Four Phases of Children’s Disciple-making
As a child grows up in this church, we provide a team of people and several programs to help your child be a disciple of Jesus.
What is a Disciple?
A disciple is a learner. In Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling training, we define a disciple as: One who knows God personally and pursues Jesus passionately, modeling everything in their life after the character and priorities of Christ. Obviously, this pursuit is a lifelong journey.
Phase One: Planting Seeds of Faith
Whenever it is that you start your journey with God, that is when your child starts his/her own journey as well. Parents are to be in the business of helping their child grow and develop, and this means in their relationship with God just as much as it means taking them to sports practice or music lessons. The initial steps in the race of faith are more readily compared to farming than to running. In running a race, the runner must start well and gradually increase pace to the end. In farming or gardening, the first step is to plow the field and plant the seeds. Our main focus in the early childhood wing is planting these basic concepts of who God is and what it means to believe in Him. We start with Christian lullaby music, short prayers, and three to five sentence Bible stories for infants and toddlers. At home, we hope you read the Jesus Storybook Bible as well as many other colorful books and toys that emphasize the greatness of God and help build a Christian worldview (please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like a list of resources). All of these layers (music, toys, puzzles, games, books, prayers, memorization, and conversations with parents) represent the planting and watering that must happen to produce a harvest. Consistent watering and planting ensure a generous harvest.
Phase Two: Growing Hearts of Faith
We hope that children give their life to Jesus early on. Yet it’s hard to know if a child has genuinely repented and understood the requirements of the cross. But truly, can any of us ever really understand the depths of God’s love and grace for us? My advice is to disciple your child anyway. If they prayed at three or four years old, continue to present the gospel to them and read Scripture and open God’s word with them consistently. If the child’s faith is real, then God will cause it to grow. Little people have little mini-crises, and in these small tests of faith in God, we can point to God’s historical faithfulness to us as parents and to the people of Israel. Since the garden, the testing circumstances have persisted in asking two questions. Does God really love me? And, will God really do what He said He would do? As we remind our children of the Scriptures that demonstrate God’s love and faithfulness to His people, and as we model love and faithfulness to them (a concrete example for a literal mindset), the seeds of faith will sprout and grow into hearts of faith.
Phase Three: Extending Roots of Faith
Just as a seed sprouts by extending roots first then stems and leaves next, a child’s faith will continue to grow and deepen with time and with situations that allow the child to own his or her faith. What do I mean by “extending roots”? I mean that parents are responsible for taking their child to the Scripture and building connections. You and your child can dig into the Bible to find answers for their struggles, their questions, their sin, the kinds of friends they should have, how to deal with worry and anxiety, and so many other things. We should help them find the aha moment. Developmentally, they may be transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking, so the child needs the parents to help move them along in their thinking. Parents can challenge the child’s paradigms or faulty thinking and teach them through the Scriptures to trust God in the current circumstance. Apart from the daily or weekly crisis, parents should be there to help explain the Scriptures, provide direction as to which Bible verse to study, confirm and correct the thoughts of the child, and generally lead the child to Christ. I read somewhere that Jesus viewed His disciples with an eye to what they would become.
Phase Four: Building a Life of Faith
As long as we are alive on earth, our goals are to follow Jesus and make disciples. God is so infinite that we will always have another aspect of Him to imitate and glorify. As we parent our children, and as we minister to the children in our church, let’s keep an eye to their glorious future. What aspect of God’s character do they need to understand today so that they are equipped for the future He has designed for them. Each day we are in the building phase. We want our little people to have a strong life of faith. Let’s partner together to make it happen at all phases: planting seeds, growing hearts, extending roots, and building lives.
by Heather Soukup, Children’s Disciple-making Director