by Mark Entzminger/ August 20, 2018
Trends and fads in discipleship come and go. However, securing faith in the hearts of the next generation must be built on a foundation that will withstand the tidal wave of culture.
When leaders think about the faith of the next generation, they must consider the elements of biblical literacy and heart transformation. These two elements require different, but equally important, approaches of discipleship.
Today’s disciple needs a balanced approach. We have all met Christians who had memorized hundreds, if not thousands, of verses, but lacked the love and compassion that would cause them to stop and minister to the lost and broken. We have also witnessed people who downplay education in exchange for a reliance exclusively on “how the Spirit leads.” This is equally as dangerous because of the void of the plumb line truth the Scripture provides in the daily flow of life.
It is the Word of God that is known by the believer (Christian education) coupled with the compassion and servant’s heart of the Father (spiritual formation) that become the two sides of the same coin of discipleship.
[Call out] God’s desire is to capture the heart of every person—not just to be in their minds.
Are students engaging in the study of God’s Word?
Christian education is more than knowing the books of the Bible and how many authors the Holy Spirit inspired. It is the lifeblood that guides believers through the temptations of life as stated in Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” This lifeblood also facilitates the creation of mature believers, protecting them from every wind of doctrine that comes their way, “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:13,14).
The verses that are memorized and Bible stories learned as a child become ingrained into the minds of individuals in a manner that the Holy Spirit can help them recall later in life. Testimonies of people who have spent years in Sunday School or Junior Bible Quiz indicate that the words of Scripture stay with them long after the classroom or program has ceased.
There is something powerful that happens when a believer can quote Scripture and speak with confidence regarding biblical principles. Christians who are lacking a strong Christian education experience can be well-intentioned; however, they are at a disadvantage in defending their faith against those who would try to lead them astray.
1 Corinthians 8:1 tells us that “knowledge puffs up.” This is not to mean that we should become ignorant of the things of God, but rather, as we strengthen the knowledge and understanding of Scripture, the believer must intentionally keep the heart tender to the Holy Spirit.
This leads us to the other key component of discipleship: spiritual formation.
Do you see evidence of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power?
Paul addresses the church in Galatia regarding their return to observing the law as their means of gaining God’s approval. In Galatians 4:19 he indicates that he is in “the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
This indicates that knowledge and adherence to regulations are not the pinnacle of spirituality. Rather, we must continue to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He uses the situations of life to chip away the flesh and cause Christ to become evident in us.
Spiritual formation then is the process in which we are being spiritually formed (or transformed) into the image of Christ. This happens when the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of the believer. We have all experienced this in a real time of life when we have the internal warning system, alerting us to avoid a temptation. But we can facilitate this in a discipleship setting by providing intentional time to listen and respond as the Spirit speaks.
Why do today’s volunteers need solid doctrine?
Assemblies of God churches report a growing number of paid children’s pastors (27% increase between 2005 and 2014) within the local church. While this is encouraging, the number of teachers with a Bible degree has not increased in the same measure.
A majority of those who are teaching the most impressionable ages have not been professionally trained on the age-appropriate information and teaching methods, nor do they have a degree in Assemblies of God doctrine and theology. Because of this, it is more essential than ever that churches utilize a master-planned curriculum that delivers a balanced approach to Christian education and spiritual formation which passes on the full gospel to children.
This cannot be overstated. Teachers who stand before children to impart God’s Word must not take lightly the content that becomes the steady diet of spiritual nourishment. Evaluation of curriculum cannot be made based on a snapshot “they liked it” approach. Rather, it must be evaluated on the long-term impact of weekly lessons over the course of multiple years.
Churches would do well to ensure that those reviewing and selecting the curriculum are not forced to make the decision based on how much they can afford. This is the singular most important teaching tool decision that the church will make. We cannot mortgage the future faith of our children based on saving a few dollars.
Paul warns his ministry apprentice in 2 Timothy, verse 4, that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” This will become an increasing reality if we do not make sure that our curriculum is embedded with God’s truth so that the children can identify the voice of the Holy Spirit at a young age.
Are there resources available today that make this easier?
Although there are many touch points of discipleship for children including the home, midweek services, etc., we have selected two Sunday morning options to highlight in this article.
Radiant Life was built solidly on a foundation of Christian education. The spiraled approach to Bible lessons enables kids to continue to more deeply explore God’s Word, with each age group. The multiple learning methodologies and seven strands (outcomes) make this an outstanding curriculum to ensure students are biblically literate. Studies show that Radiant Life is one of the highest-rated curricula for theology and relevant themes for the students.
Tru Fire is the newest addition to our curriculum line, and it has a spiritual formation foundation. It has been designed for the Spirit-empowered church and was built from the ground up to maximize the home as the birthplace of discipleship. Its digital delivery mechanism makes this a great selection for children’s ministry large group/small group time.
While it’s true that every curriculum will land closer to one end of the Christian education and spiritual formation continuum; that is not to say that components of the other have not been included. Churches that are using Radiant Life, for instance, can find spiritual formation elements in addition to the foundation of Christian education. The inverse of that would also be accurate for Tru Fire.
For the most balanced approach to discipleship of the next generation, we recommend utilizing Radiant Life for Sunday School and Tru Fire for children’s church.
You can learn more about these resources at the following page: