5 Ways to Teach Kids about Missions

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Each week in our children’s ministry, we gather our elementary-age kids for a time of worship. It includes praise songs, hand motions, call-and-response Bible and catechism memory, creative Bible teaching, and a time of prayer. We enjoy each of these assembly gatherings. We cherish the opportunity to sing and teach the good news to kids every week.

But a few of the assemblies stand out in our memories. Last October, for instance, we gathered the kids to pray for two of their peers who, along with their parents, would soon be moving to the mission field. The future missionary kids—a sister and her brother—stood at the front of the gathering. Then their friends and teachers extended their hands to bless them with prayers. We prayed for safe travels, that they’d make new friends quickly, and that they’d talk about Jesus with boldness. These are powerful moments.

One of the reasons we cherish these missionary kid commissionings is because, over the years, our local church has adopted simple programming structures. We have Sunday services and small groups for community and discipleship, but we don’t have Sunday school classes or a midweek missions education club. There are advantages to this. Our families have more of an opportunity to be on mission in their communities. But there are disadvantages too.

The simple church model requires us to think more intentionally about how we will pass on God’s mission to the next generation. Of course, our regular curriculum covers the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17–20) and the expansion of the church in Acts. We understand that teaching the Bible means teaching about missions. But without a missions education program, it’s easy for churches to leave out what God is doing around the world right now. Even in churches that have more traditional midweek missions education classes for kids, I (Jared) wonder how often Christian families talk together about God’s mission outside of the church.

It’s a glad and beautiful thing when the good news arrives in a new place (Ps. 67:4Isa. 52:7). We don’t want the next generation to miss out on that joy! So, how do we make teaching kids about missions more of a priority in our churches and our homes? Here are five practical suggestions.

1. Start with Yourself

How often do you think about missions? Kids imitate what we model. We’ll only cultivate a passion for missions in kids if we’re passionate about missions ourselves.

What is your church already doing to support international missions? Have you considered how can you be a part of that? If your church has missionary prayer cards available in the lobby or the back of the sanctuary, pick one up this Sunday. Then pray for that international worker during your own devotions this week. While you’re at it, sign up for a missionary’s prayer letter and consider giving directly to the missionary.

Before long, you may find your own passion for missions overflowing to the kids around you.

2. Start Small

When you turn toward teaching kids about missions, leverage what is in front of you. One of my (Allison’s) favorite games to play with young kids is “airplane.” We choose a destination and off we go on our imaginary flight! Imaginary play is a great opportunity to talk about other areas of the world.

We’ll only cultivate a passion for missions in kids if we’re passionate about missions ourselves.

Also, be intentional about exposing your kids to ethnic and cultural diversity. Set up a play date with kids of different ethnicities and races than those of your own. This may be as simple as taking your kids to a playground in a more diverse area of your city.

You should also read books to your children that show other cultures. And, if your children are older, encourage them to read books from diverse authors or books set in other cultures.

3. Pray

In my (Allison’s) home, I like to keep my prayer cards in a place where I see them every day. I have an old window that I turned into a frame and strung rows of twine across. I clip my prayer cards to the twine, and I have this hanging near my dining table. If your family eats meals together, consider using this time to pray for one of your church’s missionary families.

There are a number of helpful prayer guides available that you can use for family prayer. The International Mission Board has an online prayer guide that is updated daily. We’re also fond of Operation Mobilization’s Window on the World, a missionary prayer guide that’s designed for use with children both at home and in children’s ministry or Sunday school classes.

4. Do Something Creative

Work with your kids to put together a care package for a missionary family that your church supports. If that family has kids, let your children pick out gifts for them and write notes. It can be helpful to find a family that has kids near the same age as your own.

One of the best ways to teach your kids about missions is to take them with you as you go.

A friend of ours takes this kind of creativity to the next level. Each year, she has her kids choose a country to research. Then, they not only pray and send a care package, but they also make a family meal based on traditional cuisine in the country her kids chose.

