This is my second blog post in a five-week series (read Part 1 here). Our prayer is that children and youth all over the world will come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Any leader who’s associated with the global children’s ministry of Awana can appreciate this desire. And, we all need encouragement and equipping to help lifelong discipleship become reality. Please share this Know, Love, Serve… blog series with your volunteers and on social media. Use @Awana and hashtag #AwanaKLS.
Are You Motivated by “More Kids”?
I was talking with Art Rorheim, co-founder of Awana, earlier this year. Spend any time with him and he’ll inevitably camp on two words: “More kids.” Sometimes he elaborates on what he means. At other times Art can hardly utter, “More kids.” His eyes tear up while his heart simultaneously swells with Jesus’ compassion for children and youth around the world.
“More kids” is a phrase Art uses naturally and frequently. It reflects the heartbeat of the two-fold global mission of Awana: Reach kids with the Gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. Art’s heart for kids truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
What does it take for the “more kids” motivation that inspires Art and Awana become reality? It requires more kid-influencers who know, love, and serve Christ to step up. It means recruiting more leaders that children and youth can’t wait to spend time with.
While you may have an image in mind of the perfect leader, that person is rarely the most influential in the lives of “more kids.” Surprisingly, the best leaders are simply followers of Jesus who value kids highly enough to impact more of them for eternity.
The relational role and responsibility of kid-influencers is to guide children of all ages toward God through faith in Christ. Pointing kids to their heavenly Father is good, but introducing them to Him based on His Word and personal experience is even better. Walking side-by-side as fellow disciples is even better still.
As a leader, you can increase the likelihood that “more kids” will come to know, love, and serve Christ when you focus on knowing, loving, and serving them in the way of Jesus first.
How Kid-Influencers Maximize Their “More Kids” Reach
1. Know Kids by Listening Carefully
“Children are to be seen and not heard,” was once a prevalent and destructive motto that many adults lived by. Times have changed. It’s now more common for parents and caregivers to value kids and youth, to esteem them as unique persons created by God, and to welcome their presence and input with open arms. However, this isn’t always the case (and certainly not in every country or culture). Learning to listen carefully to children is a critical first step in really getting to know them.
The most called upon prerequisite of a friend is an accessible ear. – Maya Angelou
Today’s children and youth have a lot to say. They are taking in and trying to make sense of the world at unprecedented rates. It’s common for adults to have difficulty keeping up with their curiosity, questions, thoughts, and conclusions. Rather than listen carefully to what kids want and need to communicate, it’s more comfortable to cut to facts and avoid feelings. This posture unfortunately keeps children and youth from being known by those closest to them.
Recall James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This applies to all disciples. Parents, caregivers, and spiritual mentors don’t have to recoil in response to a child’s pressing needs and challenges. Try taking on Christ’s “What do you want me to do for you?” posture (cf. Mt. 20:32). Then, discipline yourself to listen carefully, patiently, and graciously to what’s spoken through each child’s presence and words.
2. Love Kids by Empathizing Sincerely
You can maximize your reach as a kid-influencer by enlarging your capacity to love. Listening carefully tenderizes your heart toward other people. In turn, it strengthens your ability to empathize sincerely. As you allow yourself to be gripped by the life-altering encounters and heart-felt emotions of children, your love for them in the way of Jesus will expand.
What are the first names of five children you know and how can you grow in loving them? Beyond hearing stories of what kids and youth are going through, you can personally enter into their joys and sorrows face-to-face. Empathizing sincerely is about living out Romans 12:15 – “rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.” You can make emotional connections with kids and families more readily when you share life experiences. Allow God’s Spirit to stir your heart deeply in relationship with kids the Lord places in your path.
Are you up for trying out an empathy stretching activity in your children’s or student ministries? Asking for prayer requests is one of the most powerful ways to unearth and empathize sincerely with what’s happening in the lives of people in your church and community. You’ll be surprised, but children and students will participate in this even if they don’t have a personal relationship with God.
Prayer Activity Instructions: When you meet next, hand out 3×5 cards to kids and students in your ministry. Ask them to write down what’s weighing on their minds and hearts about home, school, friends, sports, or the world in general. Ask them to share what questions about life and faith they have for God. Ask them to include whatever comes to mind, even if they think it’s stupid or silly. Provide everyone with the opportunity to stick his or her prayer requests on a designated wall. Conclude your time together by reading some of the cards out loud. Take the opportunity to speak words of encouragement into kids’ lives. Then, conclude by praying over the group for the needs raised by your children and students.
Take It Further: After the kids get picked up and head home, take this exercise a step further. Gather your team of leaders around the prayer wall. Talk about what common requests and patterns you notice. What surprises you about what kids chose to write about? How do these requests reflect the issues facing your church family and surrounding communities? What you learn from this prayer activity could transform your heart and level of sincere empathy. Depending upon what you uncover, this activity could redirect the entire strategic focus of your children’s, student, and family ministries.
3. Serve Kids by Investing Individually
Who did God use to listen to, empathize with, and invest in you most attentively when you were a child? What was it about his or her demeanor that impacted you? In contrast, how did distant or dismissive adults affect you?
Generally speaking, kid-influencers who are more personal reach more kids. Regularly making eye contact, using names, and being together is a great place to start. From there, lasting relational bridges are built through acts of ongoing care and kindness in the name of Jesus. In addition to showing up weekly as a teacher or small group leader, you can broaden your reach to whole families. Send birthday cards. Provide a meal. Help with yard work. Get creative. What can you do that will communicate a personalized investment in a child’s life?
Children and youth are marked most by disciple makers who know, love, and serve them on an individual level. More than the words you say, kids encounter your character in action and then make connections to God. Jesus was painstakingly clear in Matthew 18:1-7 that no one is to hinder kids – or anyone with the humble heart of a child – from coming to Him. When you’re accessible to children, you inevitably reflect Christ’s heart toward them.
Where Does a “More Kids” Disciple Maker Start?
Grow in listening carefully. Be stretched in empathizing sincerely. Commit to investing individually. You can focus on one of these or all three, but start somewhere and start today as a disciple-maker in kids’ lives. The heart of “know, love, serve” is more than what you do toward kids; it’s about who you are as a kid-influencer in the way of Jesus. Avail yourself to children. The manner of your presence will mirror the accessibility of God to them as well. As a result of opening yourself up to children and youth, reaching “more kids” for Christ will happen in increasing measure.