To be a Christian is to be about the business of disciple-making. Every person we come across, by definition, is either a disciple, or a potential disciple—and children are no exception to this. At Emmaus, we are passionate about the biblical, theological, and spiritual formation of children. We look at their presence in our corporate gatherings, our classrooms, and our homes as an incalculable opportunity—a stewardship from God that we do not want to squander. This stewardship belongs to the entire church in the general, and it is particularly concentrated to parents in the particular.
To flesh this concept out a bit further, those of us who are serving in Emmaus Kids ministry—who are teaching and instructing and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God to our babies, toddlers, and children in K-2nd grade—take our responsibility seriously and soberly. A great honor and weight falls squarely on the shoulders of those who serve in this ministry. But woe to the church, and woe to the parents represented therein, if we ever begin have the impression that the primary discipleship of our kids belongs to volunteers on Sunday morning! These ministries don’t exist to give parents the opportunity to outsource their responsibility to disciple their own children. They exist as supplementary gifts to come alongside and aid parents in their duty train up their kids in the knowledge and discipline of God. They are intended as opportunities for the members of Emmaus to live out the “one anothers” of Scripture, but the primary God-ordained method for discipling children is parent-disciplers. A brief survey of Scripture makes this point clear:
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. – (Deuteronomy 4:9)
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – (Deuteronomy 11:19)
… When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to your?” then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD… – (Joshua 4:6-7)
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. – (Proverbs 1:8-9)
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – (Proverbs 22:6)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – (Ephesians 6:4)
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. – (Colossians 3:21)
Discipleship through Worship
So, how can parents do this? Well, one simple way is by keeping their children in the worship service with them. Soon, we will be offering a service for our 3rd-5th grade kids, for all of the same reasons we offer our other Emmaus Kids programs. But, this 3rd-5th grade service will never turn into a weekly event. Do you want to know why? It’s not because it’s too much work. It’s because we believe that it is a benefit for our children to worship (through song and through submission under the preached Word) with their parents! By the way, this is why even for the K-2nd graders we do dismiss into their own classrooms, we wait to dismiss them until after the music portion of our service. From a logistical point of view, it would actually be much easier to dismiss them before our call to worship. But the general benefits of having our children worship with their parents are just too good to pass up for the sake of logistical practicality.
The nonverbal messages that come from including children in the service are communicating a lot to them. They are learning that the corporate gathering includes activity that is relevant to them (church isn’t just for “mom and dad”). They are seeing their parents worship God through song. They are seeing their parents confess sin with the rest of the congregation. They are seeing their parents listening intently to the word being preached. They are seeing their parents stand up to take communion. By seeing their parents value the corporate gathering of the church as an important aspect of life, the children are themselves learning how important the corporate gathering is.
Further, by being present during all of these activities in the corporate gathering, the children are accumulating pictures to understand the gospel. They are learning the general “melody” of exaltation, meditation, confession, assurance of pardon, submission to the Word of God, and response—even though they won’t understand the complex “harmonies” that will give the tune a more robust sound until they are much older. They may not fully comprehend the broken body and shed blood of Jesus at first, but as they grow older, they will already have the groundwork to make sense of the gospel by watching it reenacted every Sunday Morning by mom and dad.
Discipleship through Catechisms
And this is why we are going to begin catechizing our kids. What is a catechism, and what does it mean to catechize a child? Great questions, I’m glad you asked. A catechism is a series of questions and answers that summarize and exposit basic doctrines. They serve to construct a worldview for our children, by answering questions, not only about the bible, but about life in general. This is important because, the reality is, our children are being catechized already. Our world is not a neutral place, and whether it is in movies, TV, music, social media, or other outlets, our children are constantly being trained to view the world a particular way. Let me give you a few examples from our world’s catechism:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: To be true to one’s self, follow one’s heart, and be happy at all cost.
Question: Is it possible for one to have a sinful desire?
Answer: No, desires are by definition good, and if one suggests that my desire is sinful, he is a bigot and is against me as a person.
