Every child needs a consistent adult at church. I don’t remember much of anything from being a preschooler at church except this: There was always a guy, one of the greeters, who had a piece of gum for me and my brother when we got to church. Same guy every week. I can’t tell you his name. My family left that church when I was six, but during those itty-bitty years, I knew I could count on that greeter.
The premise of Just a Phase when it comes to adults who serve with kids is this: Every kid needs a consistent adult at church. For us, this becomes their small group leader on Sundays or table leader on Wednesdays.
Joiner and Ivy say that preschoolers need this relationship because they can be terrified by an unfamiliar face; elementary students because they will tell anything to a stranger; middle schoolers because nothing else in their life is consistent; and high schoolers because they only trust people who show up consistently. Sound about right?
A consistent leader in UpStreet doesn’t do the same things that a leader in CREW does. The time commitment is different, the teaching style is different.
Leaders of preschoolers embrace them so they feel safe.
Leaders of elementary students engage them so they can believe.
Leaders of middle schoolers affirm them so they will keep believing.
Leaders of high schoolers mobilize them to participate in something significant.
The common theme is this: Small group leaders get to know multiple kids in the same phase, and that gives them an advantage. Over time, a person who works with 2nd graders week in and week out begins to know how they tick and learns how to engage their thought process to encourage trust in Christ.
Most of us who serve in kid’s ministry may not think of ourselves as experts. We may doubt our own faith at times or wish we knew more about the Bible. But we cannot underestimate the power of showing up consistently. You can grow in your faith. You can learn more about Scripture. But you cannot pass it on to the next generation if you’re sporadic.
Joiner and Ivy add, “Every kid needs a parent who has history, and every kid needs a leader who can discover them now.” My encouragement to you is this: You may wonder what kind of an impact you’re making. You may struggle just to get to church on a Sunday. It may be tempting to skip out on serving because there are other things that look more rewarding, relaxing, or beneficial. Don’t give in to the temptation. Stick with the group of kids you’ve got. Invest in them. Invest what you know about them back to their parents. And see what God does in the midst of your consistency, stability, and faithfulness.
We’ve been on vacation. Back now, and ready to continue writing. Traveling in the van, I thought about the ways we, as pastors and church leaders, attempt to help our churches define discipleship and what a disciple looks like. In my own setting, I led a small group of people through the New Testament…. Actually, I did a lot of legwork and brought my findings to this group and allowed them to edit them. We made two lists: characteristics of a disciple and actions of a disciple.
Looking back, I wonder how we could have done this differently. People need to process, from Scripture at minimum (and ideally from tradition as well), how the Bible describes a person who is undergoing Christian spiritual formation in Christ. Having a pastor tell them what he or she has found isn’t good enough. I look back at my own experience with mixed emotions. On one hand, I feel like our team came up with some great work. On the other, I feel like I put too much time into the effort behind the scenes, alone, and left others out of much of the process. In retrospect, spending more time together in Scripture would have been more beneficial.
What would it look like for a church going through a revisioning process to, corporately, define discipleship and begin to plot out how the various ministries work together to make disciples? I wonder if it could look something like this:
A. The church and pastor commit to taking a full year to go through Scripture together.
B. The pastor spends time listing 40 or so passages (2-3 chapters of Scripture, even) that he or she feels are the most important ones for a church to look at. OT and NT. These passages become the basis for a church-wide conversation/Bible study one night a week. Perhaps the church would even cancel other Bible studies for the year in order to make sure as many as possible could attend this one. This group is not a decision-making group, but is vital to the process.
C. Each week, the pastor leads the study group through the passage for the week. While the pastor may have some exegesis prepared in advance, the goal is not to download information, but to let people see insights in the text together. They seek to answer these questions exegetically:
- What does this passage say about the characteristics of a disciple? A disciple is _________.
- What does this passage say about the actions of a disciple? A disciple does ____________.
- What is God’s role in the spiritual formation of a disciple?
- What is a disciple’s role?
- What is the church’s role?
D. From these studies, the pastor then distills the most important parts and preaches from them the following Sunday. The whole church gets to hear and pray about the process, and it communicates that this affects everyone, whether they attend a weekly study or not. No one is off the hook or has an excuse about not hearing about the pulse of the conversations. No one can claim they weren’t included. And Sundays then become chances to create excitement about the process.
E. Monthly, the pastor meets with a select group of leaders (the board? a task force?) to review how the congregation has responded and answered the above questions from Scripture. The goal of this group is to begin connecting dots where Scripture emphasizes the same things over and over, to synthesize things into a manageable list.
F. Only after this year of Scripture soaking does the pastor and leadership group begin to figure out how their local church needs to contextualize discipleship.
What do you think? What is missing? Could this work? Have churches done this type of thing too many times that many leaders are tired of it?