When Jesus called His first disciples, He did not invite them to a special event or a workshop. Neither did He invite them to a series of classes held over several weeks or months. Instead, He invited them to live life with Him and with one another. That was how they were going to learn to be His followers.
This is the biblical model of discipleship. Yet many churches and ministry leaders tend to make discipleship a lot more about the facts we know than the Person we know, more about what we do than about what God does while we hang out with Him.
What if we modeled our discipleship of children more closely on what Jesus did with His disciples? What if our goal was to help them get to know Him better each day by recognizing His presence in their lives, by learning from all they see Him do, and by listening to His voice? If we want children to recognize God’s presence in their lives, we need to emphasize His presence on every page of the Bible.
If we want children to learn from what they see God do, we need to point them to the connections between His actions and His character. If we want children to hear God’s voice, we need to invite them to listen for it first in the words of Scripture so they can begin to discern it when He speaks in other ways.
The Bible clearly and vividly tells us that God meets people wherever they are and works in their lives in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. And when we tell these stories in ways that help children see God present and in action, we are also inviting them to imagine — and be ready to experience — God showing up in their lives, too.
Here are some simple ways to emphasize God’s presence in Scripture…
- Draw attention to passages where people identify God’s presence. David, for example, identifies God’s presence and His role in the defeat of Goliath: “And everyone assembled here will know that the LORD rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the LORD’s battle, and he will give you to us!” 1 Samuel 17:47
- When God is not explicitly mentioned in the text, as in the story of Esther, be sure to talk about what God does in the story and how we can still recognize Him and see Him at work.
- If you use versions of Bible stories written specifically for children, seek out ones that emphasize God’s presence in each story. The Jesus Storybook Bible written by Sally Lloyd- Jones and I Wonder: Exploring God’s Grand Story written by Glenys Nellist are both excellent examples of this
God’s actions in each story of the Bible reflect His character. And His character is further revealed throughout much of the poetry and other non-narrative passages of Scripture. Encouraging children to connect God’s actions with His character enables them to know Him more deeply. So, when we give them opportunities to make these connections, we can nurture their relationship with God.
Here are some simple ways to emphasize God’s character in Scripture…
- Tell enough of the story for children to see the full character of God. For example, help children see God’s mercy even when He is passing out justice, such as when He takes Adam and Eve out of the garden so that they cannot eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their sinful state (Genesis 3:22-24). Talk about how the consequence they faced was not a random punishment but an act of mercy, a reflection of His great love for us.
- Ask questions that invite children to think about what God’s actions reveal about His character, such as “Why do you think God chose Gideon, who was not very big or strong, to be a military leader? What does that tell us about what God is like and how He works?”
- Explore different passages of Scripture that emphasize the same truth about God’s character and invite children to make the connection. The story of Hagar (Genesis 21:1-21) and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-38), for instance, both illustrate God’s compassion for those who have been treated without compassion by other people. Sharing these stories together or in sequence will encourage children to see that the character of God is constant rather than unique to a specific set of circumstances.
God speaks to us directly through Scripture. When we invite children to listen to and to read Scripture out loud, when we invite them to listen for and pay attention to words and phrases that stand out, we are also inviting them to hear God speak. And when we invite them to share what they have heard from God, we are providing them with an opportunity to witness how God can speak to us both individually and corporately at the same time.
Here are some simple ways to invite children to hear God’s voice in Scripture…
- Speak a passage of Scripture out loud and invite children to listen for a word or phrase that stands out. Choose a passage from your lesson OR one that speaks to the same truth about God. Repeat the same passage at least three times so that children can notice and acknowledge it. It may be helpful to invite children to doodle on blank paper or read along with you as they listen so that more senses are engaged in the activity. After reading, invite children to share what God has emphasized for them individually.
- Invite children to read a few verses of Scripture to themselves, asking them to pay attention to any words or phrases that stand out. You can add some background audio to engage more of their senses and help them focus; you might also want to invite them to underline, highlight or rewrite the words that stand out. Then, start a conversation about the words and ideas God has given them to ponder.
- Invite children to speak Scripture back to God. Give them a few options from which to choose, such as one that comes directly from the passage you have explored together and another from elsewhere in the Bible that reveals the same truth about God. For example, if you have explored the story of Jesus talking with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), you could offer John 3:16 as well as John 15:13. Encourage them to choose a verse that expresses what they want most to share with God.
Jesus has shown us how to make disciples. Let us respond to His call and follow His example, drawing ever closer to Him and bringing the children in our lives along with us. For more information on making disciples like Jesus, check out this additional resource from KidZ at Heart International: https://www. kidzatheart.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Child-Discipleshipand- Spiritual-Formation.pdf
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