A Ministry of Make and Deepen Disciples

Competition and Discipling Children

I admit I enjoy sports. However, when it comes to discipling children we need to be careful about how we include competitive elements. I don’t see Jesus competing. The disciples yes, but Jesus, no. I don’t think Jesus said to his disciples on the day he fed 5000, “Let’s see which of you can gather up the most leftovers.” Or when he sent out the disciples, asked when they returned “Who healed the most people? Who shared the good news to the most people?”

The problem with including competition when discipling children is that it pits them against each other. Jesus says we are to be one body, and each of us is an important and equal part of the body. When we introduce competition into our children’s gatherings, we end up separating the body with winners and losers. Jesus has called us all to be on the same team, and competition can result in hurt feelings.

For grade school children, a sense of belonging is huge developmentally. Outside the church children are constantly being divided, made fun of, left out, called losers. The church should be the place where every child is welcomed, loved, encouraged, and nurtured to live fully into the gifts with which God has blessed them. For this reason, I never pit children against children or any member of the church against another.

I know competition can be a significant motivator. When I have used competition, I have put all the children into one group and they compete together. Never against each other but against a neutral object, like a puppet. This allows them to work together as a body, encouraging each other and rejoicing together when they win, which they always do, even though it doesn’t always come easy. They are united.

But I use even this type of competition very sparingly, because there are so many other ways of nurturing children as disciples of Christ without using competition. Competition is usually associated with remembering content within the context of ministering with children. But for Christ, knowing the content isn’t as important as living it out. The Pharisees and teachers of the law knew the word of God inside and out, but when their Lord was standing in front of them they didn’t recognize him. Jesus often pointed out that the word of God was something to be lived out, not a competition of who knew the most or who could use the Word to help themselves rather than others.

Here are some of the active elements I choose to use instead, when discipling children:

  • Drama
  • Science
  • Art
  • Prayer Practices
  • Building (Example: Writing responses on craft sticks and utilizing small blocks and sticks to create something together)
  • Cooperative Planning (for an event or outreach ministry)
  • Story

These are all ways of living into the Word and living out the Word. They help to build community rather than divide community, and they foster a sense of mutual purpose and commitment as the body of Christ to love others and become disciples who make disciples.

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Steve Burger

Steve is the Director of Children, Family and Intergenerational Ministries for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He has served churches in New York and Minnesota with his wife Marti, prior to serving in his present position. Their daughter Melissa Wall serves as Pastor of Deer Grove Covenant Church, Palatine, IL, son-in-law, Fredrik serves in the ECC Denominational Offices, and their son Paul and his wife Britta are pastors at Bethany Covenant Church in Mt Vernon, WA. Steve can recall moments from infancy and feels closest to God when he is with children. He is committed to supporting and partnering with those who minister with children, families and intergenerational communities of faith.

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