All around the world there is a fresh focus on ministry to children. While many remain unreached by the message of Jesus they do not remain unreached by other ideas and other religions. As the church seeks to clarify how we can reach out with fresh passion to the rising generations we are looking again at the biblical patterns, seeking to understand God’s heart for children and the timeless mission ideas that we find in the life and work of Jesus.
In 2004 a group of people participating in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation gathering in Pattaya, Thailand created a 10 step scale that reflected their experience of ministry with children and what they had observed of how they discover faith in Jesus.
As those who advocate for children we want to engage our pastors, denominational leaders, bible college lecturers and our fellow children’s workers in fruitful dialogue about the biblical patterns of mission and discipleship with respect to children. So we are taking hold of the ‘Pattaya Scale’ and using it as a foundation for a range of mission resources about ministry with children.
A major part of our focus is on children who are not usually involved in church communities. How do we reach them and their families? How do we help them grow in faith and become all that God created them to be? We’re calling this exploration of mission ideas the Child Faith Map at this time although as the idea develops so might the name!
We believe that there is huge value in seeking the wisdom of many as we attempt to put flesh on the bones of these mission ideas. So we’re also saying that this project is in ‘Beta.’ If you use new software on your computer or phone you will often find that it is in Beta. This means that the ideas are good and the software is stable but before declaring it finished and ready for the widest possible audience the designers want to test it out with real people. Their feedback will make it better and those who use it in future years will have a better experience.
So this idea is in Beta. We invite you to help us refine it and make it robust. We believe that ideas have consequences. We want these ideas to help bring salvation and restoration to the 2 billion+ children of the world today. Join us in this important conversation about mission.
The Child Faith Map
The 10 key ideas that the faith map is exploring are described from the perspective of the child. The place of the family and a local church community in the life of the child are also foundational principles that support the mission ideas that we explore.
Being prayed for
As we seek to communicate the good news of Jesus we believe that the Holy Spirit goes before us to prepare hearts. We also believe that prayer often goes before our invitation to turn from rebellion against God and enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus instructs the disciples to pray a pray of blessing as they enter new places. Jesus blesses the children bought to him. Jesus heals sick children on 4 different occasions. How might we pray before reaching out to those children who do not know about Jesus? How can we help Christian children pray for the not yet believing friends? Many people are willing to be prayed for – including children. Many children outside the church are willing to pray and often do.
So, how do we pray for and with children?
Meeting God’s People
Where did the children and adults of Jesus day encounter him and the disciples? While some will have first discovered him in the synagogue some will have found him at the workplace, in the town square, around a meal table or at a wedding. As we venture into new places with the story of Jesus children will often encounter us in school lessons, in sports activities or through acts of compassion. Not all these activities will have an explicit declaration of the Christian gospel at their heart but they will be building trust between us and our local communities and witnessing to our desire to serve Jesus and others.
So, what are the places that children encounter your churches life and witness in the wider community? How are we reaching out to them?
Part of what Jesus did was to engage people in conversation. His communication had a different dynamic when there was 12 people listening to the times when there hundreds and perhaps thousands. What activities help promote these quieter conversations when trust is deepened, tough questions answered, new skills encouraged.
If we are helping bring education to children about drugs, sexuality, life skills, creativity, sport or the Christian religion are we allowing space for conversations and small group work?
Encountering Lasting Compassion
Christianity has changed culture around the world by being committed to communities. We want to help establish frameworks in local societies that will encourage positive outcomes in terms of health, food, clothing, water and wellbeing. We seek to live out the call of Jesus to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and bring water to the thirsty (Matthew 25:46). We are called to rescue those who might otherwise perish.
Children are often the most vulnerable in these situations. Our commitment to community transformation authenticates our message about Jesus and his special compassion for children. When we welcome these children in his name, it is as if we we’re welcoming him.
Is our mission to children marked by a long term commitment to unconditional compassion?
Experiencing faith in community
For many children the weekly meetings of a conventional church or small group are not part of their normal experience. As they and their parents come to trust the Christians in their midst they often become willing to let the children attend activities that have worship, prayer, bible reading and teaching at the heart of the programme.
These bible clubs, summer camps, Sunday schools, sidewalk bible clubs allow the children to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they are directed to the story of salvation through Jesus and all the other themes that are explored alongside that.
So, how do we help children explore what it means to be part of a worshiping community?
Responding to Jesus Message
The child will have seen the story of God’s relationship with humanity unfold in many different ways through all the different types of contact with Christians they experience. They will be beginning to grasp the idea that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we find the key to the story of humanity being reconciled to God.
We will then invite the child to turn from their rebellion against God and embrace the life of the Kingdom of God. (Experience suggests that in pioneer church planting the whole family often enter the Kingdom alongside the child) Their decision will be rooted in a rich communication of Christian truth to them and the provision of a Christian community to nurture them.
Joining a Christian community gathering
Christian community comes in many shapes and sizes. Jesus had 3 close friends, 12 disciples, 72 evangelists and at least 500 other folowers. The child needs to find spiritual nurture in an intentional Christian community so that they can find guidance on their Christian journey. There are many different ways this can happen but the long term ideal of our mission task is the integration of children into a multi-generational Christian faith community. It will not always be easy but we should still pursue that goal.
Christian community will help children discover positive spiritual disciplines with respect to understanding the Bible, prayer and the growth of Christian character. These things will be taught and modelled by others so that the child is provoked about seeking to see the fruit of the Spirit at work in their lives.
We are rooting the child in the wisdom of God.
Discovering God given gifts
The child is not merely the recipient of religious information but has the potential to be an active participant in the life of the Christian community in ways appropriate to their age and understanding. We note that Jesus engaged the high priests in conversation at the age of 12 and that Samuel and Joseph were used to bring the word of the Lord to nations at a similar age. How will we help them discover these gifts?
Participating in Christian witness to their locality
In what ways will we encourage our children to serve and contribute to the life of the Christian community? As the child grows they can be given increasing responsibility for tasks in the life and witness of the church. Entrusting them with responsibility prepares them for a life of service to God and others. This willingness to create opportunities for children to participate in responsible servanthood is the hallmark of Christian communities that become established in their locality.
Are we releasing the generation to discover their roles on God’s behalf in the church and in the community?You might also like
- God’s rescue plan for children
- Understanding Christian concepts of ‘human flourishing’ in relation to children
- Raising Samuel – Releasing Children to Discover Godʼs Purpose
- Children at the Heart of Mission
- Shalom – God’s heart for children
- Small Commitments, Big Faith
- Adventuring with Scripture – the Bible, children and discipleship
- Why Kids Need Systematic Theology
- Who is the Child? 12 Key Biblical Insights
- What is the context of child discipleship?
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