5. Bring Them Along

If your church or another church nearby sponsors annual short-term trips, talk with the leaders about which trips may be appropriate for your children; then, consider taking your kids with you somewhere to serve others this year in place of your normal family vacation. One of the best ways to teach your kids about missions is to take them with you as you go.

This post first appeared at imb.org. I wrote it with Allison Rushing. She serves as Director of Kids Ministry at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky, and served as a journeyman through the IMB in South Asia for two years. She has a master of divinity in missions from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Kids and Church, part 4: Obedience over Knowledge

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Before jumping in here, read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

“… Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15b ESV)

When it comes to discipleship, it’s important to stress obedience over the accumulation of knowledge. This is especially true when it comes to your own kids. The temptation for parents is to simply give them the facts of faith, forgetting that the facts don’t lead to faith. Being able to apply those facts to real life is what obedience is.

But how do we teach them to obey? What concepts do parents need to keep in mind when it come to disciplining their kids? Here are three:

1. Teaching

Teaching will always play a role in discipleship. It has to. Those being discipled need to be taught correct doctrine. Without proper teaching, they are likely to be “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14) by anything that sounds close to truth. And, when it comes to teaching, parents need to remember it’s about more than mere information. We don’t just need our kids to remember a bunch of facts, but rather to help them see why the truth we are teaching is important.

To do that we have to break down the information into its three components: the precept, the principle, and the command. By precept, I mean the action or conduct that is being proposed through this teaching. By principle, I mean the rule by which that action or conduct is connected to the teaching. By command, I mean the authority behind the teaching. All three are necessary for teaching to be truly effective. Without all three components what is happening is not discipleship; it ends up being moralistic behavior modification.

2. Advising

To this kind of teaching, advisement or counsel must be added. In order for advice to be most effective, it must be personal to the person, their situation, and their stage of life. This is where we help those we are discipling to apply the teaching to their lives. While there are always general ways Scripture is applied to our lives, there are also specific ways it applies in the here and now. Helping those we disciple find those applications puts them on the path towards obedience.

3. Modeling

The final kind of teaching is modeling. Discipleship is most effective when the disciple-maker lives out what he is teaching. As we model what we are learning and teaching, those we disciple see how what they are learning is applied everyday. Obedience on our part can inspire obedience on their part. 

It’s not just what we teach them that’s important, it’s how we teach them that will bring about real heart change and the sort of obedience that is the mark of true faith. This is food they need as well as the kind of feeding Jesus expects.

5 tips for establishing a devotional routine with your toddler

When our daughters were toddlers, we had a regular bedtime routine. It usually involved reading a story, saying prayers, giving hugs and kisses, and listening to some music before bed. Their stuffed toys got involved, too. Mr. Lamb would read along, and Smiley the Dog would share in hugs and kisses. Once the nightly rhythm was established, every part mattered. Knowing exactly what to expect helped our kids feel safe, confident, and secure.

And when one part was missing—well, I remember one vacation to a theme park. We’d been out late watching fireworks, so we skipped some of the normal bedtime steps. On top of that, we discovered Smiley had been left on a tour bus earlier in the day. Needless to say, sleep was fleeting that night! I learned just how much my kids count on a regular rhythm to thrive.

Christians know that rhythm should include religious instruction, but toddlers are always on the move—no wonder most parents struggle to corral them for any sort of formal family devotional time. Adding to that difficulty is the fact that young parents are often on the move, too. They’re busy establishing a career while raising toddlers and preschoolers at the same time. It’s hard to be present with your children when you’re on call or working overtime or third shift.

I believe God is aware of our seasons of life, and I’m thankful he doesn’t give us a family devotions model that’s overly formal. Moses told Israel to teach their kids during the regular rhythms of life—mealtime, bedtime, drive time, and so on (Deut. 6:7).

With that guilt-free vision in mind, here are five quick tips for establishing a regular devotional routine with your toddler.

