Editor’s note: Saturday, Sept. 16, is Children’s Missions Day in the Southern Baptist Convention.
As Southern Baptists, focus on next-generation ministries this month, the children’s leaders in your church may be preparing the children they shepherd to reach out to your community with the love of Jesus this Saturday (and we hope they are!).
But Children’s Missions Day is just one part of a larger movement to disciple individuals to be on mission for Jesus. As Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board (IMB), said, “Missionaries don’t come from the sky. They come from the pews.” What is your church doing to prepare the next generation of believers to engage a lost world?
In Matthew 28, Jesus tells His followers to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach in His name. He tells us in Acts 1:8 to go to the ends of the earth telling others about Him.
Missions discipleship — at its simplest — is how believers learn about and practice participating in Jesus’s Great Commission. It includes learning about missions, praying for missions, supporting missions, and doing missions and telling about Jesus. When the church does these four things, we find out how God’s love is shared with the world. And we are motivated and encouraged to do the same, whether locally or farther afield.
Children who experience these four areas of missions discipleship in a variety of ways learn how to take ownership of how they serve others in their communities and in the world.
Here are four ways missions discipleship can help shape children in your church:
1. Learn about missions
Children are naturally curious. Whether learning about missionaries serving across the street or around the world, children want to know all about that worker. It is natural that the work of North American Mission Board (NAMB) and IMB missionaries featured in missions discipleship curriculum becomes exciting and engaging for kids. It offers them opportunities to learn how those missionaries share Christ and then place it into their own context. They begin to see their world as an occasion to share Jesus.
Also, learning about missions helps children understand the enormity of the world’s lostness. They see maps, pictures and videos of faraway places and people who live different lives but share the same desperate need as the people around them: a relationship with Jesus Christ.
2. Pray for missions
As believers, most of us realize what a powerful privilege we have been given to participate in prayer. Through missions discipleship, children are encouraged to pray for specific concerns for missionaries. Birthdays are something all children understand. Praying for missionaries on their birthdays can help children realize how necessary prayer is to personnel on the mission field. Over time, they learn that prayer is an active, vital part of supporting God’s mission.
3. Support missions
While children may not fully understand how much it costs to send missionaries across North America and around the world, they are beginning to understand how money works. Even more important, they can get excited about supporting missions work with their efforts to collect needed items for missionaries and through acts of encouragement.
Children can understand and grow by sending a missionary a card and telling them “We are praying for you,” collecting items for missionaries during Christmas in August, and encouraging church members to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering or the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
It is a game changer when children realize their support enables a missionary to have the needed supplies to be able to share the Gospel and, quite often, the emotional support and encouragement to be able to continue to do the work God has called them to do.
4. Do missions and tell others about Jesus
When children learn about a NAMB or IMB missionary through missions discipleship, they are not only learning about the missionary’s specific work on the mission field. They are able to see the wide variety of ways in which Christians share Jesus Christ with their communities. But don’t just leave it there — let kids put into practice what they have learned during missions discipleship.
This year’s Children’s Missions Day is called “Operation Education.” Missions discipleship groups across the country will be serving their local schools through a project that demonstrates the love of God. This includes creating a project that meets the needs of someone who works for their school system or someone their school serves, and then carrying out that project and sharing God’s love with the people they serve.
Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) curriculum teaches children to share what they already know about God’s love. Some are ready to share a Gospel presentation with friends and family at an early age. Others need to experience more about God’s love. So a simple statement like, “God loves me, and He loves you, too. That’s why He sent Jesus!” is the perfect way to help him or her begin to share.
What does all this mean for the children of my church?
Learning about missionaries who have sports ministries means children see their sports teams as a place to share Jesus. Praying for missionaries who deliver baked goods to their neighbors means children understand their own neighbors need to know about Jesus.
Supporting missionaries who give school supplies to families means children can see their own school as a mission field. And learning to tell others about Jesus means children are empowered to share what God means in their own lives with others.
These children will grow up to be adults whom God may or may not call to the full-time mission field. But they will definitely see their neighborhoods, workplaces and communities as places to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. And they will participate in supporting missions.
Events like Children’s Missions Day give children (and their families) the opportunity to see that sharing Christ with the world is something we can all do every day. And ongoing missions discipleship allows churches to encourage and challenge children to do their part in answering the Great Commission year-round.
And that’s a huge win.
Heather Keller is the children’s missions consultant at National WMU. This article originally appeared at lifewayresearch.com. For more insights on church and culture and practical ministry helps from Lifeway Research, sign up for their Daily Insights newsletter.