What Does a Discipled Child Look Like?
After writing about Developing a Biblical World View in Children, I have not been able to get this question out of my head. If our job as children’s pastors is to do what Matthew 28:19 tells us to do (and I believe it is), “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations," then what does a discipled child look like? How can we tell where we are hitting the mark if we have not defined and determined what a discipled child is in the first place? Mr. Webster says a disciple is a follower. Alan Root in his book Disciplification! defines disciplification in three ways:
- The travels of a disciple.
- The practiced habit of “following.”
- A made-up word that simply means the life changes made to become more and more like Jesus each day.
So if our job is to make followers who, through life changes and good choices, become more like Jesus, then what actions, habits and character traits should a 12-year-old Christ-follower possess?
For years, I think we’ve been guilty of using faithfulness as the major evaluation if a child has been discipled. If a child was faithful to attend plus participate in loads of other children’s ministry activities and programming, then we would send them into the youth ministry and feel like we succeeded. In a few years, we would look them up in the youth group and find they were not there and wonder, “What did the youth pastor do to make this child lose interest?” I have said for years that those of us who teach kids should think of ourselves as foundation specialists. But anyone who has ever built any kind of building knows the type foundation you build has everything to do with the type of building you can build. In construction, you start with the building plans and then determine what kind of foundation it needs for what you are building. In children’s ministry, I think many of us have been guilty of designing the foundation, then saying to the youth ministry, “Now go fit your building on the foundation we have built”—never one time sitting down and working together toward the end result. Sometimes, the problem has started long before we promote them into the youth ministry, even from one department or ministry to another within the total children’s ministry. We are so territorial; we haven’t worked as a true team and prepared them for the now as well as the next age group. Instead of looking ahead, we have focused on the present, which centers on and around our own ministry responsibilities. When we help other departments and ministries around us be successful, then we’ll be successful. We are all on the same team working toward the same goal. Our mission here at World Outreach Church is to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Our mission for the children’s ministry as well as for our student ministries is to help young people and parents become fully devoted followers of Christ now and forever. You can’t hit the church’s mission without every ministry that makes up the church working on that same mission statement, just breaking it down for their age groups.
Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Effective People, said it this way, “Habit number 1 is to start with the end in mind.” Why don’t we as staff and ministers sit down together with our next-generation ministries and our lead pastors and just plan backwards? Ask ourselves, “What do we want a young adult to know as a part of the congregation?” then let’s back up and look at the college ministry and see what we need to teach there. For this to work, we have to then look at the senior high ministry, then to the middle school ministry, then to the elementary ministries. Then, working backwards, we evaluate our preschool and nursery ministries to see what should be learned. (Did you notice I didn’t use the word taught? I believe just because teaching takes place doesn’t mean learning occurs.) We must get in the habit of defining and evaluating what we do and the results those actions are yielding if we are going to be successful at discipling children.
This is just the first step in making this process a way of life at your church. Years ago, I sat down with my youth pastor, and I asked him, “What do you want the sixth graders I promote into your youth ministry to know and be?” That was a question that took some time to develop. I also think this list could and would be different from church to church. The bottom line is this: Make a list. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. Make it a matter of prayer and work on your list as a team. It’s more than getting children “saved.” It’s time we all move past just getting children saved and help them to live saved. Disciplification is all about how each day gets lived by someone who is saved.
Luke 2:49-52 tells us about Jesus at 12. It says He had a desire to be about His Father’s business. It also says He was obedient to His parents. It also says He continued to grow in wisdom. (That’s understanding and knowledge of the Word.) I believe this with all my heart: The voice of wisdom and the voice of the Word is always the same. He also grew physically as well as grew in His relationship with God and with others. I believe this should also take place with those we seek to disciple.
No matter what you place on your list, the children you lead won’t become those things if you don’t do four important things:
- We must become all of those things. My mom used to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!” What we expect others to do, we must become these things first. I never want to forget that when I point to others, there are three fingers pointing back to me!
- Place others who will also serve as models before those you lead. A disciple cannot be made without someone who is willing to be an example. Jesus said something powerful in John 14:9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Think about that, it’s almost mind-boggling. Jesus modeled the Father so others would know God. Could children understand what God is like from us? They should! Children must have someone who is willing to say, “Come follow me as I follow the Lord.” Gone must be the day of saying, “Do as I say not as I do.” We must be willing to set an example and model to both kids and adults.
- Give those you lead what the Bible says about each of the things you want them to do to be a true follower of Christ Jesus.
- Give them opportunities to do these things. Learning is more than sitting and listening; it’s all about doing. I never apologize for giving people an opportunity to serve and put what they are learning into action.
My dear friend Alan Root goes on to say in Disciplification! that Jesus doesn’t expect us to live the Christian life. Alan writes: “It’s so simple, we have a hard time getting it. You see, the Christian life is lived by dying. Dying to having to have everything your own way, that is.” To be a follower means you are not leading; you are being obedient. That means we obey Him. How can we obey Jesus? It’s simple; we must know His word and do what it says. That’s the art of being a disciple. I believe our kids can be saved and live saved and have a desire to be about their Father’s business more so than desiring the things of the world. We know we have been successful at making a disciple when kids and leaders drop their defenses and surrender to Jesus’ control.
To me, the proof of the discipleship process is in the living. It’s not what you know or what you feel or what you think; it’s knowing Christ, walking by faith, thinking the Word and doing exactly what it says. That’s the mark of a discipled kid!
Driscoll: As Christians, we don't worship our work. Our work is an opportunity to worship Jesus.
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