A Ministry of Make and Deepen Disciples

Spiritual Practices – Part Six: Children and the Spiritual Practice of Mission

When Jesus first calls his disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he invites them to follow him into mission. In Luke 5 Jesus tells Peter, James, and John, “From now on you will be fishing for people.” Then Jesus spends the next three years showing them and the other disciples what this mission looks like.

Some might argue that children are not mature enough to join in the mission of Christ and that they should not be invited if they have not acknowledged Jesus as their Lord and Savior. However, this doesn’t seem to be a requirement for Jesus. Besides welcoming children, Jesus invites the disciples to join in God’s mission without their having acknowledged him as their Lord and Savior. It’s through their experiences of living into mission with Jesus that they come to see Jesus as more than a rabbi. It’s not until the latter part of their time together that Peter first acknowledges Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one. And even then, Peter did not understand the full nature of Jesus, nor could he comprehend Jesus had come to offer salvation and eternal life to all through his death and resurrection.

So just as with the first disciples, children, wherever they are at on their spiritual journey, will grow in their faith as they serve.

Here are five missional practices for children centered around ways we BLESS others:

B: Begin with prayer. Mission necessitates the practice of prayer. Prayer for those who do not yet know the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus, and prayer for direction as to who God might be calling us to bless. Regularly helping children pray for direction and pray for others helps to also draw them closer to God and enter into mission with greater clarity.

L: Listen. Jesus listened to the stories of others before acting or sharing his own story. Often he asked, what’s your story? What do you need or want or hope for? Helping children listen to Jesus and listen to others helps them to love others because it provides direction to the needs of others and helps them to respond in a Christ-like way. The stories of others also can help children learn and grow as well. Engaging in the spiritual practice of listening as families and within the church will help children to grow spiritually.

E: Eat and Experience. Food is a necessity for living. Food can be offered as a way of sustaining those who have no food and at the table as a way of fostering friendship. Jesus fed those in need but also communed with his disciples around the table. Likewise, experiencing life together fostered support, care, and deepening relationships among Jesus and his followers. Sharing food and life experiences helps build relationship and offers opportunities for children to share their daily stories of faith with others.

S: Serve. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. The practice of mission necessitates our serving others. It helps children to live into Christ’s command to love others. Children can and should be invited to join in the ministries within the church as well as invited to join in ministry outside the church. Not every ministry may be child friendly, but like Jesus, we can invite and encourage them to join with us in serving others.

S: Story. Jesus shared the story of faith both directly and creatively through parables. Children can also share their faith by sharing their story and Jesus’ story in creative ways through the arts. We just need to provide space and materials for them to reflect on and develop their stories, remembering that new chapters are being written each day.

If we don’t encourage children to develop and share their stories of faith, within the church and within our family settings, we can’t expect them to share their story with others and live the faith they have been called to by Jesus. The spiritual practice of story is critical for children to live fully into Christ’s Mission.

These spiritual practices of Mission take the focus off self and help shift a child’s posture from getting to giving. And as with the disciples whom Jesus first called along the shores of Galilee, they provide disciplines that help children come to faith and grow in faith even as they are sharing in a mission that will impact the future faith of others.

For more on BLESS resources go to: Covchurch.org/bless

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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