Jesus modeled true discipleship. While He certainly ministered to the masses, He poured His life into twelve diverse disciples. Jesus walked along dusty paths privately instructing His disciples more often than He stood on a hillside publicly teaching the crowds. Genuine discipleship takes place in one-on-one relationships, or in very small groups.
One-on-one discipling has many advantages over group discipleship. In a group setting, members must advance together, regardless of how individual students progress. Some kids will excel at completing the content and memory work. This might alienate and discourage others who are not as fast. Thankfully, God deals with us as individuals. Each person grows at a personal pace. Spiritual progress is not based on comparisons with others; it is based on God’s schedule for individual people. Discipling kids should be the same. A child who progresses more slowly than others will not be discouraged or embarrassed in a one-on-one relationship. The pace is not important; progress is what matters.
In a one-on-one relationship, adult leaders make sure that each child learns and applies the lesson before moving ahead. Spend extra time exploring a topic if the child struggles with it or shows extra interest in it. Do not advance to the next lesson until the current lesson is successfully learned and applied. At the beginning of the process, make sure your child understands that your goal is to help him or her become more like Jesus. That way, if you choose to stay on a lesson, the child will not view it as punitive, but as an opportunity to further explore the current topic.
Children can spend their entire childhoods in Sunday school, and while they may learn many Bible facts and stories, they often can’t express their most basic beliefs. These three phases will help you implement a church-wide children’s discipleship ministry so that every child is discipled in the essentials.
Phase One: Prepare: Establish your goal to see every child in your church discipled. Pray that God will raise up disciplers among your teachers, volunteers, parents, and even youth! Promote discipleship in your personal discussions. Motivate the people in your sphere of influence with the realization that children’s discipleship will transform your church!
Phase Two: Organize: As a ministry leader, you cannot disciple every child! List all the children who regularly participate in your ministry. Recruit parents, teachers, volunteers, and spiritually mature youth to join the “Children’s Discipleship Team.” Prayerfully consider the needs of each child in your ministry. You may want to recruit a Discipleship Coordinator to monitor progress and keep track of who is discipling whom.
First, determine which children have parents who know and love the Lord. It is always best for parents to disciple their own children (see Deuteronomy 6). Approach those parents personally and invite them to a parent discipleship training class. Communicate to them the vision of building a strong spiritual foundation for their kids.Second, have teachers select children from their classes whom they can disciple—based upon their relationship with students and their families. Third, as you recruit more disciplers, don’t overlook the seniors in your church! Not only are they a storehouse of knowledge and wisdom, children will often be very receptive to them.
Remember, you do not need to disciple every child every year. Start with the older kids who will soon graduate from your children’s ministry to the youth group. You will have several years to catch the younger ones on their way up. Consider also discipling children in two grades each year—for example, grades two and five. After three years, the needs and spiritual maturity of these children will be dramatically different.
Phase Three: Implement: Offer quarterly or semi-annual training for your Discipleship Team. Consider offering “My Awesome Adventure”, which covers 12 basic discipleship skills as discipleship resources. Disciplers should complete the ages 9-12 Disciple Guide and memorize the verses before they disciple a child. As an alternative, disciplers should complete the workbook along with the first child they disciple.
Enjoy making disciples! Invest time with each disciple—as Jesus did.