I was pleased last week when Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted, admitted that the inspection regime in this country has contributed to a ‘teach-to-the-test’ mentality which is negatively impacting education, favouring second guessing the test to a rich deep understanding. It is, of course, something that most of us with experience of working in education have been screaming for years! As a maths teacher I battled the tension for 10 years between just giving children the answer, or the method, or the simple trick, and trying to facilitate a classroom of discovery where learning was explored and shared and deeply understood.
Now, in our church we don’t set end of term tests for our children, but just occasionally do I let something similar creep into how I talk to children about following Jesus? All of us who are passionate about children’s discipleship know the scripture where Jesus says
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God will never enter it (Mark 10:14-15, NIV).
But do we realise how challenging this is? Coming to Jesus, following him, becoming a disciple is about the whole of our lives being transformed – our ways of thinking, our actions, our emotions and feelings together being influenced by Jesus. Is my view of education or faith hindering me from allowing children to come to Jesus in this way? Teaching my daughter to pray, am I more concerned to show her that the right thing to do is have a prayer routine and that these are the right things to pray about? How instead do I release her into a relationship with Jesus and, actually, to take the second half of the scripture above seriously, am I letting her teach me how to pray?
When I run our outreach club, Super Saturday, for local children on our estate, how much is my priority to stand up and say the right things so these non-churched children will simply know the right thing to believe? Should I rather put more effort into coming alongside, listening, doing, speaking, playing, sharing with them the joy of life as we learn together to be disciples of Jesus. Should I try to learn from these unchurched children of other faiths or none what it means to follow Jesus?
If we take Jesus seriously, we realise that we are not here to tell children how to be disciples, we are to learn how to be disciples with them
My challenge this school year is to ask myself whether I can embed the following 4 values into my interactions with all children, inside and outside church:
- Everyone a Disciple – We need to less put on activities for children, and more to do activities with children. This means a parent and child creating something together, a leader and group playing a game as equals, every adult in the room identifying and sharing their discipleship weaknesses alongside the children.
- Relational – Discipleship happens in relationship, which involves consistency and personal interactions. Jesus preached to crowds but disciples in small groups. It is easy to value large ‘successful’ children’s ministries but we’d probably be better off investing locally and small into whoever God sends us, learning to rely on and release others rather than building an impersonal following for ourselves
- Conversational – It strikes me how often Jesus used ordinary situations (OK, ordinary for Jesus was admittedly sometimes feeding 5000 with a packed lunch!) as springboards for involving his friends in God’s work and speaking to them about the kingdom. So in discipleship, as we play, make and learn together, we create space and opportunities for conversations. This is about thinking through activities to provoke thought and leave space. It is about slowing down and looking around and seeing who is ready to talk rather than rushing to the next activity.
- Transformational – Following Jesus with our heads, hands and heart changes us. We are here to see transformation of children’s lives, which happens through encounter with Jesus. Key to this is prayer, as we hold each child consistently before God. But key also is showing how discipleship makes a difference in our lives; this is what we have learnt – what will you do about it? Making our teaching practical so children and adults can go away and put it into practice, then reflecting together on the success and failure of changes we have tried to make.
I hope these get us thinking, I’m sure you have many good ideas of how to put these things into practice, many good stories of how you are doing this. I hope we can continue to challenge ourselves as to how we are removing hindrances to children’s discipleship, how we are being discipled alongside children and how we are learning discipleship from children.