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What Does a Discipled Child Look Like Anyway?

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:

  1. The travels of a disciple.
  2. The practiced habit of “following.” 
  3. 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.

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Jim Wideman is an internationally recognized voice in children’s and family ministry. He is a much sought after speaker, teacher, author, personal leadership coach, and ministry consultant who has over 30 years experience in helping churches thrive. Jim created the Children’s Ministers Leadership Club in 1995 that is known today as "theClub" which has touched thousands of ministry leaders each month. Jim believes his marching orders are to spend the rest of his life taking what he has learn about leadership and ministry and pour it into the next generation of children’s, youth, and family ministry leaders.