Children’s ministry regional facilitator Harry Bryans says, “The Global Church is experiencing a discipleship crisis where as few as 10% of youth in our Christian families and churches are considered as having a clear and resilient faith, and increasing numbers are leaving the church. Many parents and church leaders are left feeling devastated, defeated, and discouraged by this reality.”
Why is this happening? Are we deficient in what we’re doing to help children grow in faith? Should we be flipping the switch on discipleship?
Discipleship in the church.
Discipleship for children, in most churches, is structured around academic models. Sunday School is the most popular paradigm. The academic program is similar in most churches; the children sit in a circle, listen to a teacher, answer questions, and memorize facts. Lessons are spiced up with icebreakers, games, competitions, and other fun things designed to keep children engaged. And when the program ends, success is measured by the children’s attendance and ability to remember biblical texts, truths and trivia.
Is this the right way to do discipleship? Is one or two hours a week enough time for a child’s faith formation? How did discipleship end up being mainly a classroom-based program? Should the shape of children’s ministry be a largely intellectual enterprise? And why, despite the decline over many decades in children attending Sunday School, do we continue doing what we’ve been doing?
Discipleship with Jesus.
What most churches do today is nothing like what Jesus did. Discipleship for Jesus was doing life together 24/7. Yes, the disciples learnt facts about faith, but the emphasis wasn’t on gaining knowledge. The focus was on experientially learning to live the rhythms of life with Jesus in order to become more like Him.
Jesus never started a school and never ran a program. He walked around telling stories; interacting with the everyday things that ordinary people do. Jesus didn’t teach lessons from a curriculum; He framed His teaching on what was happening around Him. When He talked about something, His disciples could see and experience it. When Jesus did something, they could watch and learn. After He taught them, He sent them off to go and do it.The measure of disciple-making success for Jesus wasn't the number of people who gathered around Him; it was the number of people who left Him to make disciples of all nations. Click To Tweet
The measure of disciple-making success for Jesus wasn’t the number of people who gathered around Him; it was the number of people who left Him to “go and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19. Jesus birthed disciples to birth disciples. It was never His intention to prolong the discipleship process. There is a time to teach and a time to stop teaching. Jesus cut the umbilical cord after three and a half years. With the training completed, Jesus ascended into Heaven with the expectation that His disciples would do what He’d taught them to do.
Flipping the switch on discipleship.
What Jesus did wasn’t intended to be unique; it was prototypical.
What if we didn’t model discipleship on academic models? What if we shifted from program-driven ministry to Jesus-centric ministry? What if we structured discipleship as part of the rhythms of life? What if we designed children’s church experiences around opportunities to learn, work, and grow together in intergenerational communities? What if we equipped and encouraged parents to be the main disciple-makers (after all, they’re the ones who live with their children 24/7)? What if every Christian home was like a little church? What if we expected children to go and make disciples? And what if we dared every child to do something meaningful with the Gospel?
Flipping the switch on discipleship would change everything. We would see churches revived, families renewed, and children transformed. And the world would see Jesus!
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