Awana's Matt Markins and family | Nashville Christian Family Magazine - June 2023 issue - Free Christian Magazine

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, CSB)

Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed

Much like other children, Matt Markins began a relationship with the Lord at a young age: “One of my earliest memories is the day my father walked out of the house. He had five different marriages that I’m aware of. I remember sitting on the floor with my older brother who had a Little Golden Book—the kind with the gold spine—and he was trying to distract me from the violence of my father’s behavior. It was a rough beginning, but that was part of what propelled me into ministry. Not long after that and not surprisingly, my mother found her way into a local church. One evening the sun was reflecting through the stained-glass windows, and a man with a guitar was singing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ Even at that young age, I knew that what he was demonstrating was different from what was in my home. I wanted that.” Earthly father walked out, but Heavenly Father walked in.

“After my mother married a church-going man, my life pretty much revolved around children’s church, Sunday school, flannel-gram lessons, and youth groups. That very first exposure to Jesus was followed by pursuing Him with adult mentors, kids’ pastors, youth pastors, and people invested in discipling me.”

Markins grew up in the corn fields of central Indiana with his mother, step-father, and two older siblings until he moved to Nashville for college in 1994. For a short stint, he worked with Awana in Chicago until the board approved his moving back to Nashville in 2020. Awana is a world-wide nonprofit ministry focused on providing Bible-based evangelism and discipleship solutions for ages 2-18. As the global leaders in child and youth discipleship, Awana gives children the opportunity to know, love, and serve Jesus, no matter their background. The Nashville office opens in 2023.

Today, Matt and wife Katie have two college-aged sons, Warren and Hudson, who attend Welch College, a private four-year college in Gallatin, Tennessee, affiliated with the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The mission of Welch College is to educate leaders to serve Christ, His Church, and His world through Biblical thought and life. Markins holds a bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Studies and Theology from Welch College.

Matt and Katie have been involved in children’s ministry for more than 25 years and spend their time in Nashville with their two sons. The boys grew up under the tutelage of parents engaging in conversations and actions surrounding child discipleship, a mainstay in their family and later in their business and ministry association through Awana.

As a leading researcher in child discipleship and children’s ministry, Matt has commissioned nine research projects since 2013, including a study, Children’s Ministry in a New Reality, conducted by the Barna Group. He is the co-author of three books, most notably Resilient: Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. Markins is also the co-founder of the Child Discipleship Forum and the D6 Conference.

Enjoying travel is a plus for Markins since his missional work with Awana requires much travel nationally and internationally. He serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Awana.

Matt fell into the publishing world through Randall House Publishing via Welch College and then into Thomas Nelson where he “got a lot of knowledge and then came back to Randall House and founded a family ministry, D6 Conference, based on Deuteronomy 6.” The ministry is now 15 years old and is in several countries. D6 focuses on the church and home working together to disciple children.

When Pastor Robert J. Morgan of Donelson Fellowship brought Awana into the church along with D6, Markins developed professional and personal experience with both. He was invited into the Awana environment as Vice President of Marketing, Strategy, and U.S. Publishing. Awana’s vision is that every child would come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Currently, Awana is happening in 133 countries worldwide through almost 70,000 churches, reaching over 5.3 million kids equipping them toward lasting faith in Christ. No matter where they live, all children need the life-altering hope found in Jesus.

Primarily an innovator, Markins now focuses on “updating and energizing Awana’s somewhat antiquated material bringing it into the twenty-first century with full assurance that it is still founded on the gospel and rooted in scripture.”

Matt describes Katie as “the most influential, non-paid contributor of the Awana organization for sure; she’s my partner in ministry. In all my writings, she’s my think partner and has a brilliant mind and a great heart. On the Myer-Briggs Indicator (MBTI), Katie and I are thinkers. This mode serves us well as we dive into options in our life, ministry, and business decisions. We call it mental gymnastics. It’s almost like Katie is on the front lines—more so because I travel a great deal—and I’m on the supply lines in the back working in the research space. We’re always swapping stories and practical anecdotal information and encounters to help each other.

