As child disciple-makers, we need to step back and ask ourselves, “Is our current strategy and philosophy going to nurture and influence resilient disciples who will lead the church in the year 2050?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you have likely already worked through a process of evaluating effective philosophy and key markers that influence long-term fruit. But if the answer is “no,” then consider Resilient Child Discipleship based on three focused components.
Resilient Child Discipleship: The process of a Christ-follower committing meaningful, intentional, and consistent time and space to a child or a group of children so that they may know who Jesus is and are known by a body of believers (Belong), to place their faith in Jesus and apply the Word of God (Believe), and to reproduce their own discipleship (Become) so that a third spiritual generation can lead and love like Jesus Christ.
Resilient Child Discipleship doesn’t start with programs. It doesn’t start with our existing 21st century systems.
It starts with a universal curiosity around, what makes child discipleship effective, long-term and fruitful? As church leaders and kid-influencers, we have the unique opportunity to let this curiosity inform our programs and our systems, ultimately resulting in more effective local church, gospel-based ministries.
Three Components of Resilient Child Discipleship: Belong, Believe and Become
Belong, Believe and Become is the foundation for spiritual resilience. From child to child the environments and the variables change, but when these components are present, the probability for long-term discipleship fruit goes up—even in the face of adverse conditions.
As an organization, we got really curious about, “What makes child discipleship effective, long-term and fruitful?” in 2014. At that point, we began studying the Scriptures with specific interest in the life and ministry of Jesus. We also studied existing and accessible data as well as conducted our own research. Our leadership team has facilitated over 1,000 in-person conversations with church leaders gaining their insight and feedback. We even studied our 70-year history as a global children and youth ministry—looking at both the ups and downs of our own successes and failures. We simply wanted to know, what is it that produces long-term discipleship fruit in the lives of kids into their adulthood?
All of our learning continued to point to three effective components that make up the Resilient Child Discipleship philosophy: Belong, Believe and Become. Let’s define the terms:
Highly relational ministry led by loving and caring adults
Deeply Scriptural ministry rooted in the truth of God’s Word and the power of the gospel
Truly experiential ministry, designed to move kids from simulation to real-world application of faith-based living
Time and time again, these components show up as the central factors to Resilient Child Discipleship that lead to transformation in the lives of children. Our ministry partnerships engage 4.7 million kids in 122 countries. Not a week goes by that we don’t receive reports or personal stories of belong, believe and become from our ministry partners like Compassion International, World Vision, missionaries, church planters or pastors from one of our 61,000 global church partners.
Can you see the components of Resilient Child Discipleship in your story? Can you see where these three components have shaped the children and students in your church community? How about your kids or your grandkids?
But why is it that Belong, Believe and Become—out of all of the possible factors—have so much influence in lifelong discipleship?
Let’s dig more deeply into why Belong, Believe and Become are the key contributing factors to Resilient Child Discipleship by looking through the lenses of: 1. A Biblical Basis, and 2. Noteworthy Research.
This is the first of a two-part series. During this part, we will focus on the Biblical basis for “Belong, Believe, and Become.”
A Biblical Basis: Belong, Believe, Become
The Resilient Child Discipleship philosophy of Belong, Believe and Become is deeply rooted in the Scriptures. These words and the intentionality behind them frequently appear throughout the Bible, but often not grouped together as written above. Belong, believe and become is expressed in the books, letters and countless encounters between God and humanity. This discipleship philosophy serves as a biblical and theological roadmap for many to understand the motives, desires and expectations of our Savior and the corresponding and complementary behaviors of humanity. In that, humankind can understand true belonging because Jesus came looking for us (Luke 19:10, John 1:14). That God’s desire is for each of us to believe in Him for salvation (2 Peter 3:9, John 20:30-31). Finally, that He desires for each of us to become who we are created to be and fulfill our purpose in carrying out His will for our lives (1 Peter 2:2, Romans 8:28-29, 1 John 3:2).
