I had the privilege of attending an honorary luncheon yesterday for Dr. Robert Coleman, author of The Master Plan of Evangelism and former dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism. The purpose of the gathering was to present Dr. Coleman with a book of essays that had been written as a tribute to him by several of the men he had mentored over the past 50 years, men who have gone on to serve Christ all over the world as presidents of seminaries, deans of colleges, leaders of missionary organizations, pastors, teachers, and most of all, Christians.
Sitting there, listening to these testimonies and sharing in that moment with these great people of faith, my heart swelled with gratitude that my husband and I were now counted in that number of mentored believers whose lives had been touched by this humble but passionate man and his wife, Marietta. As he rose to speak, I was again blessed my his immediate posture of discipleship – he wasn’t there to be honored; he was there to once again challenge us to “Go and make disciples!”
And that’s when he said it.
“Discipleship isn’t hard to understand. Discipling is like raising a child. That’s why everyone can understand the Great Commission.”
What he meant by that was this; discipleship takes time. It takes patience and longevity. It takes good times and bad times, perseverance and commitment. And everyone, even if they are not a parent, has at one time been a child, and everyone can understand the depth of commitment needed to raise children.
I could not help but immediately reflect on the topic of the last few blogs, especially one that gained a lot of traffic in a few short days whose topic was simply why it was important for kids to participate in worship. Conversations that grew out of the post were varied and diverse but most came to this conclusion:
For the most part, kids don’t have a place within the larger context of the church.
Not that we don’t love them. We want to give them our best. We provide beautifully decorated rooms, top-of-the-line video and lights, theologically-correct curriculum, arts and crafts of every kind, and gracious volunteers who give their time to show the love of Christ. Having a wonderful children’s ministry or youth ministry is a testimony of a church who desires to see children growing in Christ and learning His Word.
But, and this is huge, if the children aren’t engaged by the larger congregation through intentional relationship-building that takes time, commitment, perseverance and longevity, then we are missing a key component to the Great Commission. Are we making disciples of our children?
I’ve often heard ministers say that discipleship is a lost art in the church today. When I heard Dr. Coleman describe discipleship like raising a child, I couldn’t help but wonder if one reason we struggle with discipleship in the church is because we struggle with raising children in the church. We know to take care of them, entertain them, and hug them. But I wonder if we, as a church on the whole, not individuals or specific congregations, are stuck when it comes to raising them as disciples in the faith.
And if Dr. Coleman’s assessment is right maybe the reason discipleship is a lost art is because we’ve changed how we view and welcome children to church. Perhaps as we seek to change our approach to kids and not ask, “How can we make church fun for kids?” but instead, “How can we make disciples of all, even children?” In a workshop I once attended with Dr. Scottie May of Wheaton she stated,
Give children what they need, not what they want. Keep the theology high and you will reach their hearts.
As churches, let’s make sure our love for kids isn’t limited to a wing in the church or a great kidmin program. Let’s make sure that we wrap all that up inside of the greater goal of discipleship through building relationships that cross the lines of age and space and incorporate the whole body in a deeper walk of faith together
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.
Commander Bill (@CommanderBill)
I agree with the base premise of the post. Children should be included in all aspects of the church. Too often they are seen and not heard by many members and sometimes they are not even seen.
My comment deals with a couple statements, I’ll look at one in particular:
— Quote —
Perhaps as we seek to change our approach to kids and not ask, “How can we make church fun for kids?” but instead, “How can we make disciples of all, even children?”
— End Quote —
There seems to be a disconnect between having fun and making disciples of children. If you are having fun, then you are not making disciples, and if you are making disciples, then you are not having fun.
I would like to think that there need not be a polarization in the two, but that a solid balance can be had where we embrace fun while making disciples. Personally, I think that if one is emphasized to an extreme over another, then we are doing a disservice to the children, and families.
I do agree with your final paragraph…
“As churches, let’s make sure our love for kids isn’t limited to a wing in the church or a great kidmin program. Let’s make sure that we wrap all that up inside of the greater goal of discipleship through building relationships that cross the lines of age and space and incorporate the whole body in a deeper walk of faith together”
So often, churches forget that children who believe are part of the church today.
Thank you for your thoughts.
I absolutely agree with you that we can have fun and make disciples. However, I often find that the emphasis on fun tends to be out of balance with the emphasis on disciplemaking. My heart is that our first goal should be to make disciples and if we have fun doing that, even better! This summer our church is going full-out Superhero Summer because that is FUN! But as we are planning, we are intentional about making sure disciple-making remains the focus, even as our schedule and theme changes for the summer months. I do think it is key that we start from “making disciples” and build from there, so I would have to say, in terms of balance, I would tip the scale in that direction but not to the neglect of fun, which is important, but to strengthen the foundation of discipleship.
I agree, discipleship should be the primary goal, and “fun” can help accomplish that goal.
The most effective discipleship does come from those quiet “talks” on the side when a child begins to question, desires to learn, and begins to understand
Amen, relationships are key!