Sending kids on mission: An interview with Brian Dembowczyk

Brian Dembowczyk, the new Managing Editor of Lifeway's Gospel Project curriculum, has just released a new mini-book / leader guide for children's ministry entitled, Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry. Lifeway Christian Resources has graciously allowed me to include a download of his chapter entitled, "Folding Card Tables: Are Kids the Church of Tomorrow?" Just click the link to take a look. You can purchase the full book from Lifeway here.

I really love what Brian is teaching here about the significance of kids as part of Christ's body and about training them to be on mission. I got the opportunity recently to correspond with him and ask some questions about it.

Jared: I loved the chapter where you describe how you feel when you hear kids described as "the church of tomorrow." Why does the phrase bother you so much? 

Brian: As I shared in the book, I think most people don't mean any harm when they say it, but what bothers me is the subtle implication behind it. Usually, kids are called 'the church of tomorrow' when it comes to investing in our kids—church budgets, time, resources, and so forth—and this is great and true. We need to invest in them and train them up. However, what I have rarely, if ever, heard is an appeal to invest in our kids because they are a vital part of our churches right now—today. We almost treat them like a retirement investment—valuing them primarily or solely for what they can do for us down the road, but not right now. The tragedy is this devalues kids as image-bearers of God and it robs the church of one of its greatest resources to impact our culture—kids who are on mission to reach other kids for Christ. 

As a father of three kids (12, 9, and 5), I want them to know God has plans for them right now. I don't want them wasting the time and opportunities God has given them today—especially my 12-year-old and 9-year-old who have trusted in Christ already and are fully part of His church. That's why it bothers me so much. 

Jared: So, kids who have trusted Jesus are part of the church right now. What are the implications of this for how we do children's ministry? 

Brian: The implications are massive! This thinking reframes how we see our kids and how we understand our kids ministries. We have to fight to see kids who have trusted in Christ as full-fledged members of our local churches. So, anything we expect of our adult members, we should expect of them and disciple them to that end too. 

Instead of measuring success by what happens on the church campus, maybe we should flip and measure it by what happens off campus more. 

Now, surely we need to filter these expectations through an age-appropriate lens. For example, expectations of being part of the church body need to be filtered through an understanding that kids are not autonomous when it comes to attending kids ministry activities. But we need to teach and encourage our kids about these things as we do adults. We need to hold them accountable—with love and grace as we would adults—too. We need to cast vision to them about how they can join in with God on mission into their schools, sports teams, and so forth. 

I think it is helpful to consider our goals as kids ministry leaders. Let's be honest, for many kids ministries, the goal is to gather a bunch of kids and give them a little Bible knowledge. It's often how we measure 'success,' right? How big is our kids ministry or how well can our kids do in Bible trivia or verse memorization. As I share in the book, there is nothing at all wrong with kids learning and excelling in these areas, but we have to want more for our kids. We need to disciple them as committed followers of Jesus who are on mission with Him today. Our goals should focus on the bigger win. So, instead of measuring success by what happens on the church campus, maybe we should flip and measure it by what happens off campus more. 

Jared: One of the implications I heard loud and clear in my read through the book: we need to train kids for mission. Practically, what does this look like?

Brian: I'm glad it was clear! I would contend it is the major implication of seeing our kids as part of the church today. Practically, this means we need to focus on casting vision to our kids being on mission as a normal rhythm of their lives, and we need to train and equip them for it. 

Remember: the gospel is like the ocean. It has parts shallow enough for a child to wade safely in and parts so deep we cannot reach the bottom.

So, I would start evaluating this in our Bible study teaching time. When it comes to applying what we study, do we regularly and faithfully talk about being on mission or does our application stop short? Let's say you are studying Jonah. Do you stop at talking about trusting and obeying God, or do you talk about being on mission, which I would say is the real point of that book—having a heart for the nations and joyfully sacrificing to take the gospel wherever God leads just as Christ joyfully laid down His life for us. That's what our kids need to ingest as a steady part of their diet. 

That covers the heart for missions. The other thing we need to do is train them. This means teaching on world missions and church planting as we pray God raises up some of our kids for those efforts at some point. We also train them how to share their faith today and talk about the gospel needs in your community. 

Jared: Any specific tips for helping churches train kids in evangelism?

Brian: Remember: the gospel is like the ocean. It has parts shallow enough for a child to wade safely in parts so deep we cannot reach the bottom. This is important because it helps us to appreciate that kids sharing the gospel is realistic! Teach your kids the core message of the gospel to share with their friends using language and illustrations that are not kiddish, but kid-friendly. Help them learn to talk about the gospel with someone, not to someone.

Also we need to teach kids that being on mission is more than articulating the gospel. While it is its core, we also are called to meet physical and emotional needs of others. Helping our kids develop EI, emotional intelligence, is huge. If we can help our kids be sensitive to when others are hurting, anxious, angry, and so forth, we position them well to have meaningful gospel-centered conversations with others. 

One other recommendation is to talk about being on mission regularly with our kids. Know who they are trying to reach. Ask them about those people. Ask about how they are using their platforms—schools, sports, activities, etc.—to develop friendships. Ask who has shared the gospel recently. And include your leaders in those times as well! Kids need to know their leaders are living out what they are sharing too. 

I'm so grateful for Brian sharing his time to answer my questions. Don't forget to order Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry from Lifeway. And keep the conversation about sending kids on mission going. What questions do you have about teaching kids to share their faith? Leave your questions and suggestions below.