day. They were created for a purpose. God uniquely designed them to be a part of a greater picture—the body of Christ. That is what discipleship is all about, and that is the focus we need to take with our children.

One of my seminary professors shared with me that the seminary has been teaching for years the developmental learning styles of children versus understanding children in relationship to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. You see, when we look at what they can learn or think they can learn, we restrict their faith to a spiritual growth chart that is actually choking out their faith. When I say that a child is a concrete thinker at a certain age, I have the idea that I should not teach them abstract concepts because they won’t understand. I would not want to teach them anything beyond “their abilities.” The problem with this is that we put the Holy Spirit and God in a box. When we listen to the Holy Spirit instead of the wisdom of man, we move from education to spiritual transformation. Where am I going here? We have bought into the idea that we are supposed to sit kids down and teach them what the Bible says, and they will then become fully-devoted followers of Christ. This is simply knowledge-based Christian education if that is all we do. I learned a very unique lesson in years past about believing children. They are The Church today…right now…at their age! Why, you might ask? Because of who lives in them at new birth. When they accept Christ as Savior, they receive THE Holy Spirit, not a “baby” Holy Spirit. Just like Jesus told the disciples years ago, the Counselor will come, and He will guide you in all truth and knowledge. The Counselor—the Holy Spirit—lives in them, so He is the One who will open their eyes to God’s greater plan, not just their teachers. Secondly, if you read the same Bible I do, you will see that God does pretty much whatever He wants in a person’s life who is open and hungering after His heart. Who better than kids? Jesus tells us that we must become like a child to enter His Kingdom. You see, in their innocence, the Holy Spirit can do a powerful work in and through them. He, the Holy Spirit, is not hindered by learning or developmental styles of kids. He moves wherever He wants unless we get in the way, and many times we do. The problem today is that we get in the way. We do not believe God can move in the lives of children in our churches, so we hold them back and wait until they become “mature enough.”

Remember the story of Eli and Samuel? It says in 1 Samuel 3 that a word from the Lord was scarce in those days. But somehow in God’s amazing plan, He spoke to a child. Samuel was believed to be approximately 12 years old at the time. It came about one night as Samuel was lying in bed that he heard a voice say, “Samuel.” Samuel thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and woke him up. Eli told him to go back to bed two different times until he realized that the Lord was talking to Samuel. What if Eli had been skeptical? When God spoke to Samuel, what if Eli didn’t believe the kid could hear a message from God? Fortunately, Eli recognized that God was speaking to Samuel.

Every believing child in your church has the ability to hear the voice of God. Not only through His Word, but through Him speaking directly to their hearts. I love what a friend of mine, Keri Meek, taught her leaders in her church. When they were developing ministry teams for kids in her church, she would tell her adult leaders to encourage the children in their group to pray and wait. They were committed to making sure the ministry belonged to the children, and so they prayed, and God answered and showed them what to do. The cool thing was that ideas would pop into the kids’ minds, and they would write them down. Then, things began to get exciting. It became their ministry.

Could it be that we have become like the disciples, not believing that children can come to Christ in their own way? That they can ask anything of Him and He will answer them? Here is where we can turn a corner.

  1. 1. Begin to look at children in a new light, especially if they are believers in Christ. Everyone wants them to come to know the Lord. They, too, can have the abundant life right now (John 10:10).
  1. 2. Recognize them as important members of the body of Christ. Equip them to use their gifts to serve alongside you in the church (Eph. 4:11-13).
  1. 3. Release them to do ministry. Remember, they have the Holy Spirit, and He can speak to them and give them spiritual insights that can build your ministry up.

This summer, I have an 18-year-old working as my Assistant Director on our L.I.T. Mission Trips. Richard started serving in my church when he was in the fourth grade. I have personally watched him grow in his faith to become a confident man of God. I am proud to see the Lord using him in so many amazing ways. But it all started when he was in fourth grade. I am very confident in his ability to the point that I have released a tremendous amount of responsibility to him. What I love to hear from him is that people think he is a lot older. One person thought he was at least 25 years of age. They are shocked when they ask him how long he has been serving in the church, and he says seven years. They are also amazed that an 18-year-old can carry such a tremendous amount of responsibility. In every child in your church, there are gifts and talents that can be a huge blessing to your ministry. You only have to tap into those gifts and train, equip, and release those children as valuable members in the body of Christ.

If this blog speaks to you and you are ready to take your children’s ministry to a discipleship and equipping focus, please feel free to contact us. We will assist you on a path that will transform and empower kids in your church. We are in your court, and we are committed to assisting you on your new journey.