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Nurturing Faith ( 3 of 3) – Growing young leaders


Children can be leaders. Children should be leaders. Children who follow Jesus will find themselves leading others. I have seen this happen time after a time. This should be no surprise, for those who are of the kingdom of God are called to be leaders in the world: our calling as salt and light is not dependant on age or spiritual maturity. Indeed, Jesus implies that anyone who is following him is the light and salt of the world (not that we need to become it). The only question is whether or now we will hide our light and whether our salt will lose its saltiness. This means, by definition, our children are called to lead. By leadership I do not mean that children will take over the church eldership and start managing the church budgets. I mean that they are prepared to make a stand for God no matter what comes their way. This is part of what it means to be adopted. No wonder the rebuke from Paul over the church in Corinth’s inability to judge correctly is so packed with frustration – don’t you know that you will judge the world? 1 Corinthians 6:2. If this is your future, then start living it. As believers you are leaders, so take the lead.


Our children are under great assault. The environment and exposure to worldviews outside of mainstream Christianity is a great pressure on our children – but we are not the first generation to raise our children in a pagan environment. The Holy Spirit is able to lead and embolden our children to live for Him, wherever they are. Leadership characteristicsSo how can we help develop the leadership potential in our children and so prepare them to take a stand for God? To put it another way, what makes a successful leader in God’s kingdom? When I ask this question in seminars I am usually given a whole host of attributes that we desire to see in our leaders.

We want them to be wise, prayerful and knowledgeable of the Bible. We want them to be full of love, joy, peace and indeed all aspects of the fruit of the spirit. We want them to be humble, available and caring. We also want them to be visionary, good teachers, good listeners and so on. The list can be quite exhaustive. (If you are a leader comparing your self to the list created, it can also be quite exhausting!) Yet all of these characteristics can be boiled down into four areas.

Leadership qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

1. Spirituality

We want leaders who can connect with God and hear from him. Leaders who are willing to be full of faith and obedient to the Holy Spirit. When leaders have their hearts in the right place, namely seeking after God, then this spiritual life is available to flow to others. So, if we want our children to be effective leaders in their schools and communities, we need to encourage them to grow their spiritual lives. This comes down to the old Sunday school song: “Read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow!” As we give our children opportunities to pray with us (not just listen to us praying) and encourage them to pray privately they can grow in prayer. I like to encourage children to pray for as many minutes a day as they are years old when they first start praying. I also find it helpful to give children the STOP and listen model of prayer – praying Sorry, Thank you, Others, Please and then taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit and read the Bible to hear what God would speaking to them. This simple model has helped thousands of children to begin to engage with God in prayer. By helping them to access the Bible for themselves and to learn about God we see their hunger for the things of God growing and when a child in my care seems to be stagnating spiritually, I take it as my duty to pray for them. In part 2 of this blog we talked about prioritizing their personal walk with Jesus. This area of leadership development takes things to the next level. Here we are intentionally focussing on our children’s spiritual lives and encouraging them to grow closer to God which will enable them to lead for God’s kingdom. When children hunger for more of God, they will seek him more and God promises that He rewards those who diligently seek him. As they receive the Holy Spirit the promise is that they will receive power (a supernatural ability) to be witnesses. Indeed, we see in the book of Acts that any outpouring of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by a new boldness among the believers to speak out for God. One boy was so shy that he did not want to tell anyone at his school that he went to church. He was a lovely boy and he loved Jesus, but he wanted to keep his church life and his school life separate. I spoke to him on several occasions to encourage him to tell someone he went to church. I said to him, “you can just slip it into the conversation. When they asked what you did at the weekend tell them you played football, went to church and watched a movie.” But he was to self-conscious to even do this. This continued until he encountered the Holy Spirit in a totally new level. That week he went to school and asked his teacher if he could share his faith with the whole class. He discovered his teacher was a Christian and was able to share his faith. Fast forward a few months and he was discipling over 30 of his friends in small groups. Something had broken out inside of him and then through him as he was strengthened spiritually. Encourage their personal daily devotional time with the Lord, give space for them to listen to God and allow your hunger for God to rub off on them as they see you seeking after God in times of worship and pursuing Him in prayer.


