Where Children's Discipleship Begins

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Picture this moment. The pastor of your church has been away on Sabbatical for a few weeks. His sole purpose in going to was to seek God for His will for the church. The entire congregation has been praying for him and waiting expectantly to hear God’s words. The first Sunday he returns, the whole church gathers together and without hesitation, he begins to share these words, “Church, we are serving the one and only true God. His call to us is to love Him with everything we have, every fiber of our being, every piece of our soul. He wants that to be written upon our hearts. We need to tell our children. We need to speak this truth to them every day, everywhere we go, in everything we do. Our homes need to be places where from the moment we rise until we go to bed we are intentionally impressing on our children who our God is and how we are to love him. That is the most important thing.”

How would your church react? How would you react?

I shared this scenario once with a couple of soon-to-be new pastors and the reaction I was met with was basically, “Yeah sure, sounds good. Nothing new or mind-blowing here.” But then I asked them to think about how churches were traditionally structured and consider what these churches were doing to equip parents for the work of discipleship at home. What were the churches doing to intentionally help families grow together? What kind of mentoring relationships existed between the older generations and the younger generations to allow for these interactions to take place? Did the older generations even know the names of the kids and the teens? In other words, was this not-so-new, not-so-mindblowing thing actually happening in the church, or do we just assume that it is?

Do we assume that having a successful children’s ministry or a thriving youth group means that kids are being discipled? Do we expect that parents are carrying on faith conversations at home? Do we just believe that prayer is happening, Bibles are being read, faith is being shared outside of the church building just because attendance numbers are up?

Sadly, the answer for many years has been, yes—we do assume, and we assume a lot. But reality paints a different picture.

Reality tells us that 59% of youth ages 15 or over disconnect permanently or for an extended period of time from church (source).  Reality tells us that only 12% of kids dialog regularly with their parents about faith at home (source). Reality tells us that the home, not the church, is the primary place for faith formation and that parents feel woefully unequipped for the task (source).

Part of the problem is that parents have often let the church assume that primary discipleship role for their kids. Just like they drop their kids off a school for academics and at the gym for sports, the church becomes a place to “drop off and pick up” rather than a place for corporate worship and continued faith formation together. Another concern is that parents don’t feel like they “know enough” themselves to talk about God with their kids or they don’t have ideas about how to bring God up in everyday conversation.

Instead of impressing these commands on their children all day long, every day, faith becomes compartmentalized to a certain place on a certain day at a certain time. Bibles are read in church. Worship takes place on Sundays. Prayer is done at an altar. And the impression isn’t one of an active growing faith in an always-present God but a regulated faith in a Sunday-only God.

That’s simply not how God arranged it. Going back to our example of the pastor returning from Sabbatical, replace “pastor” with Moses and replace “church” with Israel. And these are the words that we read, the message God sent with Moses of primary importance, so important that Jewish people still recite these Scriptures every day to this day.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut. 6:4-7)

The next few articles in this series will focus on giving parents practical tips to engage those four intentional moments of every day life. The idea isn’t to “add more” to what families are already doing. Our lives are full and busy and adding more to the plate is often unrealistic. Instead, the focus will be intentionally inviting Jesus into our moments by making space to welcome Him in our sitting, our going, our sleeping and our rising. The lasting impression left from this intentionality is one of a faith that is not found in a pew or a building, but a faith that is formed within the heart and lived out every day in the home; a faith that lasts and a faith that reminds us every day that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

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Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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

3 COMMENTS

  1. Good words here, Christina. I truly believe that the future of our local churches hinges upon family ministry taking place in our homes and wherever families gather. For far too long, ministry to and with children has been relegated to the church proper and therefore becomes just something we “do” rather than something we “are”. I am challenged and blessed by these words! I look forward to reading your follow up posts. Peace.

    • Thanks Aaron! I was convicted about the role discipleship and children serve in the home and church a few years ago and since then God has really grown a passion in my heart to share with others! I’m blessed that you were encouraged through this post! Blessings!

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