Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God. If we are to disciple our children we must see them grow in faith. Ineffective faith will result in children falling away from God.
Faith comes from hearing God’s word (Hebrews 10:17). That’s why I am so passionate about making sure that we proclaim the Gospel to the next generation and give them an opportunity to engage with the Bible for themselves and see God’s word lived out in their lives. Responding to the Gospel results from hearing God’s word preached.
This Faith then needs to be strengthened (Acts 16:5), tested and grown (2 Corinthians 10:15). All of this happens when we have to move our faith from the place of theory and concepts into the place of action and experience.
James illustrates this when he says in James 2:17-18, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Faith without works (action to back it up) is dead, [inoperative, ineffective (amplified version)].
So, faith comes from hearing God’s word, but it leads to action.
I love telling children that faith is when you believe what God says more than what you see with your eyes. This is a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1.
We must give children an opportunity to hear God’s word to grow and strengthen their faith, but we must also encourage and give space for their faith to be put into action. Otherwise we risk teaching them a faith that is dead, inoperative and ineffective for everyday life, making their faith in Christ irrelevant. It is this irrelevance that leads to so many children falling away from church as they grow older.
A discipleship relationship may start by encouraging the children to sit and learn from us, but it should not end there. Ultimately, we want them to learn to trust God in every circumstance of life and to devote themselves fully to pursuing the Lord in all that they do even when we are no longer around to support them. Some of the greatest moments of faith development come when a child has to put their faith into practice and depend on God. Last year my eldest son was invited to speak at a youth camp in Brazil. I had never met the people and so said to my son if he was going, then I would come with him too. The church were willing for us both to come, but said they could only afford one airfare. I said to Joshua, “That’s my airfare – you have to believe God for yours!” I did not say this because I did not have the faith to believe God for an airfare (something we do regularly) rather I said it because I did not want to deprive him of an opportunity to grow his faith. This principle is pointed to in Judges 3:2. The Israelites have entered the promised land, but not all of the inhabitants have been removed. Judges 3:2 tells us, “this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it.” In other words testing circumstances provide an opportunity to grow, especially for those who have not yet had to flex their faith muscle. Challenges should not be shied away from, but embraced. A few months later the church in Brazil contacted me again. “We have started a church plant and can now no longer afford to pay for even one airfare.” I put this message to one side to show my son that evening. A few hours later another message arrived from a friend, “I have just received a tax rebate and the Lord has told me to give it to you to pay for your airfare.” As you would expect with God, the size of the rebate matched the among for two return flights to Brazil.
That evening I spoke to Joshua and showed him the message from the church. “Oh, so we are not going then,” he replied. “Had you been praying into this?” I asked. “I really had, and I thought God was going to provide.” I showed him the message from our friend. “So, we are going then,” he stated, slightly stunned. These faith growing experiences happen when we intentionally encourage our children to grow in faith, learning to trust God for themselves and discovering that He is faithful. There has been a mantra in children’s ministry to get the children involved, not just treat them as passive observers. This is right and proper, after all it is for them. But just because the children have helped hand out pens, set up chairs or even led a game from the front, this does not mean that their faith is being stretched. It may mean they feel included in the group, it may mean that the responsibility you have given them has helped them to take more responsibility for their own behaviour (I think of the leader who put the child who struggled to behave the most in charge of monitoring good behaviour! A tactic that helped him to engage with the class in a more constructive way). But it does not mean their faith is growing or being strengthened. And if that is not happening then there is a risk that their faith is dead. Indeed, they could leave each week smiling, receiving visions and remembering Bible verses, but still their faith could be dormant. They could see a miracle, hear a testimony and have someone lay hands on them (an action the Scriptures encourage for the receiving of the Holy Spirit and when ministering healing) but still not be growing in faith. Watching other people’s faith in action can certainly encourage and inspire us to put our faith into action, but true personal growth comes when we have to step out and depend on God for ourselves. Faith is like a muscle - when it is exercised it will grow.
As faith grows we see children moving from feeling overwhelmed by situations that are outside of their control to feeling empowered to seek and trust God no matter what they face. As disiplers of children it requires us to listen carefully to what they say and hear if they are talking from a place of living faith or dead head knowledge as they face different situations We should model a living faith that the children around us see God at work through us. We should teach the word to reveal the character and nature of God, but we must also give an opportunity for their faith to be stretched. This will involve us encouraging our children to step out in faith and serve Jesus for themselves. Are you providing your children with opportunities for their faith to be stretched? Are you seeing your children grow in faith? In part two of this blog we will discuss how we can release our children into ministry in a way that builds faith. Then part three will discuss preparing children for leadership.