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True Believers

Six ministry veterans reveal how they make genuine disciples out of kids.

It's the ultimate goal of everything you do...changing a life, saving a life, cultivating a heart that will follow Jesus for a lifetime. You spend countless hours choosing the right curriculum, praying, stocking supplies, interacting with kids -- all with the vision that your message, actions, and love will resonate with a child. But there are times when you do everything right…and still nothing seems to stick. Dismayed, maybe even frustrated, you wonder: How do I know if I've really made a difference? How can I tell when a child's heart truly turns toward Jesus? How do I go beyond lessons and curriculum to seriously and intentionally impact kids to become lifelong followers of Jesus?

These questions all plague most children's ministers at some point or another. Read on to discover six ministry veterans' views on what true discipleship looks like in children's ministry.

.iPOD, iPHONE, iPAD...iDISCIPLE

It seems that every year there's a new curriculum or book on how to make kids follow Christ and to be better disciples. Often it's as if the burden is solely on the child. But the truth of the matter is that if kids are to follow, adults must lead. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it."

Somehow, though, we often leave the training part of the deal by the wayside. We have the opportunity to show children how to follow Jesus by imitating him in all we do. Jesus would essentially say to his disciples, "Follow me. You'll do greater things than me. It's not about me, but about my Father." Before all the "stuff" (DVDs, laptops, cell phones, iPods), Jesus taught all who listened how to pray, build their faith, and live a life of service to others through example. Nothing's really changed. All our glamorous bells and whistles are a poor substitute for our job as Christlike leaders of children. Our presence, our words, and our actions are what children watch -- and how we truly disciple them.

Although today's kids are entertained with an array of high-tech gadgets, they do know the difference between human interaction and a substitute. Love, peace, patience, humility, and service -- that's what we have the opportunity and the responsibility to teach them.

Each Sunday morning, we must choose what type of disciples we will create. Children are sponges; they soak up whatever they encounter...good or bad. If we show them peace and joy through giving and serving, we offer them positive alternatives to absorb. Our job is to lift, guide, protect, and propel them to be the disciples Jesus intended them to be. Think about it this Sunday. Put away all the "stuff" and disciple. Be Christlike.

Anthony C. Meyers has served as children's pastor for The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas. He's a sought-after leader, teacher, and motivator…and father of two.

For additional ideas on engaging high-tech kids, check out Jennifer Hooks' article, Teaching Digital Natives.


IT'S ALL IN THE FAMILY

The truth: Our 1 to 3 hours a week spent with the children in our ministries aren't the most influential force in their young lives. Therefore it follows that building true disciples of the kids who attend our children's ministries can't result solely from that extremely short period of time. In our time with children, can we influence them? Absolutely. Can we entertain them? Sure. Can we assume some of what we teach "sticks"? Hopefully. But the cold, hard reality is that our kids spend more time playing video games, watching TV, and surfing the Internet -- in short, engaging with media and culture -- than they ever will spend within the walls of our ministry.

On our own as ministry leaders, this battle is unwinnable. Culture is the victor. If we hope to succeed in building children who are Christ-followers, then we must enlist an ally with the firepower and resources (though perhaps not the training) to counter the pervasive reach of culture, media, and society and take its place as the single largest life-shaping force in a child's life. That ally, the one we cannot win without, is the family.

Effective child discipleship -- beyond curriculum and weekly lessons -- hinges on whether we as children's ministers can engage families to take their rightful place as the shapers of their children's spiritual life. Educators have known this secret to be true academically for many years. How do I know? Each week my first grader brings home pieces of paper that encourage us as parents to read with our kids because the teachers at his school know that engaging the family is key to his success in developing intellectually. Teachers get seven hours a day, five days a week with kids, and yet they still understand the need to align themselves with the powerful force of the family. We get even less time to teach an even more important (and more difficult) topic, and yet so often we ignore our glaring need to enlist help.

The family is God's designed primary way of influencing children, not children's church or children's ministry. What we do as children's ministers is great and valuable, but only to the extent that it's supercharged when we resource, partner with, and empower families.

Bill Anderson is a veteran family life pastor at his church in Millersburg, Ohio.

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