“We’re a good team. We like each other, and we love each other, and we make a pretty good couple. And by the grace of God our two sons are faithfully following Jesus. We’re very grateful they love Him and are growing in their faith. We realize they are about to break the family huddle, so this summer we’re taking them to one of our special places, Norway, where Katie and I co-founded Awana.

Using life skills, along with on-the-job-training with Katie’s dad teaching his carpentry and other skills. Matt appreciates art and carpentry and design. Over the years, he and Katie have renovated their homes, and in 2004-5 even built a house. Matt himself contracted it and says, “we had no clue, no business doing that, but it was the best experience of our lives. Essentially, it taught us how to run an organization and helped prepare me to do what I do now. Then, in 2010, all that area flooded.

“Another of our projects was an 1890s house in Chicago where we lived in 2013. Home renovation and building have been a part of our story. Currently, we’re working with an architect and have 90 percent renovated our historical home in Gallatin. The theme of building art and craft and beauty has long been in our lives. We think about the parallels between the craftmanship of discipling a human life and the craftsmanship of building a home. We have poured our lives into both.”

Add persistence to these thinkers’ characteristics.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure is one of Matt’s guiding biblical verses: The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44 NIV)“The human side of me likes that verse because it’s a movie all in one verse. The call to follow Jesus is most valuable because He is that treasure. There’s nothing in our lives that we couldn’t or shouldn’t give up to pursue Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Markins familiarizes that parable with “selling out to Jesus and being totally committed to Him. The major desire of my heart is to be a faithful disciple of Christ regardless of what’s happening in the world around me.” To that effect he dedicates his life to discipling kids to stand firm in their Christian convictions regardless of their surroundings.

“Influencers. Conflict. Noise. Since there’s so much fighting for our kids’ hearts, the battle to anchor those hearts to Jesus in a culture that puts everything else first is sometimes exhausting and lonely. Our children are worth it. God’s Kingdom is worth it. Whether we’re ministers, parents, or volunteers, our kids are looking to us to help them walk in His ways.”

This generation is not the first to be challenged in its faith; throughout the Bible and Church history, men and women have courageously followed God even amid persecution. What was different about them? More pressing, how can we rear children with a spirit like that?

There remains the challenge to our greater community to make a decision, to get involved, to actually do something with our concerns for our children. Daily, we hear and see turmoil—even evil—in our schools, libraries, and social encounters. Can we not explore these avenues with some of the greatest minds coming to Nashville? Will we take a step to deal with two prominent questions:

What are the dominant cultures today and how are those cultures shaping our children (anything that’s pressing in on our children: technology, AI, DEI, gender dysphoria, LGBTQ, etc.). Articulating those things is crucial so that parents and church leaders gain insight into how to help children. What primary factors lead to lasting faith in children?

Engage in Child Discipleship Forum 23 to hear from Bible-minded leaders in child advocacy and learn to cultivate a different spirit in our kids—one of conviction, courage, compassion, and commitment.

Engage with this year’s most intentional conversations about child discipleship—the challenges, the joy, and the hope that inspire us to seek better ways to serve the children God places in our lives.

Become equipped and encouraged by thought-provoking content as you process, pray, and worship with others whose hearts are set on shaping kids with lifelong faith in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this equipping is a step in Jesus’ calling you to—or deepening you in—ministry with His children. 

Prayerfully consider meeting with great minds in this year’s think tank for the future of discipleship for our children. The Child Discipleship Forum will be held September 21 & 22, 2023, in the Thompson Station Church (2604 Thompson’s Station Rd E, Thompson’s Station, TN 37179). Register today to take advantage of the Sumer Pricing for the 2023 Forum!

Sheila E. Moss: author of Living to Matter: Mothers, Singles, and the Weary and Broken; Interrupting Women: Ten Conversations with Jesus; and international publications derived from teaching Bible and Christian ethics in Africa, Ukraine, Venezuela, and England; teacher of Bible classes for 35+ years; mother of five adult children and grandmother of eleven

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