Aim Lower – a new priority for children in mission thinking

Aim Lower, Think Smaller, Give up and Go Have a Cup of Coffee. These are the taglines of the popular viral video about mission to children.

It doesn’t make sense…

IMAGINE ANOTHER WORLD

How can we tell the story of Jesus to the 2 billion+ children of the world if we stop our busy activity and reduce our goals?

It doesn’t make sense… but it will! It all began with a dream…..

  • Imagine a world where all children are safe and live in hope. A world where every child has the opportunity to be all that God intends them to be. A world where they are given many opportunities to respond to the love of Jesus Christ and to share that love in words, hope, healing and comfort.
  • Imagine a church that values children so much that they willingly commit the resources necessary to reach and nurture their younger generation. A church that champions the efforts of children to make a difference to their community and to their world.
  • Imagine families that delight in accompanying children on their faith journey and are equipped and encouraged to do so in a church community that shares that responsibility.
  • Imagine theological institutions where all disciplines acknowledge the importance of children in their courses and advocate for children in their circles of influence.

This was the dream for the future that motivated a group of children’s workers who met together at the Lausanne Forum for World Evangelisation in 2004. The way that they envisaged making the dream a reality was through the body of Christ working together with the understanding that we can accomplish far more together than we can ever accomplish alone. And we need to – 2 billion children are waiting for this dream to become a reality.

Read on to discover why thousands of children and adults, churches and Christian agencies around the world are working together to bring fresh insights and resources to the vital task of mission and discipleship with children.

And the strategy is simple: Aim Lower, Think smaller, Give up and Go have a cup of coffee

It makes sense…….

AIM LOWER
An extraordinary fact about human beings is that the older they become, the more set in their ways they are. So in the process of growing up, children acquire values that will shape their lives. George Barna, the American researcher, claims that the values that a child has at the age of 14 are most likely the values that he or she will die with. This likelihood is not lost on advertisers, educators and others who are influencing children.

This openness of children also means that if a child believes and follows Jesus as a young person, they are likely do so throughout life. On the other hand, if a person does not have the opportunity to hear about Jesus as a child, they will most likely never follow Him.

If God designed all of us, including the children of the world, for a relationship with Him and to be equipped to follow and serve Him throughout their lives, then surely we – as the global body of Christ – need to affirm that one of our main goals is to introduce children to Jesus and to disciple them in such a way as to encourage deep, long-lasting and community-engaging Christian faith.
What is the reality? If you formed every person on the earth into a very, very long line, one in every three would be a child under the age of 15.

However, right now only 15% of global mission giving goes towards children, even though 60-80% of all responses to the Gospel are made by children. While children are currently being reached from every angle by political parties, other faiths, secularism, corporations, consumerism and a myriad of other causes, the church is struggling to prioritise this young generation.
But things are changing as more and more people and churches, denominations and agencies, realise that it’s time to Aim Lower.

IT”S HAPPENING
Since 2004, we have been witnessing God placing children on the agenda of the church at every level. A significant milestone in 2010 is to be found in the Cape Town commitment, the declaration that was issued at the end of the Lausanne Congress. In it, the call to take children seriously is clearly stated:

All children are at risk. There are about two billion children in our world, and half of them are at risk from poverty. Millions are at risk from prosperity. Children of the wealthy and secure have everything to live with, but nothing to live for. Children and young people are the Church of today, not merely of tomorrow. Young people have great potential as active agents in God’s mission. They represent an enormous under-used pool of influencers with sensitivity to the voice of God and a willingness to respond to him.

We rejoice in the excellent ministries that serve among and with children, and long for such work to be multiplied since the need is so great. As we see in the Bible, God can and does use children and young people – their prayers, their insights, their words, their initiatives – in changing hearts. They represent ‘new energy’ to transform the world. Let us listen and not stifle their childlike spirituality with our adult rationalistic approaches.

