How to Ensure Every Child’s Unique Discipleship Pathway

Article by Ross Cochran January 7, 2020

As KidMin leaders, children’s pastors, youth leaders and child influencers, we have our hearts set on discipling kids, but our ministry programming may not be set up to accomplish this vision. So how do we move from where we are, today, to a more effective future that will produce the resilient disciples to lead the church of the future? We’re going to walk through a pathway to implementation marked with five practical steps.

This is part 5 in a series on the five practical steps to apply resilient child discipleship to your ministry.

Step #5: Ensure Every Child’s Unique Discipleship Pathway

I love sitting in church and watching the screen as the numbers from the nursery appear in front of everyone. XY345C? Whew! That’s not my kid and I don’t have to perform the walk of shame out of the worship center. We use this “number system method” for privacy, security and anonymity, but in a culture of systems, I do sometimes wonder if we can be about numbers over names? I wonder if our systems of efficiency will be enough to see children as they are where we need to meet them, and then journey with them where they need to go.

Your heart as a leader knows that behind each number is a name, a family, a story of beauty, pain and the promises of God’s love for them. Just as Jesus not only taught the masses, He also discipled the twelve, He mentored the few and He had one on one encounters with individuals. He knew people on a personal level. So as we prepare today’s kids to lead the church of 2050, what if we designed a new system that put each child on his or her own unique discipleship pathway? How would we do this? Where would we start?

Know their Names

Most KidMin leaders have this nailed! It’s so basic. The sweetest and most life-giving thing said in any language is to hear your name spoken back to you. Do we know the names of our kids? Does your team know their names? Names matter in Scripture and if we are going to get closer to the children in our ministries, we need to get beyond acquaintances and commit their names to memory. Idea: Make sure every single kid in your children’s ministry is prayed for, by name, weekly!

Know their Heart

Isn’t it fascinating when we take enough time to sit with a child, how much they can open up? When we do this, we often discover their passions and plans for the world. They allow us to gain access to the deepest and most intimate parts of their soul when we do the simple work of building friendships with kids. I have found that almost every kid has something deep down in their heart that is a driving force within them. It causes them to keep moving and engaging. What is that for the children in your ministry? Idea: Have your volunteers ask the children in your ministry to help you solve a problem. See what kinds of solutions that they come up with. You’ll find that they gave you a glimmer into what’s going on in their hearts. AND, they will feel a greater sense of belonging and purpose as viable and active participants of your church community.

Know their Pain and Struggle

Children can live in a basement of emotional pain. It’s scary. It’s dark. It can cause them great anxiety, fear and even depression. Are we pain sensitive to the children in our ministries, aware and caring, or are we just skimming the surfaces of their lives? I think Jesus went to the parties and hung out with the sinners in order to close the distance between Himself and the pain that resided in each person at those gatherings. Get closer to your kids. Love is the key that unlocks the door to the basement of every child’s pain. As we do this, we also discover their struggles. Their struggle is just a superpower in disguise. Their present struggle has the potential to become their future superpower. What are your kids struggling with? Do you assume they are thriving, just scratching the surface of their realities, or do you and your team care deeply enough to enter and share their pain? Idea: One of the ways to get to know the pain and struggle of children is to express the challenges you have faced as well. Help them know that they are not alone in this world. That being human is something that everyone experiences. When a child sees an adult struggle, they will find that they are not alone in this world and will develop a more lasting connection with the church for years to come.

Know their Spiritual Growth and Journey

Can you imagine an educational system that didn’t track the math, science, grammar and artistic growth and progress of children? It’s unthinkable! Yet, in the church, we have very few markers of spiritual growth. In our 2019 research, it became apparent that very few churches are tracking the spiritual growth of children. In our qualitative focus groups, one person said, “Haven’t consistently figured out a way to qualitatively measure or track success over the long run.” Another person said, “You can’t track something as intangible as spiritual growth.” But is that true? Is it really true that there is no way to track the spiritual growth of a child? We happen to think that you can track the spiritual growth of a child. It just takes a different mindset, a clear vision of child discipleship and a system to measure and track key indicators of spiritual fruit. Idea: Develop a mind map for belonging, believing and becoming in your child discipleship ministry. Use this as a process to come up with the very best 2 – 3 ideas within each of the 3B areas that you can begin to track for the kids in your ministry. What if you focused on tracking these for 2–3 years? How would this change how you evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry? You may find that some areas are really working–and can then find a way to further maximize those areas. Or, you may find out that some things you are doing are less fruitful, and can revise.

Believe in their Potential

As you look into every life in your ministry you see beyond the wrinkled clothes, braces and mismatched socks. Train your team to look for each child’s full potential: to believe in whom God created them to become. As your team becomes their #1 fan that screams loud from the sidelines of their life, they are building a spiritual legacy that will last for generations. Idea: Give each child in your ministry a word that was uniquely selected for them; Leader, Sunshine, Thinker, Everyone’s Friend, Helper, Comedian, Eager Learner, the possibilities are so vast! Explain why this word was selected and encourage them throughout the year to keep pressing forward to become a disciple of Jesus Christ rather than a spectator or participant in the program.

So, what shifts do you need to make in your ministry?

Are you trying really hard to make the existing system better or more efficient? Or, could you slow down. See the children that God has brought you and seek to make it more relational than ever before? Child discipleship sees each kid as being on a path to becoming all who God intends for him or her to be in His Kingdom. Each child is known, loved, understood and has a pathway to spiritual growth as they believe in, belong to and become like Jesus.

If we are not clear, visionary and specific, KidMin can become merely week-to-week programming. In setting and meeting our short-term goals we may completely miss the ultimate goal of child discipleship. As we prayerfully anticipate the church of 2050, let’s unite as a KidMin community around what will shape the fearless future of the church —child discipleship. This reimagined church is a church made up of child disciple makers. These are the fire carriers. The loving, caring adults who make up an engaging church community who throw their doors and arms open to the children of our families and communities. This is a place of belonging where kids can believe in and become like Jesus. This is the church of 2050.