During November I’ll be publishing a five-part blog series on the theme “know, love, serve.” Each week you’ll be presented with the opportunity to explore these words from a different angle. “Know, love, serve” is dear to the ministry of Awana. Our prayer is that children and youth all over the world will come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. In light of this, it’s critical for every leader who’s connected with our ministry and every church that’s multiplying lifelong relational discipleship to grasp the heart of “know, love, serve.” Thanks for joining us on this month’s blog journey. We encourage you to share these posts with your volunteers and on social media. Be sure to use @Awana and hashtag #AwanaKLS.
Disciple-Makers Are Disciples First
When were you first introduced to Jesus? Who took time to share the Word of God with you about who Christ is and is not? It’s important that children’s and youth ministry leaders are clear about their relationship with the Lord before jumping in to reach kids and families with the Gospel.
This may seem obvious, but there are plenty of well-meaning, high-character people in the world that care about and for the next generation. You don’t need to be a believer in Christ to come alongside kids and teens as a friend or mentor. However, without the grace and truth of Jesus, you’re unable to offer the only thing that will change their heart for eternity.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 1 Corinthians 5:17
Pastor and theologian A. W. Tozer said, “Only a disciple can make a disciple.” You must experience an authentic relationship with God before offering this to others. You don’t have to be perfect, but you must be made perfect in Christ spiritually. Are you living in a 1 Corinthians 5:17 “new creation” reality? Would you say the Holy Spirit is present and continuing to change you from the inside out? Unless this is true for you, your ministry alongside kids, students, and families will be stunted.
Dive Deep in Discipleship
Before you step up as a children’s or youth ministry leader, you need to do some business with God and let Jesus disrupt you first. You can honor God by coming to know, love, and serve Christ deeply as His disciple before focusing on being a disciple-maker.
1. Know Christ Intimately
Do you know Christ? This question can be confusing. In our world, knowing is generally associated with education, learning, and so on. Now, it’s true that an intellectual dimension of faith is inseparable from our relationship with God. However, there’s more to connecting with Christ than facts. Information is just the tip of the iceberg. The Lord wants our hearts, not just our minds. All throughout Scripture the term “know” reflects relational intimacy. Believing is a matter of trust, a reality that engages the mind and the heart in relationship to God.
John 15 is a beautiful passage, red-letter text that expressed the heart of Jesus toward His followers. Verse 9 is particularly important for calibrating our hearts in relationship with God. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
These words spoken by Christ are so poetic and ring true, but what does it mean to abide? This can take a lifetime to comprehend let alone live out. My teenage son actually asked me about the word “abide” this summer on a road trip. I’ve wrestled with this for a long time, so I shared what I’ve concluded: To abide is to be intimately connected.
As John 15 illustrates, a tree remains and so do its branches. The tree abides in the soil through its roots and cooperates with nature as God makes it grow. The limbs abide as appendages attached to the trunk, receiving nutrients and experience growth as the Lord allows.
When it comes to believers knowing Christ intimately, we have the opportunity to be intimately connected in relationship with God through Him. Jesus saves us and leads us as forever members of God’s family. When our minds and hearts know this deeply, we are able to let God sustain and use us for His purposes. Kids, students, and families will come to know Christ as our knowing of Him cascades their way.
2. Love Christ Radically
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and remember when “rad” became the word of choice. Everything that was cool, hip, fun, or trendy was labeled “rad.” I never considered what this meant until I heard a sermon many years later by Don Everts, author of Jesus with Dirty Feet. He did a fantastic job explaining the origin of the word and applying it to the heart of discipleship.
As it turns out, “rad” is an abbreviation of “radical.” Do a quick etymology study of the word and you’ll discover it means, “Relating to a root.” This makes sense, especially as you consider variations like “radish” or “eradicate.” So, when you say “rad” you’re drawing attention to the fundamental nature or essence of something. You’re getting to the root, the origin, what’s ultimately essential, its purest form.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:12
Everts’ message touched on the radical nature of Christ’s love for His disciples. He also pointed out the Apostle Peter’s radical love in response to experiencing the person, teaching, ministry, and forgiveness of Jesus. Something started shifting in my heart as he spoke. Rather than focus on loving God back for who He is and what He’s done, I started to recognize the importance of being His beloved first.
Loving Christ radically is a reciprocal experience, but it always starts with Jesus. 1 John 4:19 doesn’t spell it out any clearer: “We love because He first loved us.” God Himself deposits in us the desire, ability, and capacity to love others. It’s from this starting point, in full view of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and recipients of the Lord’s grace, that we are ushered into our heavenly Father’s family and sent as His advocates into the world.
Are you living in the radical nature of God’s love for you these days? What needs to shift in your heart to love Jesus in the most basic way, from a place of tenderness and gratitude? Who is walking with you in this adventure as you learn to love Christ first above all things? Before you dive in as a disciple-maker with kids, students, and families, take time to reflect on God’s radical love for you.
3. Serve Christ Sacrificially
Selflessness is a virtue we tend to appreciate in other people. Why do you think it’s so hard for us to let go of our pride, give up control, and share whatever God’s placed in our lives? Honestly, this issue started in the Garden of Eden and has rooted itself in humanity ever since.
The tug-of-war in our hearts between selfish and selfless is a constant struggle. We can even confuse matters by taking Scripture out of context. Wasn’t it Jesus who told us to love ourselves (or something like that)? Yeah, there’s a comment in there about neighbors, but He clearly said: “As yourself.” This errant thinking can creep in easily, especially if we lean too heavily on self-image, self-esteem, self-protection, and self-ies. Let’s face it; our “iWorld” is getting out of hand.
True disciples are called to make the transition from saved by grace to life of sacrifice in the way of Christ. Jesus painted a beautiful picture of this in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The notion that someone would take a bullet or get hit by a bus after pushing us out of the way is hard to fathom. It’s even more incredible that God came to earth in the form of a person – fully divine and fully human – so that we might be saved. Christ sacrificed His one and only life so that the world could be redeemed, rescued once and for all.
Jesus’ mission was crystal clear:
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
And, it’s this sacrificial mission – the Great Commission – of Jesus that every disciple is commanded to live out:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Dare to Be Disrupted Before Being Disruptive
Life with God through faith in Christ was called “The Way” in the New Testament for a reason. Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit fundamentally changed Jesus’ closest followers from the inside out. Outsiders were familiar with how the early disciples knew Christ intimately, loved Christ radically, and served Christ sacrificially. They were active members of the body of believers, but they were relationally rooted and spiritually connected before venturing out as witnesses.
As a leader in children’s or youth ministry, it’s tempting to start by giving of yourself day in and day out for the sake of reaching kids with the Gospel and engaging them in lifelong discipleship. This will lead you on the path to burnout unless you’re firmly established in what it means to know, love, and serve Christ first. Make sure you take time to reflect on how Christ has known, loved, and served you.
Let Christ disrupt you through and through before taking another step. Take in what knowing, loving, and serving Him in return is really all about. Honor God in this way. When the time is right He will send you out on His behalf to know, love, and serve kids. (And that will be our focus for Part 2 in this five-part blog series.)