Americans are used to kids learning separately from adults. Age-appropriate learning has value. In Disciple Making Movements, however, we welcome kids as disciples. They must be trained to follow and obey Jesus the same as adults. They can learn, apply, and contribute to a disciple making movement in significant ways.
Jesus didn’t separate children from adults. They were always around Him, included in His circle. In non-Western cultures this is more common than in the West.
How Did Jesus Interact With Children and Disciple Them?
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.Matt 19:13-15 The Message Bible
6 Principles for Disciple Making With Non-Christian Kids
1. Jesus welcomed children and so must we.
It is easy to overlook children and under-value them. Jesus told his disciples not to prevent kids from coming to Him. They were welcomed in His presence and on His lap. Western culture often relegates kids to children’s church rather than valuing them as contributing members of the body of Christ.
Kids have genuine, real relationships with God. They are able to flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They often bring forth valuable Spirit-led, profound insights into Discovery Bible Studies.
The format of participatory learning used in disciple making groups is friendly toward children. Don’t skip over the kids who are present. Welcome them to share their thoughts and insights. Value them and you will be deeply blessed by what they say. Train them to be obedient Jesus followers. Often they will do better than their parents at obeying! They put lessons into practice and are less fearful about taking steps of boldness and faith.
2. Children can be Persons of Peace and key influencers.
I love the example of the Hebrew slave-girl who influenced the army commander who had leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-3). She knew God in a personal way. She was willing to speak up, even to a person of status and influence. Because of her advice, he encountered God’s healing power and was healed. She was a Person of Peace.
Don’t under-estimate the ways God uses children for His purposes. Train kids to follow His ways and obey His commands. Give them responsibility. Trust them to impact those around them. By sharing Bible stories with families, neighbors, and friends, they can greatly influence others.
3. Avoid extraction evangelism.
Extraction evangelism is when you pull new believers out of their families and into the Christian community. We “extract” them from their Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim community rather than allowing them to remain in the community and be an influence upon it.
When children believe and begin to devoutly follow Jesus, it makes non-Christian parents nervous. They don’t trust or understand the new ideas their kids are zealously pursuing. It feels threatening. They are afraid of losing their children and their relationship with them. Be sensitive to this.
Avoid validating this fear by encouraging them to honor their parents and continue to honor their own culture. They will have questions about cultural issues. For example, a Muslim girl may wonder if it is wrong to keep wearing her head covering now that she believes in Jesus. Why not wear one yourself to show her that it is still culturally fine for a Jesus follower? Your cultural sensitivity will have a great impact on these new followers and their ability to influence their families.
If your Christian community is not following cultural norms, they will quickly adopt your ways. The result will be extraction and sometimes expulsion from their own societies. Kingdom impact will diminish as walls go up to prevent you from “stealing” more of their children from them.
4. Bridge through relationships with kids to reach whole families.
Actively build relationships of trust with the families of kids you are reaching. Maybe the 10-year-old is attending your Sunday school or service. Make it a priority to go to their home and build a relationship with their parents. Greet them in culturally appropriate ways. Ask them how they feel about their child attending Bible classes. Answer questions and reassure them in areas they have concerns. Invite them to come and see what their kids are learning.
Often you can bridge into the family through the child. Offer to explain to the parents more about what you are teaching their child. Ask if they would also like to study the stories with you so they can be more aware of what their child is learning.
Don’t only think of reaching children but think of reaching a community. For that to happen, adults will also need to begin to believe.
5. Establish yourself as a good influence through relationship and cultural sensitivity.
If these kids are from Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim families, you will need to work hard to build trust with families. Visit and greet them in culturally appropriate ways. Be aware of cultural taboos and wear appropriate clothing when around the kids (head scarfs, dupatas, long sleeves, etc.).
Parents will be more relaxed if they know you are not going to encourage them to reject cultural traditions.
6. Be careful about baptizing children without parental permission.
Nothing in the Bible gives a particular age when it is okay to baptize. Be cautious about baptizing children without parental consent. This can land you in serious legal trouble and create unnecessary persecution for you and your team.
If a child expresses interest in baptism, go with them to talk about this with their parents. Explain the gospel message and Jesus’ command to obey Him in this way. Maybe the parents will join their kids in receiving Jesus!
Delayed baptism is something we discourage.
But, in the case of an under-age minor, it is best to wait until the culturally appropriate age of decision making and adulthood.
It is also good to wait until parents give permission rather than go ahead and secretly baptize minors. Aim for bringing the whole family to faith so they can be baptized together. If you are able to see that, the chance of the family continuing together in faith and influencing many others is exponentially higher.
Value and Engagement
Do you see children as disciple makers worth training and equipping? How can you welcome and include them in a significant way?
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