We commit ourselves to:

  • Take children seriously, through fresh biblical and theological enquiry that reflects on God’s love and purpose for them and through them, and by rediscovering the profound significance for theology and mission of Jesus’ provocative action in placing ‘a child in the midst’.[81]
  • Seek to train people and provide resources to meet the needs of children worldwide, wherever possible working with their families and communities, in the conviction that holistic ministry to and through each next generation of children and young people is a vital component of world mission.
  • Expose, resist, and take action against all abuse of children, including violence, exploitation, slavery, trafficking, prostitution, gender and ethnic discrimination, commercial targeting, and wilful neglect.

This significance of this statement is that it pulls together the threads of diverse conversations that have been taking place across the years in recent decades.

Since the early 1990s, Viva been a contributor to global thinking and practice around children and a strong campaigner for children at risk. In 2008, the Global Children’s Forum took up the challenge to look across the global children’s ministry landscape and ask: ‘what are the paradigms that need to be addressed for vastly increased effectiveness in evangelism and discipleship of children?’ and ‘what could we do together that we could not do on our own?

The 4/14 Movement (birthed in 2009) is a 7-year initiative that urges the global church to reach and raise up a new generation that can experience personal transformation and can be mobilized as agents for transformation throughout the world. 

The Now and Next Theological Conference on Children in 2011 and the 4/14 Missiological Conference in 2013 are indications of the extent to which ‘Theologies of childhood’ and ‘Child theologies’ are re-shaping the thinking, mission and practice of the church.

All of these initiatives are exciting developments on behalf of children and we are encouraged by the support that has been received from the Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance.

CHILDREN ARE


An excerpt from ‘There are no Unreached Children’, written for the Lausanne Congress Cape Town 2010.

Children are…
Children are no remote or obscure people group. The Church today may not be looking for children, but they wouldn’t have to look far to find them. They are found in all countries, in all socio-economic categories and among people of all cultures
Children are precious in God’s sight. As we begin to read Scriptures with the child in the midst, we are seeing that children are not just present, but prominent in Scripture. Indeed, there are more than 1500 references to children and childhood (including orphans, parenting and training). Very often children and youth are found playing important, even crucial roles in the outworking of God’s plans.

To God, children are:

  • A sign – they are God’s blessing (Psalm 127:3) and are missed when not part of the covenant community.
  • In need of teaching – they are to be treasured and taught at home and in community (Deuteronomy 6, 11).
  • A symbol – they illustrate the relationship God wants with adults (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 18:2-3).
  • Worthy of protection – God is on the side of the vulnerable (Psalm 68:5; James 1:27). When children are neglected, abused, victimised, God grieves. Jesus strongly advocates for their protection (Matthew 18:5-6, 10).
  • Worshippers – they are designed to praise God (Psalm 8:2). Children praise Jesus even when adults reject him (Matthew 21:15).
  • Fellow-agents of God’s mission – Jesus said to let the little children come unto him for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as them (Matthew 19:14).
  • Examples – they are examples of the simple dependence that God’s Kingdom requires of adults (Matthew 18:4).
  • Unconditionally loved – Jesus has a blessing for children brought to Him: no demands, no challenges, not even a story! (Matthew 19:13-15)
  • A focus in God’s ministry – Jesus heals children (Luke 7, 8); welcomes them (Mark 10); uses children as examples of humility (Luke 18:17); warns of judgement for those who harm them (Matthew 18:5-6, 10) and values them (Matthew 18:12-14).

Children are a suffering people group. Almost one third of the world’s population, approximately 2 billion people, is under the age of 15. Most of the world’s children, 88% of under-18s, live in the less developed world. Experts estimate that 1 billion children will be born in the decade from 2003-2013 and over 90% of them to mothers and fathers earning less than $US1 a day. Extrapolating from population statistics, approximately 1 billion children live in parts of the world where they may never have heard of Jesus.

Children are open to the Good News. Many Christian leaders today can point to an awakening to faith in their childhood. It seems that by age 13, one’s spiritual identity is largely set in place. This is the basic premise of an idea called the “4/14 Window”. Unofficial studies in many contexts strongly suggest that the openness of children to the Good News is present in cultures and societies around the world, regardless of religious or cultural background. Any serious mission strategy will include careful and appropriate efforts to reach children and young people.