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1. Find a Time That Works

In our family, we were able to establish the most regular routine at bedtime. If you work third shift, that’s not going to be feasible. Choose a regular time around the table—maybe at breakfast—instead. You’ll be surprised just how much your kids hold you accountable once a family worship pattern is established. It’ll be something they count on and look forward to. Start with one small thing, like reading a short story or saying a prayer. Be consistent. It’s better to gather the family once per week than to exasperate your kids with failed attempts to meet every day.

You’ll be surprised how much your kids hold you accountable once a family worship pattern is established.

I recently spoke to a dad who for several years worked what he described as the “grave shift.” During that season, a nightly devotional was impossible, so he leaned heavily on teaching his kids in small doses throughout the day. My friend’s wife would read to their kids at night before bed, then he’d take a five- or ten-minute break from work to call and pray with them.

I’ve found his regular intentionality to be incredibly encouraging. While not having a set devotional time may seem less than ideal, a regular, “slow drip” approach to family discipleship is actually quite effective. In this way, we can teach our toddlers that relating to God isn’t just something we check off our list at the end of the day; it’s the way we live.

2. Read Something Simple

Two- and three-year-olds have an attention span of two to three minutes. Their vocabulary is limited to 200 to 1,500 words. Like a careful parent cutting up their child’s food into digestible chunks, it’s important to keep your routine short and understandable. Our youngest kids need to learn the vocabulary of faith—basic Bible words like sinpromiseprayer, and the name of Jesus—before moving to more abstract concepts like forgiveness.

If you’re just beginning a family devotional time with your toddler, find a resource that keeps these developmental considerations in mind. You might try Ella Lindvall’s Read-Aloud Bible Stories, David Helm’s Big Picture Story Bible, or my Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.

3. Talk to God

Bow your head. Close your eyes. Tell your kids to fold their hands. (So they don’t hit each other during the prayer! That trick has worked for centuries.) Then, talk to God. Make it something quick and memorable; remember their short attention span. In our family, we adapted this short prayer:

Thank you God for [child’s name]. Help her to grow up to love Jesus and trust in Jesus. Please help her to have godly friends and a godly husband when she gets big. Please protect her from harm and danger this night. And from Satan and his schemes. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

4. Use Music for Memory

Our kids wanted to listen to music as they fell asleep at night. A friend recommended an album of lullabies that put the questions and answers from the Children’s Catechism to music. (If I had toddlers today, I’d use the The New City Catechism albums and the music of Rain for Roots.)

Our kids memorized great truth simply because they sang it nightly. Other great music albums like the ones from Seeds Family Worship and PROOF Pirates have more of a beat and are less helpful at bedtime. But we made sure this music was in our car so we could sing along (sometimes loud and silly!) while we drove around time.

5. Give Your Kids Your Full Attention

Your devotional routine isn’t just a time for you to impart information to your kids; it’s time for them to spend time with you. So put your phone away. Look your kids in the eye, and let them know you’re listening to them. Show them affection, and not just when it’s time for bedtime hugs and kisses. Cuddle. Have a short wrestling match.

It’s through the attentive presence of loving parents that kids learn about our loving Father.

This post first appeared at The Gospel Coalition. 

Family Friday Links 3.2.18

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Here's the online content that got us thinking this week:

Rooted Families had a post on courageous parenting. In the midst of the fear based society we live in the post reads, "...  the key to courage: courage does not begin with us. Just as it all begins with God’s steadfast character, even the courage He commands us is not something we can manufacture in and of ourselves." The author of this post works through Psalm 27 to illustrate his point.

Scott Kedersha had a post ways to develop martial intimacy. He reads in part, "... intimacy doesn’t happen accidentally. You must be intentional to increase intimacy in your marriage." His list of 10 way to increase intimacy are spot on and worth your time.

Download Youth Ministry had an important post for both youth and children's ministry leaders to think through on the topic of working with parents. In order for ministry to the next generation to be truly successful, we have to involve parents in the process. Here are some helpful hints to be thinking through.

What have you benefitted from online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we will check it out.