My guess is that the majority of the readers of this article can remember a time and/or a place where they made a commitment to follow Jesus. Perhaps you ‘gave your life to Jesus’ or ‘invited Jesus into your heart’? Others may have ‘made Jesus the boss of their lives’ or said ‘I want to be born again’? Regardless of the appropriateness of the wording and the manner in which you responded, this was a key moment in your life.
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My reading of the Scriptures leads me to believe that there are three important stages in our faith journey:
- that period of time when a person hears about the Triune God and investigates some of the facts, events and experiences from the Bible and from the lives of contemporary Christians
- the time, or the times, when the Spirit of God prompts the person’s heart to make a choice to become a disciple of Jesus
- that period of time, which is ongoing, when the person is nurtured and discipled in their new found faith so that they mature in Christ.
The Scriptures direct my thinking in this matter…
- Everyone is on a journey of faith
‘As the two men journeyed the road to Emmaus, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they did not recognize him.’
The metaphor of a ‘journey’ is useful in helping us to understand the development of the spirituality of a child. The child’s journey leads them through experiences that shape their whole person: body, mind and spirit. Created in the image of God, each child bears the imprint of his hands. God’s desire is for each child to know a rich, full life, which is in communion with him. Jesus’ invitation is for all to enjoy this life which is promised and fulfilled in him. (from a paper produced by Scripture Union International 2001)
- People make choices about Jesus on this journey
In Matthew 4 we find a few fishermen busy at their craft. Some of them may have heard a little bit about this Jesus who was beginning to make a name for himself. We read that on the day Jesus walked by their boats he issued a simple command. ‘Follow Me’. And they did! It wasn’t that they had been following him around for a few weeks checking him out or that they had become convinced by his great teaching or amazing miracles. There was obviously something about this man, combined with the Spirit of God at work, which motivated them to leave their familiar and safe vocations, to follow him. And follow him they did … through miracles, testing times, teaching times, intimate times, all the while growing in their understanding of just who it was in whom they were devoting their time.
Fast forward to John 6 where Jesus performs yet another miracle, feeding a huge crowd with a boy’s lunch. Having demonstrated his point, Jesus now unpacks this further in his teaching to his followers. Read it again for your self
– some challenging and heavy stuff! Note verse 60, ‘Many of his disciples said, ‘This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?’’ with the result that ‘From this time on many of his disciples turned back, and no longer followed him.’ Jesus turned to Peter and asked if he was going to continue with him to which Peter replies with a stirring response, ‘To whom shall we go?’
Jesus wasn’t making it easy for his disciples and for some it was just too hard. However, we know the names of eleven of them who made an informed choice to continue on and their post resurrection experiences have touched the lives of countless people and the record of a few of them is a source of motivation and encouragement today. These are the sorts of decisions we want from the children and young people in our programs
– decisions that last; decisions that are nurtured and shaped by more experienced fellow travellers on the journey.
Are we guilty of making it too easy to become a follower of Jesus today? ‘Just put your hand up…’, ‘All you have to do is pray this prayer…’, etc. Do we invite children to make their responses before they have had sufficient time to follow Jesus, as the disciples had, so that when they say ‘Yes!’ to Jesus we have confidence that it will be a lasting commitment?
Jesus words to his disciples are for his followers today,
‘If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’
Matthew 16:24, 25
Of course, children cannot be expected to fully understand the implications of carrying their cross
– the inevitability of a lifelong battle to fight – but Jesus’ invitation pulls no punches.
Now is not the time to be playing games by feeding our egos and promoting our ministries with tales of numbers of kids ‘giving their lives to Christ’. Of what value is this if responses have been collected urgently and without care so that ‘the one who received the seed that fell on the rocky places is the (child) who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.’ (Matthew 13:20, 21). Surely our goal is for the seed to fall onto good soil …’the child who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’ (v23).
Our task is exactly the same as the one Jesus was faced with as he walked that Emmaus Road. To join the spiritual journey with the young people that God brings across our paths and to ‘explain the Scriptures to them’ so that ‘their eyes are opened…’ Let’s invite our children, regardless of their backgrounds or levels of understanding, to become followers of Jesus, meaning to make a commitment to check him out so that they can make an informed and considered choice about joining Jesus’ team – those people who come to him for forgiveness of their sins.
- God is always very close
A brief look at the first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel reinforce the two points above and add a third. One interpretation of the words, ‘The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near’ (v16) simply says that God is not very far away. He wants to be found. The journey of a true seeker does not have to be a long one if they truly have eyes to see. It is these same words that Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim when he sends them out two by two, ‘The kingdom of God is near’ (Luke 10:10).
To his initial words Jesus adds, ‘Repent and believe the good news.’ Repentance implies a faith journey because a change of direction and a change of mind are required. Again our challenge is to present our children with some of the information and experiences they need so as to change the direction of their lives in response to the Good News.
- There is an urgency about our task but Jesus never pressed for an urgent response.
Repentance was certainly high on Jesus’ agenda and he was always very clear about the importance of what he was saying to his listeners. As an example, Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler clearly spelt out what he had to do to be part of the kingdom, but Jesus allowed him to walk away. Recall the words of Peter, one of Jesus’ followers who stuck with him, ‘[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:9)
In addition, there is growing evidence which indicates that by the age of 13 a person’s spiritual identity is largely set in place. However, the urgency of our task must not distract us from the process we employ.
- Every person needs companions on their journey
As children’s workers these are the hard yards. It is easy to run a program. It is easy to attract kids to come to an event. And it is easy to invite kids to make a response. But the next steps take time and commitment. Sadly there is a mindset that evangelism is the process of communicating a body of information to an open mind and seeking a predetermined response. And at this point the focus on this child is diminished. My definition of evangelism includes ‘doing life with children’ – joining them on their spiritual journey, at whatever point they may be, and helping them to make sense of this world so that their dependence on the Maker of the universe grows and grows. Some would call it ‘discipleship’, and it is, but for me it is about connecting young lives with fellow travellers, some of whom have been on the journey for a longer time who can be their mentor and so ‘water the seed…and allow God to make it grow.’ (1 Cor 3:6). As we focus on a child’s journey of discipleship the local church is crucial in this process, but a child’s family is central.
Jesus’ final words sent his disciples on their mission, which is ours today, and that was to go into all the world and make disciples. ‘Preaching the Gospel’ is only part of this process; true disciples are formed as they form relationships with Kingdom people.
In all of this I have great confidence in the sovereignty of God and I know that he takes his Word and changes people’s lives. But I also know that he has created me with a brain and he wants me to employ this grey matter in a way that best uses the investment of talents and resources he has poured into me. So my challenge is not to shy away from the task at hand.
Helping our children to develop spiritually is a journey of faith not a destination. Let’s enjoy the journey.You might also like
- A Manifesto of Hope – Discovering Redemptive Revelation about Children
- HELPING CHILDREN ON THEIR JOURNEY TO JESUS
- 10 reasons children should play at church
- Children’s Ministry Effectiveness Model – Reflect & Innovate
- Bible handling goals for the 11-14 year age group
- WHY WE NEED TO ‘GIVE UP’ MORE IN CHILDREN’S MINISTRY
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