Another thing I’d love for you to blog about (or see other blogs post about): Kids and discipleship. I’m really struggling with the implications of kids’ programs in general (you know, the Wednesday night ones) and whether there’s value or harm there… and whether my perspective as an adult doesn’t apply to kids, and vice versa. Mainly: How young is too young for discipleship? What does discipleship look like for kids? And, does the performance-and-reward system of most kids’ programs have lasting implications for their faith and how they see God, or is it just a bit of fun with the real benefit being positive, non-parent adult influences?
Those are lots of questions! I’ll try to give my thoughts on those questions, then I’ll share how we are starting to disciple our four kids (which, incidentally, will form the seeds of our philosophy for discipling children at Christ Church).
How young is too young for discipleship?
I don’t think there is such a thing as “too young” for discipleship, because our goal for them is the same as it is for us: to be disciples of Jesus. If we really believe this is the best way to live, the best deal going, then we’ll want to involve our children in this life from the very start.
We have to understand, though, that discipleship isn’t a special body of knowledge that you acquire or some kind of special-ops training for gifted-and-talented Christians. It’s for everyone, and it’s simply being with Jesus to learn how to be like him. We do the things Jesus did, for the reasons he did them, and we’re consistently, intentionally learning to do all the things Jesus commanded.
So we want our kids to know who they are (a beloved child of God the Father) and what to do (represent their Father, the King, by acting “in his name,” joining with him in the renewal of all things). That can start at a very young age, because kids are learning those things from a very young age.
What are the implications of kids’ programs in general?
One thing to keep in mind is that the way most evangelical churches do kids’ programs (i.e. adults and children separated for the entire length of their time at a church gathering), is extremely new in terms of human history. Most humans have always trained their children by having them with them in daily life. For Christians, this included having children with them in worship gatherings, participating as they were able.
Some people have started to do some research on the long-term effects of going from kids’ ministry to youth group and beyond, and they’re mostly disturbing: most young adults whose main experience of “church” was energetic kids’ programs and and kickin’ youth group abandon church once they’re out of these environments. Kara Powell has done some research on this and has a great article at Leadership Journal on it called “Is the Era of Age Segregation Over?”
How we are discipling our kids
A few months ago Doug Paul, a friend of mine sent me a white paper on the children’s ministry philosophy they were implementing at their church plant (you can download it here). After reading it and praying, Deb and I have started the following practices to disciple our kids:
- Scripture reading and prayer as a family (around bedtime)
- Prayer time (everyone shares something they’re thankful for, pray for anyone who is sick or worried, pray for “people of peace” and our Missional Community, and others who come to mind)
- Goodnight word (remind them of who they are)
- Goodnight prayer (have them pray and pray for them)
- Sabbath (Saturdays for us – no email/chores/yard work/cell phones, sometimes no TV/computers, we eat our favorite foods, we play, we go out on adventures, etc.)
- Missional Community (on mission together as a family, bringing our friends along)
- Discipleship Huddle (for kids 3rd grade and up). This is an intentional time of asking “What is God saying to you right now?” and “What are you going to do about it?” – a matrix of invitation and challenge, support and accountability in discipleship.
- Make sure we regularly, openly talk about what God is doing in our lives in front of our kids.
Hope that’s all helpful. What practices have you cultivated with your children that seem to have borne good fruit? What would would add to these thoughts?