2. Character

A leader who can preach well but does not live well will not be as effective. We are called to exhibit the character of Christ in all we do. Someone put it this way – there is only one way to God, that is through Jesus, but there are as many ways to Jesus as they are Christians in the world. For many people the only Bible that people will ever read is our lives. Whilst we should be concerned about character for any children who are in ministry, when we are equipping children to grow in leadership we must be even more intentional about developing their character. The larger the platform a leader steps onto the greater the microscope their lives are examined with. That means character flaws that seem insignificant in a small group can prove catastrophic when that same person is used as a conduit for revival in their school. As parents we have a responsibility to raise our children in a godly manner. God has given us many tools to help prepare them for their future. Indeed, one of the clearest tests for eldership that Paul gives to Titus and Timothy is the quality of the character of the leader’s children. In other words, it is not only possible, but it is expected that we will influence the character of children for the good in the home. As we start to prepare children to step out in leadership, we look to encourage them to grow in character. This is not in isolation from their growth in their relationship with God, but it is in conjunction with it. Much of godly character can be summed up by the fruit of the spirit – fruit that will develop when we are immersed in the spirit and growing spiritually. When we start to expect a higher standard from our children how often they willingly rise to the challenge. (Interesting studies on expectancy effects support this with relation to IQ.) On our leadership training school, we expected children to arrive on time, hand in assignments promptly and live with an integrity that would honour the Lord. This was intentional. We wanted to see them grow as leaders and we knew that meant we could not ignore their character. One girl on the leadership training school was clearly not ready to take on more responsibility in leadership. I sat with her at the end of the first term and discussed with her the option to step back from the training school to work on some issues in her life. She was disappointed but agreed that she needed to work on them. A few months later she returned to the training school a transformed disciple of Jesus. It would have been easy to take the path of least resistance and just let her carry on as if there were not issue, but true discipleship is willing to lovingly address issues and support people through them when the time is right. This is how Jesus was willing to confront people caught in adultery or presiding as Pharisees. When we prise the development of our children’s character we are willing to roll up our sleeves and be involved in their lives enough to see where they are really at. We are also willing to have difficult conversations, not concerned about our popularity but their growth in the Lord.

3. Skills

To be a leader there are certain skills that are helpful. For this purpose, I am defining skills as something that can be taught. Though this definition is a bit crude, it helps cover leadership ‘giftings’ such as the ability to listen to others, the ability to study God’s word and the ability to speak in a group. While some children will possess these gifts naturally, others can be trained to develop these skills if they are given the opportunity, especially when it is in the context of an environment where they are developing spiritually. The child who feels they are a failure can gain the confidence to study the Bible as they realise that in God’s eyes they are chosen and called as His child. To help children develop their skills they will need to be taught some basic principles, then given the opportunity to try it out in practice in a safe environment and then receive feedback about how they can improve. These are all things that we can do through our children’s ministry. So, for example, you could encourage your children to take it in turns to lead the Bible teaching on Sundays. First you will need to equip them with some basic skills. Start by talking to them about how you prepare to teach the Bible. As a group do a Bible study to pull apart some key messages from a passage. Then talk about how that key message can be packaged, with life examples and stories, to make it live. Next give those who are willing to rise to the challenge a Bible passage and a week to deliver the teaching. Don’t forget to chat to them over the phone or meet with them to see how they are getting on (and check they have not forgotten). In these talks I am interested to know how they have been praying into the teaching, what they plan to say and how they plan to say it. All of this means we are giving them the best opportunity to succeed, rather than giving them a task that leads them stranded. Finally, after they have shared with the group, make time to follow up with them. Give them loads of encouragement (remember it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of your friends and share). Ask them what they feel they could do better next time. Then look out for an opportunity to give them a next time! All of this may sound like a lot of work and to be honest it is. I have not found a short cut to making disciples and growing leaders, but I have found the fruit of our work is worth all the sacrifice. Within our own family we go through seasons of encouraging our children to lead the devotions. All of this is helping them to develop skills as leaders who will be able to go into the world and share the good news. After all, we have seen in the first part of this blog, that faith requires action. We do not want our children to be passive observers of faith, but rather that they will become active participators. That their heart’s desire for God will lead to a life lived by faith for his glory. Giving these practical opportunities to our children to develop skills they will need as leaders will help stretch their faith.

4. Accountability

The final area of development for a leader is accountability. In my experience children are generally very good at being accountable. It is part of this season of life that you are expected to tell others what you are up to and to take on board the advice of others. We want to encourage this part of them. For this to work effectively, parents will have to be at the very centre of all their children are doing. The more we can liaise with parents and hear from them, the better. As we encourage our children to make a stand for God and to bring his kingdom wherever they go, we also need to make time to discuss with them how they are doing and support them as they start to disciple others.

Conclusion

In summary, we must give our children opportunities to grow in faith. Children have child-like faith, which means they have a head start on us. But if they do not have an opportunity to practise their faith, then we risk raising them to have dead faith. However, if we release them to serve the Lord now (which means we will also have to take some responsibility to equip and resource them too) then they can grow in faith and become spiritual giants and pillars of the future church, should the Lord delay his coming. Until that time let’s be ones who raise this next generation to live without compromise for Jesus.



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