Question: Where is one’s most basic foundation of identity?
Answer: One’s sexuality; one is not true to one’s self unless one finds one’s identity fundamentally there.
You get the idea. Christian catechisms can be useful to combat these untruths for our children and give them a biblical framework to see the world the way God intends. So when they are told time and time again that the chief end of man is “to be true to one’s self, follow one’s heart, and be happy at all cost,” they don’t have to wonder if that is true or not; they already know that the chief end of man is actually to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Of course, this is not to say that catechizing our kids will guarantee conversion. We believe that salvation belongs to the Lord. But by giving our children a biblical worldview, a thought-category and biblical formulation of the gospel, we are shoveling kindling into their little hearts so they’ll have everything necessary to be set ablaze with gospel truth, should the Holy Spirit see fit to light the match.
So, every week, we will be providing our parents with a catechism question and answer. For now, we’re primarily borrowing resources from Founders Ministries. So for ages 2 through 4th grade, we’ll be using a modified version of A Catechism for Boys and Girls, and for 5th-8th grade children, we’ll be using a modified version of The Shorter Westminster Catechism. The idea is for these catechism questions and answers to be fodder for conversation in your homes throughout the week. Be creative, parents, with pointing out the relevance of these catechism topics throughout your day, and let them serve as occasions for worship and instruction.
As I celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, it caused me to reflect on the glorious grace of God over this past year. My daughter’s life from conception has been one that points me to Jesus and the faithfulness of God in the midst of my anxious heart. Prior to becoming pregnant, a flood of fears consumed my thoughts. I was fearful that I may never have the opportunity to bear a child due to health reasons, and if I did have a child, I was fearful that my health problems would become my child’s or that my body wouldn’t be strong enough for pregnancy. However, the Lord was gracious to me and drew my eyes to Him and prepared my body to carry a child.
The indescribable joy that washed over my soul when I found out I was pregnant was quickly shared with an ever increasing anxiousness. It was as if joy and anxiety resided equally within my heart. Now I was fearful of something happening to my baby, but the Lord was gracious and used pregnancy to help me trust Him moment by moment. Throughout the entire pregnancy I was sick with hyperemesis, but He used it to point me to Him, to remind me of the fall, that this sickness was part of the curse, to point me to the finished work of Christ on the cross, and to point me to the hope of a new body in the new Heavens and new Earth.
The day I had longed for and prepared for finally arrived in a whirlwind. I had read many books, attended many classes and had every little detail planned. However, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Nothing went according to my plans but the Lord once again used this to press me more into Him, to remind me of the pain of the curse, creation groaning for new birth, suffering bringing life. My labor and delivery brought me and my unborn child to the brink of death, but the Lord was again gracious to us both. When I heard the words, “Reach down and grab your daughter,” suffering and new life kissed as I pulled her from my body to my chest. This little one was already teaching me about the gospel in that moment. My utter pain and distress met joy unspeakable due to the faithfulness of God.
As I held my daughter I realized that she was relying solely on me for nourishment. How much more should I be solely reliant on the Lord? For 9 long months, my womb nourished her, and now her little mouth was rooting on my chest. Even this natural process has pointed me to the gospel. Giving my body for another. I could never forget to feed my child, so to the Lord will never forget his children. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) As my daughter has grown, she gets so excited when it is time to nurse; she knows near my heart is safe and that from it she gets life. Oh, how she reminds me that under the Lord’s wings I have refuge, my safe place and that His words are sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
Everyday my daughter points me to the gospel. With each diaper changed and cry comforted, I am praying it points her to the God of all comfort. She notices every tiny detail and explores the smallest things, and it reminds me that God is sovereign and even in the midst of my fears nothing is unknown to Him.
As I reflect over this past year, I can honestly say that the fears and anxieties that gripped my soul have not lessened, but my view of God has become bigger. I am daily amazed at how my daughter points me to Jesus without being able to say His name.
