Clint Askins joins us today all the way from Ghana, Africa where he & his wife, Hailey, work for Mercy Project. Mercy Project strives to eradicate child slavery on Lake Volta through long-term, sustainable solutions to empower & equip Ghanaians who use the children for fishing. Prior to Clint’s work with Mercy Project, he served in Youth Ministry for 7 years. Clint has a heart for the marginalized & boldly challenges all to live a life worthy of being a Jesus follower.
You can hear more from Clint & Hailey on their blog and on Twitter @clintaskins. Welcome, Clint.
My friend Jim Hinkle wrote on discipleship plans for children and youth, but I wanted to write something specific to all adults involved with churches and these ministries.
During my time as a youth minister, our intentional plan for discipleship relied heavily on mentoring given to youth from adults (other than their own parents) in our church.
Mentors influenced me more than any other factor in my own spiritual growth. In high school, it was my youth minister. In college and graduate school, three of my professors were incredible mentors. And in youth ministry, I learned from watching some of the best.
So naturally, I wanted to provide our youth an opportunity to be mentored by Christ-following, wise adults in our church. We started mentoring groups led by 2 adults and 5-10 students.
Only one problem.
As I looked around for mentors, I had trouble finding the type of people I wanted my youth group to imitate. A good number of those people existed in our church, but they were already heavily involved in their own ministries. You’ve heard it said before: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I’d even say that’s best case.
Let me be clear: we had lots of decent, moral, church-going people in our congregation. But how many were radical, Christ-following, inspiring examples? Not as many as I hoped.
If we want our children to follow Christ, our first step is to follow him ourselves. Attending church (about half the time) and being a decent person isn’t enough. That’s boring. Our kids will leave our churches for something better. Correction: they are leaving our churches. And how many of our adults are just as bored and uninspired, but they can’t leave because they’ve had the fear of God drilled into them since birth? Is that really any better?
The first step in the spiritual formation of children and youth isn’t some mega-church program. It’s not “relevant” curriculum or the perfect worship set, even if those things help in your context.
The first step is forming our adults in the image of Christ. The next generation needs to see, literally see, adults living out their faith in radical, challenging, and deep ways. Faith and church need to matter more than in conversations about the after-life.
So, where do we start? I think two places:
1. Adults need mentors, too. Find people in your own church who are spiritually deep. Ask them to mentor you. Meet with them. Watch how they imitate Christ. I’ve learned more from mentors than almost any spiritual discipline.
2. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and practice it. I used to tell our students that if they studied and practiced only this text for the rest of their lives, they would be in great shape as a follower of Jesus.
Many children’s ministers point us back to Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
The faith we desire to pass down isn’t just some list of rules or traditions. We seek to pass down the life of Jesus Christ. In the flesh. Through our flesh.
As adults, when we do nothing out of selfish ambition, take the very nature of a servant, and imitate the life of Jesus, we are well on the way to forming our children in the image of Christ.