Children and Youth: Missing Pieces of Movements?
– By Joseph Myers, Senior Editor, Accel –
Edited and posted with permission, from the April 2021 issue of Accel, pages 14-18
Information abounds on children’s ministry and youth ministry in traditional church settings. And hundreds of webpages, articles and books discuss church planting movements and disciple making movements. But after searching diligently, I have come across only two references that seem to address children/youth and movements with any degree of detail. The first is George O’Connor’s Reproducible Pastoral Training: Church Planting Guidelines from the Teaching of George Patterson (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2006). Guideline 32 is “Let children do serious ministry” (pages 140–9). Although not necessarily formulated with movements in mind, the concepts presented in this guideline are relevant and contain enough detail that the reader can hope to implement them. A summary appears below.
- Let children actively participate in worship instead of listening passively to a children’s sermon or story. For example, children love to act out Bible stories for adults during worship. Mixing different ages, including adults, to dramatize sermons makes a greater impact on hearers.
- Always segregating children and youth by age cripples their social development. Children benefit more from working and playing with adults and children of different ages.
- Churches and parents should apply a practical, relational approach to the training and discipling of children and youth.
- Christian parents, especially fathers, should do far more training of children, and churches should have more activities that include whole families.
- Children of all ages desire the attention of those older than they are. Having older children disciple younger children and youth disciple older children grows both the discipler and the discipled.
- Help children to participate actively in the Lord’s work.
- Recognize what each child has to offer.
- Children thrive on being creative. Give them opportunities to share the fruit of their creativity (songs, poems, skits, artwork) with other children and, as appropriate, with adults.
- Children learn well from non-verbal teaching. For example, accepting children as a part of the fellowship from their earliest years instills in them a love for the church and, by extension, for the truths it teaches and models for them.
- Teach the Word the way Paul did. Good Bible exposition lays a foundation for abstract doctrinal understanding. Beginning with a concrete Bible passage on events such as creation, the Fall, the Abrahamic Covenant, or the giving of the Law can help adults as well as children grasp the more difficult related concepts.
- Vary the ways in which you present a passage of Scripture to increase engagement and understanding. Examples include reading, dramatizing, giving object lessons, and asking questions – even within the same teaching or preaching session.
The other helpful resource is an article by C. Anderson, appropriately entitled “Can Children and Teenagers Be Part of a DMM?” In the section “Principles for Dealing with Family Issues in DMMs,” she lays out six things parents and other adults can do to help children and teens develop as disciples and disciplers:
- Shift your mindset from entertaining kids to training them.
- Children and teenagers need to be taught that they too are royal priests.
- Cast vision for movement to children and teenagers; get buy-in from them as well as their parents. (Within this principle she counsels, “Help them see what God could do through them to start a movement and invite them to pray with you for this.”)
- Expect more of children and teenagers. They will rise to the challenge.
- Don’t always separate kids into their own groups.
- Help parents understand their responsibility to train their kids to obey Christ and multiply disciples.
Although these principles address the issues of “what” more than “how,” they provide a good starting point for serious consideration of ways youth and children can become active participants in, and even leaders of, movements.
Anderson closes her article with a warning that anyone seeking to disciple young people should take to heart:
Very few churches expect teenagers to actually be disciple makers. They are not challenged to exercise their spiritual gifts in any significant way. We must work to change this paradigm if we want to see movements in the West. Those of you from Africa or Asia, this is one place where you should avoid adopting an ineffective Western church model of discipling children!
Youth are the future of our churches and movements. But we recognize as well that we think of them only as the future at our peril. Surely many more stories of how God has worked in, among, and through children and youth in movements are just waiting to be shared, if only we would take the time and effort to do so.
To that end, I’d like to issue you a challenge. Look at your own ministries. Talk to people who are part of your movements. Ask your colleagues who are involved with other movements. What is God doing to reach, disciple, train, and make leaders of children and youth? How is it happening? Isn’t that worth sharing for both His glory and the building up of the body (through others taking what you have learned and applying it)?
If you think so too, drop me an email at [email protected]. God willing, we can produce a follow-up issue on “Children and Movements” in the not-too-distant future.