The following is an excerpt from the talk newly named Awana CEO Matt Markins gave at the Child Discipleship Forum this past fall. In it, he explains what the song “Rocket Man” has to do with child discipleship and the secular world our kids are growing up in.
If you’re like me, you’ve listened to “Rocket Man” a thousand times. One night as I was listening to it yet again I had a bomb-going-off-in-my-mind kind of moment, a spiritual epiphany! At 1 minute, 51 seconds I heard: Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. “Oh my goodness,” I thought. “That’s exactly how I think and feel; we are living on Mars and we’re raising our kids in this crazy-crazy place!”
As epic and memorable as that line is, the following lines of the song hold further implication for us and our ministries:
In fact it’s cold as h*ll. That’s loneliness and isolation. Health Experts say loneliness is the greatest epidemic of our time; we are paying the price for our hyper-individualized culture.
And there’s no one there to raise them, if you did. When kids are left alone to fend for themselves, that’s neglect and abandonment.
And all the science I don’t understand. It’s just my job five days a week. This reminds me of the documentary The Social Dilemma. We are in over our heads with digital technology. We’ve put this technology in the center of our kids, and we don’t fully understand the impact.
So, loneliness and isolation. Neglect and abandonment. In over our heads with digital technology. Friends, this is where we are today. This is Mars! And Mars is not the kind of place to raise our kids.
we don’t have a youth ministry crisis,
we have a children’s ministry crisis.
It certainly isn’t the culture we grew up in. So what happened? According to Dr. Ed Stetzer, well known researcher, church planter, missiologist and professor at Wheaton College and the Billy Graham Center, what we are experiencing is a shift from a respect for Judeo-Christian morality to secularism.
Think about the past few decades. The Bible was generally revered. The Church had a prominent place in the community. Jesus was viewed as a generally positive historical figure. And there were no issues over gender identity or what constitutes a marriage. Billy Graham became the personification of what it meant to be a good person in our culture. Overall, the past culture at large was friendly to Christianity – and Christianity had a seat at the table in mainstream culture.
In today’s secularist, Post-Christian culture, Jesus, the Bible, the Gospel and the Church are no longer mainstream. The goals and outcomes of Christianity – Justice, Love, Freedom, Redemption, Restoration, Meaning, Joy and Happiness – are still desired, but they are being pursued apart from the Christian faith and oftentimes even redefined.
This dominant culture of secularism is spilling over into our lives and it’s rapidly forming our kids to diminish God and elevate self as hyper-individualists. You’ve heard the phrases: You Be You, My Body, My Choice, You Are Enough. Since a person’s worldview is largely set by age 13, we don’t have a youth ministry crisis, we have a children’s ministry crisis.
As we established, we are living on Mars and Mars is not the kind of place to raise your kids. If we are to impact the future of the Church – the Church of 2050 – we need to figure how to navigate living here.
What if we shifted our thinking from doing “Children’s Ministry” to doing “Child Discipleship?” And instead of looking at what we need to do to prepare for Sunday, we considered what we need to do to prepare today’s kids to have a resilient faith, fearless and thriving, in a potentially hostile culture to lead the Church of the future.
We at Awana got really curious about answering the question, “What is it that produces long-term discipleship fruit in the lives of kids into their adulthood? We conducted four research projects: one in 2013, one in 2014 and two in 2019. We studied existing and accessible data, and looked at the Scriptures with specific interest in the life and ministry of Jesus. We even studied our 70-year history as a global children and youth ministry, looking at both our successes and failures.
We discovered that when churches focus on three primary factors with children and youth, they are far more fruitful in disciple-making that lasts for a lifetime. We call these three things the 3B philosophy.
BELONG – Highly relational ministry led by loving and caring adults. One loving, caring adult can make all the difference in the discipleship journey of a child.
BELIEVE – Deeply Scriptural ministry rooted in the truth of God’s Word and the power of the gospel. Engaging kids in the Bible is the primary way for them to know and follow Jesus for a lifetime.
BECOME – Truly experiential ministry, designed to move kids from simulation to real-world application of faith-based living. A child disciple maker can help kids navigate a changing culture and lead them to experience God’s presence in the world around them.
and found in the Gospels.
Each factor needs to be present and active in the life of a young person. But it’s not about any one factor standing on its own, but rather how they come together to shape a child’s identity in Christ. Not only is this supported by research and we find it when we look to the Gospels and evaluate how Jesus made disciples, but we can see it in our own lives!
Friends, it’s Mars out there, and our kids are swimming in a sea of secularism. But with a clear focus on child discipleship within a community that gives kids a place to Belong, Believe and Become, we can raise our kids with a resilient faith. And the world of 2050 doesn’t have to be so isolating, lonely and cold.
Learn more about the 3B’s by reading Resilient: Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church, available in both English and Spanish.