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Discipleship in KidMin and Youth Min

Have you ever read a book on discipleship or mentoring students and finished it wondering “but now what”? I feel like that is the story of my life. I am always looking for a foolproof way to disciple students and am unable to fully wade through the information to find the “how to”. Pretty sure foolproof doesn’t exist in ministry but I just need something practical.

I was feeling frustrated with that recently and decided to figure out the method with which my spirituality is formed. Not because I am a perfect example or anything like that but I have at least stuck with the church and with God since childhood and in today’s world that is a pretty big feat! I figured, why not, if it worked for me, it could work for others…right?

So I started thinking back. I tried to remember how my children’s ministry was…was I in a small groups? Did I have Sunday school or children’s church? Did I learn memory verses for candy? Did I earn badges on a sash? Did I quiz against other kids about Bible facts? Did I go to a kids pizza party dressed as a character from the Brady Brunch?

Well the answer is yes. Yes to all of those things (I was Marsha fyi).

To give a little background, I grew up in a moderately sized Assembly of God church in rural Indiana (moderate size for the region). When I first met the Lord and began attending I was seven years old and the church ran about 500. In a time of transition a few years later attendance dropped to around 300 and continued to drop for the next 10 years. The children’s pastor left the church when I was about 10 years old and the church never was able to hire another. We had volunteers in and out and even a youth pastor who paired with his wife led the children’s ministry but there was no regular system of discipleship. I went in and out of all these different ways that people claim that kids are discipled. I did Missionettes, Bible Quiz, Sunday school, summer Bible studies…we did it all. But none of it stuck. It seemed like every year the whole system changed again and another format was implemented in order to form our spiritual development or maybe just to show us a good time. Not really sure of the intent of some of our activities to be honest.

As I was remembering all of these things and recognizing that we had no tried and true format in place, I realized that there was really only one thing that was consistent- our volunteers!

In all those years in children’s ministry and even into youth ministry I had a handful of people investing in me. They did not invest in me by using the latest small group curriculum or the coolest kids outreach. It was in a million other ways so I set out to find out what those ways were.

I thought back to my childhood. I thought of all the people that I have positive memories of, every person that made a lasting impression on me in some way.

I made a list of who invested in me as a child between the ages of 6-12 and another from the ages of 13-18. Then I wrote what characteristic(s) about our relationship stood out to me in regards to my spiritual development. I did the same thing for ages 18+ and the characteristics again. To give you an idea of what I mean, here is most of my list from ages 6-18 with names excluded.

They let me know them

They invested significant time

They were unafraid to talk about deep topics

They gave me opportunities to grow and to lead

They asked hard questions that made me think

They taught me about theology even as a child

They showed up

They talked to me about spiritual things even when we were both uncomfortable

They had fun with me

They showed that they trusted me

Ages 18+

They gave me advice

They broke down power distance between us

They led by example

They guided me through life’s struggles

They gave me their time

They were honest with me when I was in the wrong

They gave me opportunities

They trusted me and gave me creative freedom

They were my friends

They taught me

They led me

They supported me

They shared their life with me

They shared their wisdom

They validated me

They loved me

Now bear with me here, this might just seem like a lot of nothing to you but if you read through it again I think you will begin to see that those things were true in your own life as well. What I found very interesting is that it is really a lot of the same things in both lists. Some things changed the older I got but the base is the same. Why did I listen to these people and care about their opinions? Why were these people important to me? The answers are in the list. These people showed me by doing all these things that they cared about me and it gave them a right to speak into my life. I allowed them to disciple me and lead me because they did all those things. This is STILL the way people earn a place in my life as a mentor all these years later.

After these lists I broke it down even further into a more manageable concept. There are three themes that come out in different ways in my lists and I think we can flip it around to relate it to our own ministries. With the students in your ministry you need to support them, share life with them and love them.

If you support them…

-you will give them opportunities

-you will trust them

-you will give them freedom

If you share life with them…

-they will see your example

-you will give them your time

-they will glean your wisdom

If you love them…

-you will validate them

-you will be their friend

-you will talk about the hard things

These were all the things that were most important to me as a child, all the way up through college and today. People that invest in me in these ways have won me for life. They have earned my respect and will always have it.

Of course our goal is not just to have kids respect us but think about how wholly we can disciple and mentor our students (children AND youth) when we have that kind of relationship. It is no longer just a volunteer, student relationship. When you have a relationship with a student that reflects all of those things you not only have the right to speak into their life, they give you authority to do so! Not authority based on status but authority that they freely give you to be involved in their life, to correct them and to speak to their innermost feelings. That kind of relationship doesn’t come from anything other than earning the respect and love of another.

I had a boss once when I was working at Starbucks that was amazing. A lot of people had their issues with her but I loved working for her. I would go to work anywhere with her in leadership. I even put her on my list of people that invested in me. I can pinpoint exact things about her and our work relationship that made me grow and made my respect for her grow. She made me a better barista, of course, but she took time to encourage me and support me. She validated me as a person and my skills, gave me opportunities to become better and gave me freedom to make mistakes. To this day, I think about her and attempt to lead as she did.

I recognize that a professional mentor or boss is different than a children’s ministry leader but I think we can learn a lot from even people like my old boss in our lives.

There are so many ways to effectively mentor someone and have a voice in their life!

One of the kids church volunteers that had a big impact on me literally never spoke a word about Jesus to me. Yes we were at church but we talked about a thousand other things. We had conversation. My friend and I would talk to him every Sunday after church. He told us all about his family and his past. He gave me his time and showed me who he was. For me that was huge.

The reason I think this model (if you can even call it that) works is because it isn’t a system to put into place. You can do these things in any context, with any amount of people and with zero dollars.

You don’t have to have a fancy new curriculum or a big event to disciple students. If you show up and support your kids, share your life with them and love them you will be successful in discipling children.

I am not going to pretend that this is groundbreaking information that has never before been written. Seeing as there are thousands of books on disciple making, someone way smarter than me probably did the same reflecting and ended up with their own list years before I did. However, this list is my own. It is what has worked and still works for me. Now I have a list of personal tried and true goals for discipling the next generation: support, share life, love and all that each entails.

I hope that you can use this as a model to make your own list and goals for discipling others. Who says that everyone should disciple in the same way anyway?


Leave me a comment below if you found this helpful! Tell me some of your new disciple making goals!

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