Paradigms

Flipping the Switch on Discipleship

Two out of three children from Christian families leave the church when they become adults. 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?

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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Flipping the Switch on Discipleship

© Scripture Union, 2022

2 Corinthians 4:5

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6 Comment

  1. God showed us He wanted a relationship with His children about 24 years ago. As a result we changed our focus (changed church … long story) and ended up training parents to tell stories whilst we did those things more difficult for parents to do at home. We did ministry training, leadership training, took children (aged 7+) out on the streets to prayer walk, pray for people THEY felt led to, and prayed for the sick. We listened to God, and our children (in Ely, U.K) saved a church ministry in USA – just because they listened. In our key group of 12 children, only one left the church at 11,others stayed in the “6 – 11 group until they were 15, 2 went to bible college, and 5 went on mission trips.

    1. Waoo.. glory to God! I’m 24 and will turn 25 on 13 November 22. I’m leaning toward children’s ministry too. Just need guidance; I’m an economist but more of an artist, I’m good at it and have been teaching the kids. I need help and leadership. Thank you, sir, for being an inspiration.

  2. We have “retired” from hands on children’s work as we believe God wants us to impact churches with their biggest, and most neglected gift from God. Their children. Children can hear from God more easily than adults. Children should be involved in ALL aspects of ministry in a church. Children will NOT normally stay in a church unless they are fully involved in the ministry. Sadly, most churches only tell bible stories to their children and then expect the children to colour pretty pictures! They don’t even tell modern stories that show that God is active today! The key is relationships! We wrote a book at the start of our adventure (now out of date and out of print) We would now visit churches almost anywhere to convince them that children are of vital importance to churches today!

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