When you purchase resources for children in your church, I would say that the majority of them are written on the basis of the developmental learning styles of children. They move from concrete to abstract thinking as they grow older and older. Every ministry leader desires for kids to come to know the Lord and to see them grow in their faith in Christ. Could it be, however, that we may be doing it all wrong? Are we educating children, or we discipling them? If we are not careful, we may be educating children about the Christian faith but never discipling children to have a life-sustaining personal relationship with Christ. Our calling is not to impart wisdom but to make disciples. It is great to have a knowledge of Scripture, but knowledge without action is nothing. Just like James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 1:21). You see, the faith of children is caught not taught. If you want to disciple a child, move them from being listeners to doers. For a season in your class, you model for them the Christian faith. After you get to know where they are spiritually, you move them into action. The next step is to put them to work in your class. Here is how you do this: First, you walk them through a spiritual gift test. Second, you identify the highest score for each child. Third, you involve them in your class according to their gifts. If I have a child that has a high score of administration, I have them take records each week and organize the classroom. If I have a child with a high score for the gift of teaching, I have them help me teach the lesson. It is easy to make a copy of what you want them to teach and give them clear direction on what you need them to do. Kids with the gift of helps can help set up the class and reset it when you are done. See what I mean?
The problem with most of our kids in church today is that they will sit from early childhood to 18 years of age and listen to someone teach them. The two results you will get from this teaching style are as follows:
This is a common question asked of me by many leaders as they begin a path toward discipling children in their churches. They are very concerned that certain kids in their groups are just not where everyone else is. The main temptation here is to target or focus on those who are behind or not ready. In other situations, we might focus on getting kids saved as our top priority. Which is best? I admit I have struggled with the same questions. Several years ago, I came to peace with the idea that I am called to make disciples, not converts only. Let me explain. If I focus all my attention on reaching lost children in my church, when will I have time to disciple those who know Christ? Getting a child to accept Christ is one the greatest joys of my life. For years I would lead them to Christ and I would go after the next kids who did not know the Lord. The problem was that I was sending preteens into the student ministry who were still “baby” Christians. They prayed the prayer, but that was it. As we look at Scripture, we have a mandate to make disciples (Matt. 28:190-20). So, the church is a place where we make it our top priority to disciple children. Lost children will continue to be saved, but the children in our ministries will grow in their faith and have a solid foundation in their lives before they hit the student ministry.
So here is how we turned the corner:
I remember at the end of the school year being relieved that another year was completed in children’s and preteen ministry. If you are like me, I hoped to see preteens transition into student ministry by the end of the summer with a good spiritual foundation. The problem I was facing was a lot of my preteens started dropping off the map before they hit the end of their fifth or sixth grade years. Then I discovered a new way to keep them on track. We developed a leadership training process. This came in two major parts:
If you are like most children’s ministers, child safety is your top priority. In my 28+ years of serving in children’s ministry, I have sadly had to report some individuals from my church and the camp I directed who were accused of possible abuse with a child. This is serious business when serving on staff in a Christian organization. We required applications and background checks on every leader who served in children’s ministry. We also mandated online training on sexual abuse prevention. What you don’t realize is that the majority of those who are sex offenders have never been caught. Because of this, it is proven that background checks and applications don’t always work. I did a great job at training leaders, but I failed to train the children in my ministry to know what was and was not acceptable behavior for children, students, and adults.