Flexing Our Missional Muscles: Engaging Children in Global Mission

child globeThis is Part 1 of 2 posts by Stui Chaplin

I am not a body builder, not by any stretch of the imagination. But if I was, I imagine that I’d take a great deal of care to ensure that every muscle was toned and trained in a balanced way. In fact, I’d probably develop a detailed schedule to maximise the effectiveness of my training. Now down at our local gym I very much doubt that there are body builders just lifting weights to bulk up their left side, while completely neglecting their right side. It would be ridiculous to develop a ripped left bicep but leave yourself with a weedy stick for a right arm.

However, our lop-sided fitness fanatic is a pretty apt representation of the kind of unbalanced bible teaching we sometimes provide for children. Consider the training programme that your church provides for kids for a moment. It’s probably ram-packed with the juicy narratives of Scripture isn’t it? Stories about Jesus and his disciples, the Kings of Israel, Moses, and maybe a Patriarch or two. Stories that point us to who Jesus is and what he has done. And its just the same in the children’s bibles that parents will be reading to their kids at home during the week. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Clearly, its brilliant that we are helping children to see the way that the Old Testament prepares the way for Jesus instead of descending into moralism. But there remains a risk that if we exclusively flex our Christological muscles, our kids won’t even realise that there are other muscles nearby that are very closely connected to our understanding of Jesus.

In my experience, mission is one such muscle that remains generally ignored when it comes to children and young people. Think for a moment about the way that Jesus sums up the focus and thrust of Scripture in Luke 24:45-47.

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The big thrust of the bible is not less than Christology, but it is also not woodenly limited to Christology. Rather, “the whole of the Scriptures, finds its focus and fulfilment both in the life and death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah and in the mission to all nations, which flows out of that event”[1]

We would do well to tune our teaching priorities in harmony with those of the bible itself. If Scripture points towards the ongoing mission that is a result of all that Jesus has done, then we should ensure that God’s voice is heard in our churches. Yet even when this is the case in the pulpit, the sad reality is that the teaching programmes and resources we generally use for young people fail to adequately address mission. We might touch upon it when we teach Acts or Jonah, but even then the level of application will often be minimal.
How can we redress this balance? How can we practically engage young people in global mission if we don’t ever teach them about it?
An excellent first step would be to prioritise teaching the whole counsel of God to our children. If we only ever teach one biblical genre to children, we make it very difficult to paint a balanced picture of the bible’s teaching. You wouldn’t dream of doing that from the pulpit, so why is it OK to do so with the children who need to be established in the foundations of the faith?

When Paul left the church in Ephesus, after two and a half years of teaching and establishing them in the faith, he declares to the Elders “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It seems unlikely that in this time Paul completed expository sermons on every line of Scripture, so what practically does it mean for us to declare the whole counsel of God to our kids?

Carson helpfully explains: “What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively.”[2]

If the worldwide mission that flows from the saving work of Christ really is of central importance in the Scriptures, then we need to ask ourselves whether what we teach our children really qualifies as the whole counsel of God. Is there a danger that we are taking short-cuts and just sticking to what seems easiest to us? This is more than a question of which books of the bible we study – it’s also a question of the way we apply the bible to children.

We need to encourage those who are teaching our children at home and at church to make mission an application of their bible teaching when it is there in Scripture, not just when the curriculum or notes tells them that it is there. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out all your copies of Click or TnT or whatever it is you have been using – not every parent or kids leader is going to be able to do the work of preparation from scratch and we certainly don’t want to scare people off. But at the very least there should be a Berean attitude amongst us; examining the Scriptures to see if what the lesson plan says is true.

If we are teaching the whole counsel of God, then mission should come up regularly and naturally in our lessons, in just the same way as Christology does. We don’t need to force the issue or crowbar it in unnaturally; as the bible is rightly taught, God’s voice will be heard. Now clearly, if a lesson misses the main point of a passage, it should be changed; so too if a lesson misses an important central application of a passage, it should be changed. This is an area where people need to be helped and equipped not just thrown in at the deep end. So let’s ensure that we properly support people within our local churches to correctly handle the word of truth.

 

If we want to engage our children and young people in global mission, we need to ensure that we are teaching them from the bible about how important mission is. If our kids are being trained in a balanced way, then by God’s grace we pray that they will grow into mature believers who have the full range of spiritual muscles in place and a desire to reach the nations with the gospel.

In Part 2, Stui will explore practical ways to put these things into practice- coming soon!

 

Stui Chaplin is a pastor at Bush Hill Park Community Church; Keswick Convention Kids Team Leader and blogs at Kidsworker Blog

[1] Wright, “Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology,” in Bartholomew et al., Out of Egypt, p. 107.

[2] D. A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit,” in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, ed. Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson (Crossway, 2007), pp. 177-178.