Elizabeth Sanders is married to Adam and has one daughter, Norah. They moved to KC in 2014 for Adam to attend Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She serves on the worship team and with the refugee ministry at Emmaus. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Cross-Cultural Ministry/TESOL from Oklahoma Baptist University.
I had been in a 3 week span of much discouragement and despair. My heart was riddled with doubt and fear, and my disposition dripped of frustration. It seemed like one thing after another had gone wrong. A decision I had made at church was getting some backlash, our heater died and it took the warranty company 4 weeks to replace it only to find out the next day that our air conditioner isn’t blowing cool air. In the midst of all of this we are walking through a new diagnosis for our son that is emotionally, physically and financially taxing on our family. As all of these things piled on top of each other I found myself tired and wanting to quit everything. I just wanted to sit and cry.
This was my state when I took my son to Chick-fil-A. Now perhaps you are thinking, “Yes! That’s what I do too when I’m discouraged, I go to Chick-fil-A!” Believe me, there are many lower level discouragements that Chick-fil-A can meet the needs of. But this was a higher-level discouragement for me. This was not going to be solved by chicken, bun and a pickle, no matter how much Chick-fil-A sauce I put on it.
Asa and I ate our chicken and dipped our fries in ketchup and went into the play area. It was a zoo for children. They were like monkey’s — jumping and squealing and swinging and beating their chests and throwing their… shoes.
Then into this chaos came a cry. It was not my son’s cry, but you could tell that this cry was not a hurt cry, but a scared cry. Asa heard it, too. Asa was playing on the floor — I saw his head spin around and begin looking. His hand went into the air as if to say, “What’s happening? Where’s it coming from?” and he said, “Baby? Baby?”. That’s when Theology 101 began. My son got up from the floor and headed up into the playground. When he found the little boy who was crying, Asa gently reached out and patted him on the shoulder several times to console him. He put his arm around the boy, gave him a hug and continued to pat him until the boy’s father appeared. When the dad showed up, Asa used his sign-language to tell the father that the thinks the little boy is tired. He stopped patting him, and ran and played as if nothing had happened.
I sat on that bench looking up to my son with tears in my eyes. Emotions flooded my heart. I was so proud of him. He had just shown this little boy so much love and care. As all the other children ran around him and looked at him like he was an inconvenience, my son stopped what he was doing and cared for the scared. There is nothing my son could have done to make me more proud of him. When he came down and sat by me I bragged on him and high-fived him and celebrated with him and I told him that he was being like Jesus — caring for the scared, alone and hopeless. He cared for the one who was lost, and that is what Jesus does.
That’s when the second round of emotions flooded my heart because in that moment my son had not only been Jesus to a little boy, my son had been Jesus to me because my son showed me what my savior does. My savior sees my discouragement, he sees my fear and he sees my doubt. And he doesn’t leave me there to wallow and drown in it, rather he searches me out, he embraces me as his own. He gives his Spirit to comfort me and care for me, and then he presents me to the Father and says, “Let all who are weary and heavy laden come to me and I will give them rest.” Sitting there in the Chick-fil-A playground I was taught one of the most freeing theological lessons of my life — “Jesus sought me and Jesus loved me and Jesus will present me to the father where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more sorrow and no more pain.”
So today I would like to challenge you in two ways:
First, rest in the caring embrace of our Jesus, whatever your discouragement or fear. Rest in his embrace and find comfort, knowing that he will present you to the father.
Second, sign up for a theology class with your children. You may be astounded at what you will learn about our God and faith by watching your children.
Have you ever had to confess to your child? I’m not talking about airing all of your dirty laundry of past sins, grave mistakes, and idolatrous living before you had your child. That likely has an appropriate place and time for discussion with your children, but that’s not what I’m referring to.
I’m referring to confessing to your child that you have sinned recently, and specifically I’m referring to telling your child that you have sinned against them.
