George Barna makes the case in his book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions (Regal Books, 2004) that the most important ministry in the church should be children's ministry. Out of all the people that come to Christ, so many of them do so before the age of 18. With this in mind, he asks the question: Who primarily has the responsibility of helping children grow into spiritual champions? Barna says unabashedly the primary responsibility falls on the parents. But it’s the church’s responsibility to empower parents to fulfill this calling.
We all know children’s ministry can be hard. If there’s anybody who understands this, it’s God. He’s been in the business of parenting human beings since the beginning. It’s no wonder Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble at heart and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28). Is it possible to come to a place in children’s ministry where we say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”? I believe we can - if we choose to yoke ourselves together with the Lord and align ourselves with His spiritual development program.
So what does His program of raising “spiritual champions” look like?
The first step is to be faithful to tell children stories of God’s goodness. When the children of Israel were getting ready to enter the Promised Land, Moses told the leaders of Israel to “watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9). They were commanded to tell stories to the next generation - stories of how God delivered Israel from exile in Egypt, how God provided for every one of Israel’s needs as they journeyed through the wilderness, and how God defeated Israel’s enemies in the Promised Land and prepared the way for them to enter in.
How we are doing at telling our children our own stories of God’s goodness? What I’ve discovered is that the best place to do this is around the dinner table. These story times give us opportunities to share scenes of God’s faithfulness from the script of our lives. Whatever it looks like for your family, if you’re going to raise spiritual champions, you need to be faithful to tell stories of God’s goodness to your children.
Secondly, we need to make sure to teach our kids a biblical worldview. Again, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Impress [God’s commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Moses reminded them of the importance of raising the next generation properly. If these children were going to live under God’s blessing, they needed to be obedient to God’s commands.
When our children go to church, they are taught these things. But again, parents have the primary responsibility of teaching our children. Another way of saying this is that we should be giving our children a Biblical worldview - a belief system centered on what the Bible teaches about the purpose of life, to essentially know and serve God. As Americans, we used to live in a culture where a this was reinforced in every sector of society - but that’s not the case anymore. As a matter of fact, in some settings, people in positions of authority are teaching worldviews that directly contradict Scripture. Because of this, it’s all the more important that parents teach a Biblical worldview to their kids.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” In his wisdom, King Solomon was saying we need to guide our children in paths of wisdom. We have to remember that this is only a proverb, and it doesn’t guarantee that our children will always choose to live a life of obedience to Christ. But there is one certain thing about this verse: If we don’t teach our kids a biblical worldview, somebody else will teach them a different one, and that one may lead them down a path of destruction.
Lastly, we need to do everything we can to remove all impediments to kids coming to Christ. Unfortunately, adults can be a stumbling block for many kids. In the Gospels, we see that children were attracted to Jesus. Parents wanted Jesus to bless their children. But the disciples got the idea that Jesus had more important things to do, so they told the families to bug off. When Jesus heard about this, He became indignant and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:13-14). The disciples didn’t recognize it, but they had become a hindrance to children coming to Jesus.
Sadly, at times, well-meaning Christians do things that become an impediment to their own children coming to the Lord. One example is the early 19th century evangelist Billy Sunday. He was a former professional baseball player that led traveling tent revivals. He and his wife were almost constantly on the road, “doing God’s work.” Billy led thousands of people to the Lord, but sadly, his own children rejected the Gospel. The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” To exasperate your child is to make them resentful by putting unreasonable demands on them or to make them feel unloved through neglect. When we exasperate our children, we become stumbling blocks to their coming to know Jesus.
How can we avoid this? First, show them they are loved by spending quality time with them. Help them see they are valued by God by the value you place upon them. Secondly, live a life of transparency before them. Acknowledge places where what you do doesn’t match what you say. Third, live a life of authentic faith in front of them. Lastly, pray for your children regularly. Pray that God will draw them to Himself.
Raising spiritual champions is not easy, but if we’re faithful to share stories of God’s goodness to them, teach them a Biblical worldview, and are intentional in not putting impediments in their path, we can know that we are yoked together with Christ, and He will do His share - and more - in developing spiritual champions.
Pastor Toby Gallego
Riviera Baptist Church