Baptists vigorously affirm the priesthood of believers. But does that mean all believers—including the 10-year-olds?
What is Christ’s charge to the church universal? The Great Commission. To an adult believer? The Great Commission. To a 10-year-old believer? The Great Commission. (Not: Sit still, be quiet, and in about six years do something for God).
Calling and equipping children for missions and evangelism sets patterns while the cement still is wet. What they do while young they will tend to do all their lives.
Believers live for the glory of God, and believers live to see others brought into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that is less true for children than for adults.
Children can introduce people of all ages to Jesus. I know this because the children in my Fort Worth church are doing this very thing. Our children lead multiple after-school programs in elementary cafeterias across the city. They lead the music, they communicate biblical truth through creative arts, and they present the gospel. Adults are present, but the children are the ones guiding the activities and leading from the platform.
During the summer, they do the same thing in apartment complexes in Fort Worth. They teach the Bible stories, guide the games, and organize the crafts. And they are the ones sitting cross-legged on the floor, introducing other children to faith in Christ. So many children meet Jesus that it takes scores of church members to make follow-up visits with the parents in their homes.
This level of kingdom impact has caught the attention of other churches. An increasing number of those churches now link arms to mobilize several hundred children for evangelism in other states each summer. In every case, children take lead rolls in planning and executing the mission project. Their evening worship during the trip often is punctuated by sobs and tears of compassion for the lost.
Children serving as missionaries and evangelists may be rare in the U.S., but a worldwide movement has begun. Last October, leaders from around the world assembled in Bangkok for the 4/14 Window Global Summit. The sole focus was on mobilizing children and youth to evangelize the lost. The 4/14 window refers to those 4 to 14.
Children are natural evangelists. They love to talk about anything that has caught their imagination. If they fall deeply in love with Jesus, they will naturally talk about Him with their peers and even adults—especially if disciplers and mentors will coach them in knowing what to say.
J.D. Greear likes to say that a new believer has a new posture of the heart. A child who is a new believer has a new heart. The child can communicate that new heart to someone else—on some level. A new believer can communicate compassion and put faith the size of a mustard seed into words.
Calling and equipping children for missions and evangelism sets patterns while the cement still is wet. What they do while young they will tend to do all their lives. Telling them to sit still and be quiet while they are young makes it infinitely more difficult to mobilize them for the kingdom when the cement has solidified in adulthood.
Some may wonder if all this is expecting too much of a child. Some may say that childhood is best reserved for training toward service that will come in the future. Children do need discipling, but here is an interesting question: How does a believer of any age learn best—sitting and listening or actively participating? Jesus sent His followers out two-by-two because He knew they would come back even more eager to learn and grow.
Parents and leaders can guide children to share their faith in ways that are safe and that protect their vulnerability. Parents and leaders can link arms to ensure children are not manipulated or stretched beyond their abilities.
About 26% of the Body of Christ is under 15. Almost all adults view this group as nothing more than consumers of the ministries of the church. To begin to view the young as front-line evangelists and missionaries will require a new paradigm for almost all church leaders.
- The preschool pastor must consider—How can my staff create an expectation in preschoolers that they will love Jesus so much that they will talk about Him to others?
- The children’s pastor must consider—How do I disciple teachers and leaders who themselves are missional? Whose eyes sparkle when they speak of their unique mission on earth? Who beam when they describe the depth of their love for Jesus? Who begin each day expecting to join Jesus in bringing His kingdom on the earth? Once the staff has missions and evangelism in their own DNA, then the questions change. How will we train children to put the Gospel into words? How will we open doors for them talk with the lost nearby and far away? How will we release them to plan, prepare, and lead out in evangelistic activities?
- The youth pastor must consider—How will I capitalize on new sixth or seventh graders who are used to being on the front lines of kingdom activity? How will I keep from dumping cold water on their zeal by telling them that middle schoolers need to sit still and be quiet? Teenage believers need a cause worth living for and dying for. That is what will anchor them to the church, not another X-Box. They need to rightly believe they can change the world.
- The senior pastor and the discipleship pastor must consider—How will we proclaim and disciple truth into adults so they get off their blessed assurances and start introducing the world to Christ? How do we make evangelism and missions so much the culture of our church that the children never know anything different? How will we motivate those in comfortable adult groups to put down their lattes and go invest in the next generation?
- Parents must consider—How will we fall much more in love with Jesus, join Him in new ways in kingdom activity, and then become transparent about that with our children? When will we stop helicoptering so our children can experience challenge and adventure for the kingdom? When will we go on a family mission trip instead of spending all our funds on the mouse in Florida?
During Passion Week, most of the men with the theology degrees still had no clue who Jesus was. It was the children who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Today, if adults will model and guide, children will proclaim that to the world.