Discipleship: What about the children?

10/21/2013

FOCUS ON THE VISION
DENISE WALTON

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Over the years, I have become deeply interested in discipleship within the system of the church. How do we organize ourselves in the kingdom of God to live out the command to go and make disciples?

The birth of my granddaughter accelerated my level of curiosity around this topic and the urgency to understand discipleship that begins with life. How do we understand aspects of human development and faith development?

What about the children?

In her book, “Out of the Basement: A Holistic Approach to Children's Ministry,” Diane Olson describes discipleship from a child's point of view.

A kindergarten Sunday school teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She sat with one little girl who described her drawing. “I'm drawing God,” she said. “But no one knows what God looks like!” exclaimed the teacher. The girl kept right on drawing. “They will when I finish this,” she confidently said.

The story illustrates two things about the faith development and human development of children:

1. Children have ideas about God because they are spiritual beings who are in relationship with God, and

2. A child's understanding of God and of his or her relationship with God changes over time as the child grows and matures.

Olson makes the claim that disciple formation begins before birth, with prenatal parent education and services, and continues until death. The church's understanding of faith development and other forms of development provides the basis for planning and utilization that is relevant to the needs of all God's children. Communities of faith will consider things like physical space, inclusion of children in worship services, and understanding how to reach different people with different approaches and activities.

Furthermore, Olson argues that effective systems for children's ministries must continually examine the existing methods of forming disciples in the church and be prepared to make changes. All children are not the same but they must be all treated without bias.

Discipleship is more than just curriculum, programs, facilities or activities. There is the element of learning from the home environment, teaching and allowing children to experience acts of compassion and justice, age level appropriate teachings on stewardship and the faithful witness of adult disciples.

Are we engaging in a holistic approach to discipleship within our congregations that include the ministry to children? 

Are there ministries within our annual conference that effectively engage in discipleship for children? If so, are you willing to share your discipleship process? The Office of Connectional Ministries invites you to send an email to denise@sgaumc.com describing the discipleship process in your church specifically designed for children and youth.

We will choose a few entries to share in the next article, “Discipleship with Children and Youth.”

May we see the urgency before us to engage in the work of organizing faith communities for discipleship.

The question lingers with me still: “What about the children?”

Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at denise@sgaumc.org.