First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas, teaches children about missions through a weekly class, a monthly missions speaker and hands-on community service. (Photo: First Baptist, Amarillo)
Whether God calls us to the ends of the earth or to the house down the street, we are all called to share the love of Christ with others.
In a culture that continuously strives for "bigger and better" and encourages (even demands) self-centeredness, the church's role in teaching kids to have a global and others-centered worldview is increasingly important.
"Missions" is a broad term that encompasses so much more than what we might realize.
Typically, the missions education focus tends to zero in on studying missionaries living in a different country, and rightly so, for kids can learn much from those who have heard and heeded God's call to serve him.
Missions, however, can take place in innumerable places and can look different for each Christ follower. Kids must understand their ability to serve God right where they are, wherever they are.
Children play an important role in spreading the gospel, and, in order to be effective witnesses for Christ, they need missions education to teach basic gospel truths, an overview of what missions is and how they can apply each of those to their own lives.
Each Wednesday, boys and girls gather at First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas, to learn just that. Kids ages 3 to 12 have the opportunity every week to learn what "missions" is all about.
Through games, activities, lessons and even songs, boys and girls have a weekly opportunity to learn about missionaries, countries and cultures around the world and about ministries for which they can pray.
Throughout the year, however, there are several other unique opportunities for kids to connect to missions.
Once a month, we have a missions speaker share about their ministry experience. Some speakers are able to join us in person; other missionaries Skype or FaceTime interviews from other states or countries.
Putting a face to missions allows kids to understand that missionaries are real people who were kids just like them at one point.
First- through fifth-graders also have the opportunity once a semester to go off campus and serve within our community.
These projects allow kids to learn about different ministries and organizations in Amarillo. Often times, they help them realize that there are kids and families in their own town (and even school) who need help, love and hope.
Kids have an incredible ability to deeply understand missions and how it should be a part of their everyday lives.
Teaching kids practical ways in which they can be the hands and feet of Jesus to others gives them the foundation and confidence to live a bold life for Christ, fulfilling Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
How can your church effectively teach kids about missions? Here are a few tips:
1. Take it outside of the classroom.
Children are tactile learners who benefit from experiences, not just classroom lessons.
Those classroom times are valuable, but allowing children the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned (and to see how simple serving others can really be) is powerfully effective.
Find local ministries (or existing ministries within your church) with which to partner and set up a specific time to take a group to serve and learn about how the ministry helps others.
Find ways that children can serve and love others in their day-to-day lives outside of church.
2. Keep it fun.
Encourage kids to use their own passions, talents and abilities to serve others around them. Allow them to be creative.
One year, our fifth-grade girls' mission group realized that not all young girls in Amarillo would have the means to get a new dress for Easter. On their own, our girls created and organized a churchwide dress drive to collect dresses and accessories to donate to kids in need.
Kids within your own ministry have similar passions and abilities. Help them identify and implement the passions and ideas God lays on their hearts.
3. Get the whole family involved.
There's no better way for a child to understand missions than by serving alongside of their parents.
Offer a mission trip geared toward and appropriate for families with kids of all ages.
Set up local family-friendly service projects (counting cans at the food bank, sorting clothes at a homeless shelter, prayer walking or cleaning on your church campus and so on) and encourage families to make serving together a part of their regular family routine.
When we teach kids to look beyond themselves and to serve those around them, they will be equipped to live a life for Christ, no matter where or how he might call them to serve.
Sarah Stevens is the associate minister to children at First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series on missions and local churches / denominational organizations.
Previous articles in the series are:
Sharing the Gospel, Saving Lives in West African Nation
CBF of Georgia Connects Youth to Mission Projects
How Your Church Can Break the Fortress Mentality
Sustaining Ministries Through Indigenous Missionary Support
Cooks on a Mission Shares Love of Christ Through Food
Missouri Baptist Church Meets Medical Needs in Guatemala