A Year Off Discipleship

Article by Kevin White September 1, 2020

Around the country, church leaders have been wrestling for months – what do we do about ministry programming this fall?! With constantly-shifting tides related to protocol in the midst of a pandemic, many of our traditional models for ministry–our ways of doing discipleship–have been derailed and challenged. This challenge can be downright maddening as we stand at a crossroads of how to proceed with our ministry year.

Besides state or local guidelines on gathering, we have dozens of other factors to manage. How do we keep kids safe? How do we teach a 6-year-old to “social distance?” How will we manage with fewer volunteers? How do we keep our church clean enough? Can we really do discipleship over Zoom? What happens if we have an outbreak? What about the economic impact?

Our list of questions could go on and on. And in the face of an overwhelming set of questions and concerns, our temptation may be to just take a year off. Slow down our attempts at programming. Take a break from what we’ve known. Choosing not to run a club is certainly the easiest in the midst of a challenging time. That said, could that decision actually be the worst thing we could do for our church and our children?

If your town is like mine, your school district spent weeks navigating what this fall could look like. In person full time? Fully remote? Hybrid? Administrators have wrestled, school boards have debated, teachers have planned. Multiple modes and models have been discussed–all of which, without question, have a downside to them. Each of them carries risk and unique challenges. But have you noticed what no school district is doing? Taking a year off. It would be absurd, right?

Have you noticed what no school district is doing? Taking a year off. It would be absurd, right?

We wouldn’t for a second think about just canceling school for a year. Any new model (hybrid, remote) may be less than ideal, but it shows a drive and determination to continue investing in kids. So why would our churches even think about taking a year off of child discipleship? Church, let’s get creative. Embrace opportunity. Don’t hold your model over your mission. Let’s make this year profoundly powerful in the discipleship journey of our kids.

Pause for a moment to think through all a child learns in the single year of school and how developmentally important that year is to their long-term academic growth and success. Learning to add contributes to learning how to subtract, multiply, and divide. Learning your ABCs contributes to learning three-letter words, which ultimately leads to learning three-syllable words, then three-word sentences, then three-sentence paragraphs, then three-paragraph pages, then three-page papers, and so on.

You cannot read a book without first learning to read a simple word. In the same way, our kids cannot be the future of our churches–the future of the Church– without first growing in the basics of faith today. Our mission through Awana is to build disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). That has not changed and it does not come with convenience clauses.

You may be thinking a year off won’t make that big of an impact on a child. But doing so impacts so much more than just this single year. It’s the cumulative effect of discipleship–year after year, month after month, and week-after-week that adds up. And perhaps even more vital, more critical, more concerning, is the fact that nothing should ever stop the effort to make disciples. Discipleship should not be subject to relativism of what seems to work with our pre-planned program. Discipleship must go on. As leaders of the church of today, each of us must figure out an approach that will work in our clubs– in-person, remote, hybrid– for the sake of the church of tomorrow. Now more than ever, all of us must invest in this mission of resilient child discipleship today, for the sake of the church of tomorrow.

Nothing should ever stop the effort to make disciples.

The approach we all use to discipleship may change (some may suggest it should continually change based on culture, time, and situation) and any given model may be less-than-ideal, but it turns out that just about everything about this fallen world is less-than-ideal anyway. We are living on a spiritual battleground where there is an enemy relishing the fact that we would even consider not investing in the spiritual lives of children. We have no time like the present to lean in and demonstrate to today’s children that nothing will get in the way of us leaders investing intentionally in our kids – not a pandemic, not soccer practice, not broken homes or divided schedules, not convenience, not the ability to gather in person, not the next crisis that we’re not even aware of yet – for we are the Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Matthew 16:17-19).