Weddings have drastically changed this summer. Large, elaborate gatherings have been, in most cases, reduced to the basics: a pastor, bride and groom, small wedding party, close family, and maybe a simple reception. Not what many couples had dreamed of but, when all is said and done, the marriage takes place. The main goal is accomplished.
This illustration can help us reorient ourselves in regards to children’s and youth ministries this coming year. Many churches have labored long and hard to build programs, activities, and other events that serve children and youth. But sometimes we inadvertently put too much planning and effort into the “bells and whistles,” while regulating the main thing to the outskirts, namely, the comprehensive discipleship of children and youth. By “comprehensive,” we mean discipleship that is deeply rooted in Christian instruction and practice—doctrinal and relational in nature.
That is why, in a strange way, the recent COVID-19 disruptions provide us with new opportunities to focus on the basics, asking questions such as…What kind of programs truly promote and fuel the comprehensive discipleship of children and youth? Are there any programs that tend to be unnecessary “bells and whistles” (as fun as they might be)? With limited resources and/or drastically changed circumstances, what can we do to make sure we are serving our students and parents?
A Place to Start
In his book, Zealous: 7 Commitments for the Discipleship of the Next Generation, David Michael lays out seven commitments that provide a vision and framework for the comprehensive discipleship of children and youth. These commitments provide a wonderful guide for setting a course for the year ahead, or as a type of sieve for evaluating your current programs.
- Embrace a biblical vision for the faith of the next generation. (See “Gearing Up for Fall, Step 1.”
- Foster a robust partnership between church and home. This is going to be especially crucial this year, especially if your church will not be gathering in person for Sunday school or other activities. How can churches encourage, equip, and train parents to prioritize the discipleship of their children? Read “Church and Home: Better Together” and/or “Partnering with Parents” for some ideas.
- Teach the breadth and the depth of the whole counsel of God. Do you have a plan in place for doing this over the span of time from infancy to adulthood? What should it encompass? Are current programs structured to aim for this goal? How much time is spent on actual biblical instruction in the classroom or home? How will this year’s teaching resources serve this goal? Here is a helpful, short article with links to further resources.
- Proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe the gospel must be firmly grounded within the whole counsel of God, consistently and carefully explaining essential doctrines that are necessary for a proper and thorough understanding of the gospel. We must also make clear the gospel’s serious and urgent command to repent and believe in Jesus. Do your programs and resources promote this more comprehensive view of proclaiming the gospel? Find out more in this short article.
- Disciple the mind, heart, and will. Do your programs and resources take into account the “whole” child and the necessity for genuine faith and Spirit-empowered transformation? Are your programs structured to maximize spiritual growth, rather than other activities? Is an appropriate amount of time given in the classroom or at home to meaningful discussion and personal application of biblical truth? Can those 15 minutes used for a craft be put to better use? Go here for more insights on this important topic.
- Pray with dependence on God’s sovereign grace. Are your programs bathed in prayer from beginning to end? As you are planning for the coming year, is your team humbly and earnestly praying through options and seeking God’s will for how to move forward? Is prayer woven throughout children’s and youth ministries—outside of class, within the classroom, praying for children, and with children? Here is a wonderful article about the importance of prayer in the discipling children.
- Inspire worship of God, for the glory of God. This is the ultimate reason for the comprehensive discipleship of children and youth. It should be the ultimate aim of every program, resource, and activity. Children having fun is not the aim. Children feeling loved by their teachers is not the ultimate goal. Nor is having children know a vast array of Bible facts or be proficient in Bible memory—as good and necessary as those may be. Our programs should be designed and structured in a way that serves to magnify the greatness and worth of God, who is worthy of our highest devotion, love, honor, and praise. Serious joy in God should be reflected in our homes and classrooms—not silly, irreverent, or trite amusements. (See this article for more discussion for practical tips and resources.)
This coming year, there is no “one size fits all” regarding programming and resources for churches and homes. Some churches will be offering in-person classes. Will there be additional midweek programs, or not? Some will have their teachers record lesson presentations for viewing in the home. Some churches will come up with other creative solutions. But, when all is said and done, committing to the essentials is what is most important. Let’s refocus our efforts this year on the comprehensive discipleship of our children and youth.