Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). It’s called the Great Commission; there is no greater commission on earth. However, with many churches it is more accurately called the Great Omission. What am I talking about? An omission when it concerns discipling children.
Statistically, more children come to faith in Christ than adults. In fact, less than one out of four people receive Christ after their 21st birthday. Here are some Barna Group findings:
Nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and...two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday.
Others studies suggest that 80-85% of people who come to Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14.
Given that most Christians come to faith before they are adults, you would think that churches would arrange their budgets accordingly. Not so. The average church spends the bulk of its ministry dollars on adult ministries, leaving a relatively small allowance for children. This is wrong; it’s upside down. It’s majoring in the minors.
If we truly wish to obey Jesus’ Great Commission, we must, I believe, first consider the children, placing as much or more into discipling them as we do adults. Children are the ones who are the most tender of heart. They are the ones who have not yet been hardened or tainted by the world’s culture. They are the ones who will more readily believe and commit to their lives to the Savior.
Henrietta Mears (1890-1963) was a Christian educator, one of the founders of the National Sunday School Association, and someone who had a profound effect upon modern evangelicalism. Here’s what she said on the subject:
When you look at most churches–their programming, their staff, and their budgets–it appears that children must first become prodigals, then we will go about putting together elaborate programs and events to save them.
What is she saying? Basically, churches neglect discipling children, waiting until they have crashed and burned in their poor choices, before training them up with a knowledge of the Gospel. Again, if we have not won our children to Christ by the time they enter high school, the statistics of them believing later in life plummet drastically. So let us reach out to them when they are tender, not when they are hardened.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Lk 18:6). Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commanded the Israelites to train up their children when they rose from sleep, as they walked along the way, as they sat at home, and at bedtime (Deut. 6:6-8). In other words, throughout the day! These are very telling Scriptures. They represent the heart of the Lord in both Testaments.
Therefore, I believe that children are the primary, not secondary, mission field for the Gospel. We ought to be spending our time training up children in the Lord, so that by the time they are adults they are solid in their Christian faith.
Solomon said, “For there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). The greatest season for reaching people for Christ is the season of youth.
I became a believer when I was twenty. I beat the statistics. Of course this wasn’t my doing but the work of the Holy Spirit drawing me to Jesus. My heart had already hardened toward God by the time I was in high school. It took a lot of bad choices and wandering as a prodigal before my heart was once again tender. I wish I had spent my youth serving the Lord. Such a waste that I hadn’t.
The ministry of Theo is targeted at young ones. Our motto is: Teaching children God’s Word, and how they are to walk in the light of it. We are reaching out to parents, too, of course. Parents are the vital link to faith in a child’s life, they are incubators in which children thrive, grow, and are taught how to walk in the light of God’s Word. It is through parents that the Great Commission finds its greatest harvest.
In all of this I am not saying that we should minimize adult ministries and evangelism. Adult ministries are important. But we should not have an imbalanced emphasis in our churches or homes, putting our greater efforts into fields of lesser harvest, while neglecting the more fertile field of discipling children.
It is my prayer and hope that God will advance His kingdom through the ministry of teaching children God’s Word, and how they ought to walk in the light of it. May that be your hope and prayer too.