Watching a young person grow to adulthood isn’t a miracle. It’s a normal process. But it sure does feel like a miracle.
Being a parent—or for that matter an aunt, uncle, teacher, coach, pastor, counselor, or church volunteer—can be a lot like being a master craftsman. There’s a good amount of modeling, mentoring, teaching, forming, envisioning, and coaching. Along with the pain of splinters, smashed thumbs, and bruised egos, comes the joy of watching the young apprentice take that first solo step, the winning RBI, the stellar dance performance, the High School diploma, and the “how has this happened so quickly?” feeling when they drive away to college.
And like me, you probably spend a lot of time wondering, am I adequately preparing them?
The kids in my family…
The kids in our church…
The kids in our school system…
The kids whom we love and care about so deeply…
Will they have a resilient faith in Jesus Christ? Will they bend and flex and not break under the weight of culture? Will they love and follow Jesus in a world of hostility? Will they lead the future of the church with biblical faithfulness and Christlike compassion?
These are the things we wonder. Our sleepless nights and persistent prayers are consumed with these sorts of questions and sometimes unformed, unspeakable tear-filled longings.
Sigh. Deep breath. Lord, please help us.
The team at Awana has commissioned eleven studies in the space that is called “children’s ministry” or “child discipleship.” Nine of those studies are complete and two are in process as of the time of this writing. The overarching question we’ve been asking in each of our research projects is this: “What is it the church does that leads to lasting faith in children?”
The motivation behind this question has to do with biblical faithfulness, stewardship of orthodoxy, and formational fruitfulness. Our aim is to gain and share maximum insight as to how we (the broader Church community) can most faithfully maximize and steward our discipleship investment in children. If we can become more fruitful as disciple-makers, then we can reach and disciple more children for the Kingdom of God—no matter the cultural context.
Over the course of the past ten years as we’ve perused to answer that question, we’ve learned a lot. Our chief findings can be grouped into two primary themes:
1. Formation – The primary investments that tend to form lasting faith in children
2. Systems – The norms, processes, infrastructure, and culture we depend upon to form the faith of our children
As you read this book and do your own thinking, evaluation, and analysis, my hope is this: you will decide to keep learning and read it with close ministry friends and team leaders. Just keep the conversation going! I hope you pray and seek God’s abundant wisdom. I hope you and your team will dialogue together and wrestle with the changes we must make to align our systems to our goals, objectives, and the cries of our hearts. You’ll find a free download of Chapter 5 with supporting exercises to help you prioritize how you spend your time, understand and equip parents and identify the team you want to build around the children in your ministry. Share them with anyone who could benefit from them; they are free!
This journey could be the most important work in your lifetime. Because child discipleship is the most fruitful and strategic work of the church. I can’t think of anything more important than the faith of our children.
Matt Markins serves as the President and CEO of Awana, a global leader in child discipleship. As a leading researcher in child discipleship and children’s ministry, Matt has commissioned eleven research projects since 2013, including a study conducted by Barna Group called, Children’s Ministry in a New Reality. He’s a board member at large for the National Association of Evangelicals and is the co-author of four books, most notably RESILIENT: Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. He’s also the co-founder of the Child Discipleship Forum and D6 Conference. Matt and his wife Katie have been involved in children’s ministry for more than 25 years and spend their time in Nashville with their two sons.