Children are shapers of their world. Many groups are seeking to use them to advance their agendas. For example, most advertising to families targets children because they have the power to influence family decisions. We must protect them from harmful and manipulative influences and guide them to the Truth found in Christ.

Many people who came to Christ as children attest that it was friends or peers who most strongly influenced them in their faith decision. This means that not only are children a significant mission field, they are also an important mission force. The Bible is full of examples of children and young people who were used by God to do and to reveal significant things, including Miriam, Samuel, David, Josiah, Esther and Timothy, to name just a few.

Children are ready for any challenge. Indeed they thrive on tackling the seemingly impossible. We must respect their abilities, welcome their talents and nurture their gifts. They have a sensitivity to God’s voice and an eagerness to serve God’s purposes and are not restricted by preconceived ideas of what is possible or practical.

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7 thoughts on “Aim Lower – a new priority for children in mission thinking

  1. This article was fantastic. I really appreciate how this article talked about the need of children and the statistics that were given about the development of children and their faith. This article impacted even me as I read about the ways in which we just push children off and make them grow up fast. I love the strategy here- Aim Lower, Think smaller, Give up and Go have a cup of coffee. Sometimes we think too hard about the task that we have at hand and we need to aim lower. A lot of times we are told to aim higher but that is exactly the problem here. Our goals and aims are too high to reach and we end up just giving up on it all together. Children don’t think big and as we are bigger we have a lot that we can offer them. Thanks for sharing this strategy. It sounds lazy but it really isn’t. Go have a cup of coffee, wake up and look at the real world and see how poor it is. Open your eyes.

  2. I love this shift in thinking of the churches. I think it is important that children are made a priority of the church. Children are open to hearing about God. They are not yet set in their ways like older people. If you reach the child you have a way to reach the rest of the family. It just makes sense to reach the children of the world!!

  3. I really enjoyed this article. I loved the “Children are” part of this article. You could tell that the writing was filled with compassion for children. This article gives a lot of insight to children and their needs. I think sometimes we can overlook children and what is going on in their lives. Children are so important and we need to make them more of a priority in the church. I really enjoyed the idea of “Aim Lower, Think Smaller, Give up and Go Have a Cup of Coffee.” I will be honest at first I was confused but the more I read, it was like a light bulb turned on. We are always trying to aim higher and go bigger when in all reality we should be aiming lower ad getting down to the their level. If we start aiming lower and reaching them when they are young then they will grow up in the knowledge of who Jesus is. When we get older we get more set in our ways and it is so hard to break through.

  4. This is a great article that calls attention and challenges the believer to do more than look. This article challenges Christians to leave a hope for the children to make an informed decision. We can not continue looking past our children and hoping they will make that informed decision to accept Jesus in their lives when they become adults, when the most crucial time to reach a child is between the age of 4 – 14. It is the church responsibility to reach these children because they matter. If the church fails to reach children we have failed not only to reach one child we have failed many children and the children s family. It is a child who will lead us. What children has to say is important not only to those of us in the church it is important in reaching other children around the world.

    1. This is a great article that calls attention and challenges the believer to do more than look. This article challenges Christians to leave a hope for the children to make an informed decision. We can not continue looking past our children and hoping they will make that informed decision to accept Jesus in their lives when they become adults, when the most crucial time to reach a child is between the age of 4 – 14. It is the church responsibility to reach these children because they matter. If the church fails to reach children we have failed not only to reach one child we have failed many children and the children s family. It is a child who will lead us. What children has to say is important not only to those of us in the church it is important in reaching other children around the world.

  5. My wife and I are living to make this known that kids are important for who they are and not as a means to get adults into church or for greater tithing amounts. The church so often fails to get this and we hear things like churches investing in kids ministry so that parents are happy but the heart is not the kids themselves. Praying that this will change over time!

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