Perhaps I’m simply more sinful than you are, but I’ve had to do this many times. Allow me to give yesterday as an example; around 7:30 p.m. my two-year-old son was laying on the couch and our 45 pound puppy came flying into the house, leapt into the air, and landed with his feet and tongue right on my sons face. Obviously this is a time to intervene — to correct the puppy, to comfort your child. But my intervening sounded like angry yelling at the dog. It is no secret that I am not a fan of pets, and in this moment stress of the day, discouragement in my heart, and irritation with myself met my dislike of pets and I did not control my anger with our puppy. I didn’t abuse him (relax animal activists) and I did need to correct him, but in that moment I didn’t have self-control. In that moment, I taught my son how to release his frustration and anger and I taught him wrongly. I even scared him. So I had to sit down with my son and tell him that daddy was wrong. I had to confess to him that daddy didn’t control his anger, and I asked for his forgiveness. There we sat, trading stories of my anger and Bob’s (our puppy) landing on Asa’s face. You should ask Asa about it sometime. He tells the story with much enthusiasm.
You would think that this would be the end of my story, but it isn’t (remember, I’m simply more sinful than you are). An hour later, my daughter came into the living room to play with Bob and he went out of control again. My frustration with him came flooding back but instead of simply correcting Bob, I scolded my daughter. She had not corrected him for his misbehavior, and instead of using the opportunity to teach her how to correct him, I scolded her for not correcting him. It crushed her, and rightly so. I found myself having to confess again, to another child, of my sinful lack of self-control.
Parents, you will sin. You will speak or act out of sinful pride in front of your children. You can never remove the effect of those actions, but you can teach your children what it looks like to realize your sin, to confess your sin, and to reconcile relationships.
My prayer for each of us today is that we would ever-increasingly grow in godliness so that sin would spill out less each day. Secondly, my prayer is that we would be humble enough to confess our sins before our children so that we (and they) may be healed. (James 5:16)
As a parent, I am always looking for ways to engage my children with the gospel. In a recent sermon we explained to parents that Deuteronomy purposes parents to be teaching our children the ways of God as we sit, as we go, as we lie down and as we rise. In other words, as you do what you already do, look for ways to teach your children about God and the gospel.
As spring rolls around in Kansas City, parents are always looking for new outings for their families. I want to encourage you that as you go out, lie down, get up, explore new places – look for opportunities to have gospel conversations with your children.
- Kansas City Zoo – if your children love the zoo, then I’d encourage you to spring for the season pass. We think it’s completely worth it because then a 1 hour trip to the zoo is worthwhile. Last year we took Asa to the zoo dozens of times. While at the zoo, have intentional conversations with your child. You could discuss which animal is their favorite and why, bringing the focus back to their worship of God for his creation of that animal. You could discuss about God creating man different than animals in that as majectic as the elephant is, man is who was created in God’s image and therefore we hold a special value and we can know God in a different way through Jesus.
- Urban Air – this trampoline park is superior to others in my opinion because they also have the largest indoor playground I have ever seen. Our son costs $5 for endless play on the playground and my wife and I get to play for free with him! Take your children there, let them jump, play, run, and laugh and then talk about the joy that God gives us in enjoying life. It is a common grace that we get to enjoy life in this way. Discuss this and remind them that when they really enjoy something in life, it is because God has given them that gift and teach them to worship God for that joy.
- Red Barn Farm in Weston – Red Barn is famous for it’s October Pumpkin Patch and fall festivals, but you can also go there in the spring and pick peaches and berries! It’s a fun activity to get your kids out of the city, take in some fresh air and see a different way of life. As you pick berries and peaches, talk about how every bite of food we put into our mouths is provided by God; he grew the plant, he gave us the resources to get the food and he gave us taste buds to enjoy it! Talk about the fruit in the garden and how Adam and Eve could have any fruit they wanted but one tree. Teach your children about sin and how it always makes us crave what we are told we shouldn’t have, despite God giving us so much more. Teach them about God’s promise to send Jesus to destroy the deceiver and free us of our sin.
This spring, I hope you have great opportunities to teach your children about the gospel in everyday life.