What comes to mind when you hear the word “discipleship?” For many, discipleship is associated with church gatherings, Bible studies or small groups, and while discipleship certainly takes place within these spaces, it is by no means limited to them. This might sound odd, but discipleship isn’t a uniquely Christian process. Yes, Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples, but what makes this commissioning unique is not the call to discipleship but the object of it (i.e. Jesus).
Discipleship is Formation
Broadly speaking, discipleship is formation. Whatever is developing someone and directing the course of their life is discipling them. This means that the process of discipleship is taking place every day in every place to everyone.
At the 2021 Child Discipleship Forum, Darren Whitehead made the emphatic statement that, “The culture is discipling Christians more effectively than the church… we must begin with the assumption that our children are being over-exposed to worldly discipleship and underexposed with biblical discipleship.”
Culture spares no expense and leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to disciple our children. Christian Parents and church leaders must recognize this reality and seek to understand it. With that said, what is the dominant belief of our rapidly changing culture? It can be summarized in one word: secularism. Simply put, secularism replaces the God of scripture with the god of self. Instead of people seeing God as the source and ultimate reference point for understanding truth, reality and meaning, the self is given this authority, making people their own point of reference for reality.
Child Discipleship is Counter Formation
Understanding the thinking of the dominant culture around us not only informs our practices in reaching the next generation, but it also provides parents and churches with a laser-sharp focus in its vision. The church must actively seek to transform kids as followers of Christ through counter-formation. At Awana, we call this “resilient child discipleship.” This is a Christ-centered formation that has lasting faith in mind.
The Power of a Loving, Caring Adult
In a new research project by Barna Group and Awana, “Children’s Ministry in a New Reality,” we not only see the need to shift from the broad goals of children’s ministry to the specific target of child discipleship, but we also see the primary factors that reinforce spiritual resilience. One of the major findings that surfaced in this project was the power of a loving, caring adult. The research shows that children who have a meaningful relationship with an adult are more likely to engage in their church and are nearly three times more likely to be rooted in scripture. This makes it clear that what children believe and who they become are greatly influenced by where they belong.
So what does this mean for parents and the church? Our job as the broader church community is to build a community of loving, caring adults around our children, teach them the truths of scripture, and help them become life-long followers of Christ.
Matt Markins is the President and CEO of Awana.
Hunter Williams is a missionary with Awana in Tennessee.