The sun danced overhead as I crawled into my hammock under a sturdy maple tree in our backyard. My mission seemed simple: convince elementary-aged kids that being a disciple of Jesus is truly the best way to live and then encourage them to share Jesus with others.
Over a year and a half before that, I had been asked to speak at the Southern District Kid’s Camp for third through fifth graders. Now, after teaching during a pandemic and starting my masters, I was exhausted and overwhelmed.
I knew Jesus could work in big ways, and I had seen him do some astonishing things in the past. But in that moment, I was a worn-out teacher who felt ill-equipped to speak to 150 students at camp. As I was agonizing over exactly what to say, the Holy Spirit reminded me that it was not up to me to change the hearts of the kids. My job was to be obedient. Jesus was the one that got the privilege of captivating their hearts.
As I lay in that hammock, I was reminded of some valuable lessons: my job is to obey, children want to know about Jesus and we are all to share the good news.
Kids want to know
There is no fool-proof technique in making people believe the gospel. Salvation comes when the Holy Spirit moves in people’s hearts. Our job is to tell others about Jesus. The gospel is not about you and me. The gospel is Jesus! And how will people know about Jesus if we don’t tell them?
Romans 10:13-15 says, “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
Kids are longing for someone to tell them. Kids are longing to hear the gospel.
Just over a year ago, I had a conversation with some high school students that left an impression on me. I posed the question, “If you could change anything about school, what would it be?” I was expecting them to answer something along the lines of starting school at 10:00 a.m., getting nap time or having an all-you-can-eat buffet at lunch. Their response floored me: “I wish we actually talked about the things that matter.”
These teenagers were longing to talk about faith, relationships, and family. One of the girls had recently watched her family fall apart because of her parents’ divorce. She felt as though she was ripped in half. She longed to talk about the things that actually mattered.
They longed to know their identity and their purpose. They recognized that there is more to life than just contributing to society, and they wanted to talk about it. They wanted their classmates to talk about it, too. These teens wanted to hear from their teachers and coaches. They longed for connection. They longed for Jesus.
When I entered the elementary teaching profession four years ago, I was in for a surprise. I was not surprised when classroom items turned into projectiles or when parents yelled at me. I am, however, surprised at some of the questions students ask me.
Though these questions vary in depth, their origin is all the same. Kids are innately curious about God. They want to know the truth. They ask questions about why we die and what happens after we die. They ask why bad things can happen even after we have been good. They ask about their purpose.
It is as if they know they have a hole that needs to be filled. It is as if they are carrying a burden they want to get rid of. Ecclesiastes 3:11b says, “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Kids want to talk about faith. They want to know the truth. There is an innate longing for the Creator inside each of us, and as followers of Jesus, we get to share the good news and encourage our youth to do the same.
Kids on mission
How can we encourage our youth to live as missionaries? First, we need to love them. There is less and less room in our culture for lukewarm Christians. Students who claim to be Christians are not in the majority at public schools. Our youth need support and encouragement. They need a safe space to process when their identity is challenged. Let no topic be off limits in our homes, youth groups and Sunday school classes. We need to be willing to talk about the awkward issues (in an age appropriate way, of course).
Secondly, we can share our stories with the youth we know, giving them a window into our journey with Jesus, including some of our hurts and struggles. Finally, and most importantly, we can talk with Jesus together. Pray together. It’s powerful.
The more they see us spending time with Jesus and evangelizing others, the more kids will naturally do the same. However, if we are not living life missionally, we cannot expect our kids to act or speak any different.
Kids talk about what they hear their parents talk about. Some of the craziest conversations I have heard from seven-year-olds regard politics. However, I have also heard some of the most beautiful conversations from elementary students where they are encouraging their peers to listen to Jesus and not the lies of Satan. I have heard students pray for each other and share the gospel with each other.
When Jesus is part of everyday conversations, kids do not even have to think about talking about Jesus. He just comes up naturally! The best way to teach children to be missionaries is for us to be missionaries and then invite them to join in.
Even in the doubt
There are days and seasons when I doubt I am up to the task of sharing about Jesus. I was in a season of doubt that day I crawled into the hammock. In that place, I was drawn to the resurrection account recorded in Matthew 28. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb. Upon arriving, an angel has rolled the stone away and tells them Jesus is risen from the dead! The angel instructs them to go tell the other disciples that Jesus is alive and they are to meet him in Galilee.
As the women are running—and note the urgency with which they are moving in order to share the good news—they meet Jesus! Jesus tells the women the same thing: have the disciples meet him in Galilee. Now fast-forward to Galilee. “Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go” (Matthew 28:16). The disciples act in obedience. They went where they were told.
“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17). When Jesus appears, the disciples react in two ways: some worship and some doubt. But what Jesus says next is for all of them. He gives this Great Commission to both the worshippers and the doubters. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In seasons where we are in awe of Jesus, we are to go and make disciples of all nations. In seasons where we doubt, our mission is still the same. Evangelism is not dependent upon our feelings or circumstances. Evangelism is dependent upon the fact that Jesus is alive!
May the good news of Jesus transform us to the point where we cannot help but live on mission. Maybe our mission awaits overseas. Maybe our mission is the person asking when supper will be ready. Maybe our mission lies in the depths of data at work. Maybe our mission looks like the man in the grocery store. Maybe our mission awaits in the backyard hammock. Wherever our mission is, may we obediently follow Jesus and invite others to join.
Tena Loewen is a teacher, coach, and missionary in Hillsboro, Kansas. Loewen, a graduate of Tabor College in Hillsboro, is actively involved as a member of Parkview MB Church. She loves strawberries, laughter, people and Jesus!
I so commend Tena for her article on evangelizing young children and adolescents, making disciples of them, and preparing them to “live like missionaries” now.
While reading her thoughts and capturing a glimpse of her heart and passion for this younger generation, I had to think of our own four grandchildren, 5 to 13 years of age, with whom we were recently on a 12-day visit to the East Coast. How we pray, as any parent and grandparent would, that they too will not only learn to know more about God but also learn to personally know and trust God better to become more like Jesus in purpose and mission. Tena so well captures this biblical vision for each of us, and how this must begin at birth, and then be nurtured through a child’s life development.
I applaud her commitment to begin with their life questions (i.e. “why we die and what happens after we die,” how to “know the truth,” understand “their identity and their purpose,” “talk about faith, relationships, and family,” know how to respond when watching one’s “family fall apart because of their parents’ divorce,” etc., and then guide them via active-listening conversations to the only One able to help them put life’s puzzle back together.
Only knowing mentally the truths of the Bible about God and His plan for us will not set us free to live with greater peace and joy. Viable answers and life lived well come only when we experience the Truth (John 8:32) in life’s ups and downs.
Only when Jesus becomes real to us in the midst of our life issues will we live life more abundantly and be involved in a meaningful mission to others. Thanks, Tena, for this reminder. You are obeying God’s design for all of us!
Amen and amen! Thank you for your encouraging response! I pray that generations would live fully in The Truth because of your faithfulness to Jesus.