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Giving children a missions heart

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The shepherd’s role in the local church is central to the identity and purpose of every pastor. Cloaked in the symbolism of a caretaker overseeing his flock with protection and purpose, it’s the shepherd who sets the course for the sheep. Under the shepherd’s care, sheep can be shaped toward an outcome that is pleasing to the shepherd.

Nowhere does the symbolism of a guardian shepherd hold true more than in the faith development of children. While Scripture ultimately holds fathers responsible for the spiritual development of their children (Ephesians 6:4), modern churches are primary partners in this objective. Perhaps more than any other denomination, Southern Baptists take this partnership very seriously. What makes us different from others is that we begin teaching our youngest children about missions.

So what is your church doing to shepherd a heart for missions in your children?

In a year when Southern Baptists are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Royal Ambassadors, the mission education ministry for boys in grades one through six, it’s a good time to reflect on the fruit of this ministry and Woman’s Missionary Union’s Mission Friends and Girls in Action.

For generations, career missionaries and vocational ministers have pointed to mission education as having an enormous influence on their life calling. While volunteer missions is often the turning point in many people’s understanding of God’s call today, the influence of mission education is still very much present.

That reality hit me square in the eyes this summer. My oldest son once was a Royal Ambassador. After graduating from college in May, he made a 10-day mission trip to Malaysia. Upon his return to our Atlanta home, we hosted a new friend from south Georgia who spent the night before returning home. During a conversation I discovered that young man was also a product of Royal Ambassadors. He spoke fondly of his summers at Camp Kaleo, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s RA Camp.

While in Africa this summer with International World Changers, I met high school and college coeds who credit their nurturing through Girls in Action as having given them a passion for missions involvement.

Each summer, the North American Mission Board hires about 75 college students who serve on World Changers, PowerPlant, and Families on Mission summer staff teams. These future leaders often share a connection they have had to RAs and GAs during their formative years.

Given the short time frame that parents and churches have to create faith formation in a child, shouldn’t we offer our children the best and broadest understanding of discipleship? And shouldn’t missions be central to the result of discipleship?

As a pastor stands before his flock Sunday after Sunday, he has a responsibility to cast a vision of discipleship that Scripture promises can change this world. An Acts 1:8 worldview firmly embedded in the life of our children gives hope for the ongoing propagation of this precious Gospel.

How does your church plan to nurture a heart for missions in your children? You have no better partner than Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action where children don’t just learn about missionaries, they also learn how to be on mission.

Even the smallest lamb is prone to follow its shepherd. By memorizing Bible verses, learning how to share the plan of salvation, and seeing the Acts 1:8 example of our missionaries, your children learn how God can use them now to fulfill the Great Commission.

Surely, that would be pleasing to any shepherd.
Jim Burton is Mission Education Team Leader for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. For more information about Mission Education, visit www.namb.net

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  • Jim Burton