Belong: A Biblical Basis
In Romans 1:6, Paul greets the church in Rome by saying, “including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” The entirety of the Scriptures shouts to the world that we belong to God. In the beginning, humanity was created to be in perfect union with God and belong to Him, for we are His creation (Genesis 1:26). There is an intimacy that was always part of His original design for our relationship with Him. We are His masterpiece and reflect the image of God in this world (Ephesians 2:10). Christ’s motivation to bring us back to Himself is the very premise of the incarnation. God came down and entered into the muck and mire of this world. Why? Because we belong to Him.
Humanity was always created to be in intimate proximity to God. It’s in that relationship that we know how to love one another (1 John 4:19). As the world will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). This attitude of love is the essence of true belonging. Jesus desires to make a space at the table for everyone. Men, women and especially children from all walks of life and context have a space to find true belonging in Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” From children, which at this point in history, many thought to be the lowest of culture and society, to the woman at the well (John 4) an outcast, to Nicodemus (John 3) the academic and spiritual elite of his time, and Zacchaeus (Luke 19) a conformist, unwanted nobody. Each of them finds belonging in Christ.
Believe: A Biblical Basis
In John’s Gospel, he says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). For every man, woman, and child, the primary role of the Gospels is to present the person of Christ with the most considerable amount of evidence possible. No message or movement in all history has had an impact like the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” For Christ alone is the only perfectly qualified individual in all of history that can forgive sin and meet all the requirements of His divine standard.
This is also the essence of John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (NIV).
We are reminded of this in many passages of Scripture. The impact of
God’s Word on those who believe in Him. Acts 6:7 says … and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. This is the power and impact of the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us of its power. The writer of Hebrews says, For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks two essential questions of His disciples. Jesus asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” When it comes to belief, there’s the opinion of the crowd that will no doubt influence the perspective of many. However, Jesus makes a b-line to the crux of the issue, for each person must decide on their own if they believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. As it was with the disciples, so it is for every person. The core outcome of belief is to align and identify oneself with Christ. Belief is all about deeply scriptural ministry rooted in the truth of God’s word and in the power of the gospel.
Become: A Biblical Basis
Finally, Paul expresses the idea of becoming to the believers in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Paul also expresses a similar idea to the church in Rome. Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2, NIV). In the Scriptures, there is an expectation that every believer is in the process of becoming. There is a divine metamorphosis and a transformation that occurs as each experiential moment of our sanctification helps to refine us into a perfect image of Jesus.
That’s why Jesus sent His disciples out of the classroom and into the world. The Christian life and every believer’s becoming is more than the culmination of countless hours of theory and simulation. It must be balanced by daily practice in the context of reality. The disciples needed to experience it. They needed to see, first hand the power of Christ. Luke 10:1-23 shows us an example of the methodology of Christ. Jesus believed in getting outside of a simulation environment. Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples in pairs of two to each of the places that He was about to go.
He gives them specific instructions to guide their habits and behavior. When they returned, they were filled with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” But, Jesus corrected their observation and amplified their thinking by saying, “He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven (NIV).” This experience is a valuable teachable moment between the disciples and Jesus. That’s how God does some of His best and most memorable work in the lives of people. From the belly of a great fish (Jonah 1:17), to a burning bush (Exodus 3), to the seventy-two disciples being sent out.
Cover to cover, the Bible gives examples of these three components (Belong, Believe, and Become) appearing over and over again. From creation to the incarnation and Jesus calling His disciples these themes are evident. From doubting Thomas finding belief only after he had first belonged (relational proximity to Jesus) to Peter, having been reinstated after the grievous sin of denying Christ three times so that he could become the leader of the Church—we can see the foundation of spiritual resilience being formed.
We take great comfort in the unchanging reliability and authority of Scripture. Now let’s also take a look at the data and analysis of modern research and how these practical findings can shape our child discipleship philosophy today.