When the Syrian refugee crisis became a hot topic in American culture, I became infuriated with the response of followers of Jesus. A hole in our understanding of the Gospel and missions became unavoidable as fear gripped our nation and hardened our hearts towards people who do not know Jesus. While this was a part of my philosophy of ministry long before this national debate during the 2016 election season, I realized how very important it is to teach about God’s love not just for Americans sitting in church buildings, but also his love for people who look differently than I do, who speak a different language, and who have never heard of my Jesus who died for them. That leads to my third point in my philosophy of ministry: “Encouraging students to pass Jesus’ love to others. God’s plan does not start or stop with us, and we pray that our students will not only personally know Jesus’ love, but they will feel compelled to love others as a result of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. In his last words before ascending, he told his disciples, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).”
We as the American church lead our students into self-centered, comfortable Christianity. We keep kiddos in programs designed completely around them. The entire time is planned around their needs and what is fun for them. We structure the time so that 10-15% of the time is spent teaching, while the rest of the time involves crafts and games. And yet we act surprised when they grow up and we ask them to sing songs that they do not prefer, and they immaturely refuse. We never called them to maturity, or taught them that the Church is bigger than them. I believe this truth must be taught from birth.
How? Good question.
First, I intentionally dedicate time to talking about and praying for people from a different country. I want them to see different people from around the world, and continually be reminded that people from every country and every nation are made in God’s image. I also want them to be reminded that Jesus died for all people (Acts 10:35). I want them to know that when they get to Heaven, they will see every people group represented (Revelation 7:9). While many organizations put out videos that can be shown to students, prayercasts are great. I highly recommend previewing these, though, for age-inappropriate content (as you can probably imagine, many nations have some heartbreaking situations, like child soldiers, etc.)
Secondly, I remind kiddos every week during our Communion time that Jesus died for them, but he also died for people around the world. God’s love for us compels us to love the people around us. The Gospel is not, has not, and will not ever be about us. We are worshipping the God of the universe, our Maker, so we look not to our interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
Thirdly, I talk with the leaders of the church on how to have students in the service with their parents. In the church where I served for 4 years, we came up with a schedule where students spent every fifth Sunday with their families. I think this can also be accomplished in the form of community groups that involve students in the study rather than having separate child care. I think this could also look like a regular game night involving people from every generation.
We need to take steps to help students see their mission and the mission of the Church: to make disciples of every nation. To do this, students need to be reminded that people from every corner of the world are image-bearers and need Jesus. They also need to rub shoulders with people from different generations and need to be a part of the larger body where the schedule is not solely planned around their wants and needs. God’s mission is not about them (or me, for that matter).
What do you think? Do you have any ideas to encourage students to see their place in the bigger mission and the greater Kingdom?