Each summer in Northern Ireland, Crosslinks runs two camps for children and young people. Camps aim to make disciples of Jesus Christ and give them a vision for mission.
As the Church we are perhaps clear about how to make young disciples but are we clear on how to involve children in mission?
Well, how is it that we teach children to cross the road? You’ve seen the posters, you’ve watched the videos, we all know it: Stop. Look. Listen - and then go.
This ‘green cross code’ is helpful when considering how we want to get children involved in mission too. Take the example of Peter in Luke 5 - one of the first young disciples to stop, look, listen and then go.
STOP – After a night of hard work Jesus asked Peter to get back in his boat and go fishing. Peter could have said no, he could have made his excuses - but he didn’t. Peter stopped what he was doing as soon as Jesus asked him to. As we seek to reach children with the good news and engage them in mission, we want them to see that Jesus is central to all that we do. We do it because Jesus asks us to. Peter wasn’t stopping to go on a fun boat trip, it was because he wanted to obey Jesus. Neither should we present the Christian life as some fun experience. When asking children to stop, we want to them to stop for Jesus. Nothing else.
LISTEN – Jesus asked Peter to head out and go fishing. Peter had already done this the night before with no success. He was a fishing expert and knew there was nothing there to be caught. Yet he didn’t argue. He listened to Jesus and obeyed. As we reach out to children with the hope that they will join God’s worldwide mission, we must help them listen to the truth that is God’s word. We should not dilute the message, saying things like, “They are too young to be taught that.” If we don’t turn their young ears towards the truth, what will they be listening to instead? Culture shouts at our children the message it wants them to hear. The message we want kids to hear loud and clear is what Jesus says in the Bible. At camp, bible teaching is central to what we do. It has the power to turn the hearts of young and old to obedience to Christ and the mission he has given us.
LOOK – During his fishing trip with Jesus, Peter was amazed at the huge catch. But what did he see in the boat? Did he see payday? Did he see an excellent new fishing technique? Did he see a new business partner? No, he saw Jesus as Lord and he saw himself as someone who didn’t deserve to be anywhere near him. That is why his immediate response was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Who or what do we want our children to see? Do we want them to see ourselves as great parents, as fun Sunday school teachers, as cool camp leaders? Do we want them to see themselves as the centre of the universe? No. We want to help our children to look and see God and see who they are in light of who he is. We want them to see Jesus and be amazed by him, not by us or our camp programme. Only then will children see who a life of discipleship is really about and why a life given to mission is worth it.
GO – At the end of the boat trip Jesus told Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). Despite his reservation as to whether he was worthy to be following Jesus or the oddness of what Jesus had just said, Peter still came ashore and left everything behind. No excuses. No delay. He was a baby believer without a long list of skills that could qualify him as a missionary. No matter what age children are, no matter what context they are in, we want them to see that Jesus issues them the same call to follow him and become fishers of men.
When it comes down to it, the call to discipleship and the call to mission are one and the same. We cannot allow ourselves and our children to think that missionaries are ‘top level’ followers of Christ. Nor should we shrink God’s mission into a manageable, childlike bites. God’s mission is for all disciples and is to all nations. So let’s not be overwhelmed by all the things we could be doing in our children’s and youth ministries. Instead, let this generation and the next focus on the one thing, the one task, the one mission he has given us, ensuring that we each stop, look and listen to the one in whose name we go.
Read about Crosslinks camps in Ireland or book to attend Crosslinks Junior or Senior camp in 2018.
Crosslinks also has a series of Sunday school lessons that help churches teach children about mission.
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Colin was part of the Crosslinks staff team from 2012 – 2021. He led Crosslinks camps, trained youth workers as part of Building to Grow and visited churches to speak about mission. Colin now works for St Donard's Community Church alongside training for ministry.
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