What would it take to raise a generation of children who enthusiastically centre their identity, activity, and witness totally in Jesus?
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a Jesus movement began on the West Coast of the United States that spread to Europe and Central America before its decline in the late 1980s. Is it possible for something similar to happen today? Will children who’ve never been told about Jesus see Him and those who’ve never heard of Him get the message? (Romans 15:21).
Can we once again hope to see vast numbers of children and youth imitating and reflecting the life of Jesus wherever they are?
I believe we can. Here are four things we can do to prepare the foundation for young people to fall deeply in love with Jesus:
Establish children’s identities in Jesus.
Plastic Christians following a plastic Jesus are hindering children from imitating the genuine Jesus. Are our children encountering images of Jesus sculptured by our cultural assumptions, religious traditions and personal opinions, or do they see Jesus revealed in the Word?
We must eliminate every obstacle preventing children from establishing their identity in the real Jesus. To birth a Jesus generation, we must strive to teach and model nothing less and nothing more than what it looks like to sound and act like the true Jesus.
Is Jesus becoming the primary reason for our children’s existence? The authentic Jesus, not a facsimile of Him, must define who they are and how they think about themselves.
Identifying with a particular brand of religion is not the same as embracing Jesus and being embraced by Him. There’s a world of difference between children who identify with being Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, or Pentecostals, and children who identify with the person, teachings, and life of Jesus.
Bringing the right Jesus into focus is critical. Do your children have a religious identity or a Jesus identity? Are their lives defined by doctrinal and denominational beliefs, or are their lives structured and ordered by Jesus?
We’re heading in the right direction when children look to Jesus to shape and form them into Jesus-looking people. Only when the ways of Jesus become our children’s ways can we say His identity defines their identities.
Help children inhabit Jesus’ Story.
To develop their identities in Jesus, children must actively study and contemplate the life of Jesus. If children don’t spend significant time engaging with Jesus’ Story, other stories will shape them. Children need to be embraced by Jesus’ Story and hold onto it as their story.
The more children dwell in His Story; the more His Story will dwell in them. This requires a regular rhythm of reading, reflecting, and responding to God’s Word.
God won’t birth a Jesus generation without a renewal of Bible engagement. A return to God’s Word has underpinned every revival of faith. For a Jesus generation to flourish, children need to connect with Jesus’ Story in ways suited to their preferred learning styles and dispositions.
Every child is unique. Some children like to hear the Story, some need to act it out, others enter into it through play-based approaches, and some make connections through visual mediums. Most children require a combination of different Bible engagement practices to interact with the Story meaningfully.
The most transparent view of Jesus is in the Gospels. Our role is to help children step into the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and find their part in it. We must immerse children in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John if we’re going to help them know Jesus well enough to model their lives on Him. After all, the primary way for children to centre themselves in Jesus is through seeing what Jesus does, listening to what He says, and understanding who He is.
Encourage children to live wholeheartedly for Jesus.
The beliefs and attitudes of significant adults in a child’s life critically influence who they will become. Children thrive when we set high expectations. Claudia Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, once said, “Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.”
We must set high expectations without high pressure. Encourage children to be fully and unreservedly devoted to Jesus. There can be no sitting on the fence. Children can’t have one foot in the world and one foot in the community of faith. It’s all in or all out. Nineteenth-century British missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.”
Make it personal.
Here’s where we get serious about whether we want to raise a generation of children who enthusiastically centre their identity, activity, and witness totally in Jesus. When the music fades, will we be found faithful?
Lukewarm disciple-making in the home will not spawn a Jesus generation. Parents need to take the leading role in their children’s faith formation. Lacklustre faith formation in the church and school will not yield a Jesus generation. Educators and children’s ministry workers must major in Jesus-centric teaching.
God can, of course, raise a Jesus generation with or without us. But wouldn’t it be better if we played our part in cultivating the conditions for revival among our children? Usually, God fulfills His plans and purposes in and through His people.
To see vast numbers of children and youth imitating and reflecting the life of Jesus wherever they are, we must pray earnestly, pursue Jesus passionately, make room for the Spirit to move us in the right direction, and act decisively by following His leading.