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17 February 2020

From generation to generation


“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said. Here we reflect our commitment, as CMS, to gospel ministry amongst young people around the world and in Australia.

For as long as CMS has existed, ministry to children[1] has featured in its work, both in mission locations around the world, and within the branches of the CMS family in Australia. Why?

In the Great Commission, Jesus tells his disciples to “go and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19) Children too are disciples of Christ, called to follow him. While all are precious, Jesus’ own words reveal his special concern for young ones: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14)

Biblical reasons for mission to children

In the Old Testament God’s people—in the first instance through parents—are to teach children about God: who the Lord God is, what he promises, what he commands, why he requires sacrifice as part of his judgement and salvation (Exodus 12:24-28, Deuteronomy 6) and much more. Psalm 78 tells God’s people to pass this teaching “from generation to generation”. The whole of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom largely passed from father to son, mother to daughter, parent to child—so that all may know that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

The New Testament, similarly, sets out what we are called on to do for little children. Jesus follows his command to “let the little children come to me” with a pointed warning. “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15) The gospel is for children, and for anyone prepared to receive that salvation message with child-like faith.

So, if CMS is to obey the great disciple-making commission of Matthew 28, that means understanding that children are model citizens within the kingdom of God! This in turn means teaching them to trust Jesus as Lord, listen to and obey his words, and pray to him as Saviour. Parents and grandparents carry a particular responsibility for this—so Lois and Eunice in 2 Timothy, for example, raise Timothy in the knowledge of God and his gospel— but all believers share in this joy. Teaching children is a God-given job for the entire family of God.

Ultimately such commitment to ministry amongst children lines up with the CMS vision of a world that knows Jesus – a vision drawn from the majestic teaching of the whole of Scripture. In Ephesians 1 the climax of all God’s purposes, since before the creation of the world, is that he will place all things under Jesus’ feet, appointing him as head over everything for the church (Ephesians 1:22). All of creation—including little children—will bring glory to his name.

“LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.” (Psalm 8:1-2)

Practical reasons for mission to children

We can also point to at least two practical reasons (although there are many) why mission to children really matters, and will continue to matter until the Lord returns.

First, we can make the common-sense observation, grounded on biblical truth, that God has no grandchildren—only children. Every generation and every individual needs to respond to our heavenly Father personally and individually. In many parts of the world the default assumption has been, and often still is, that children will adopt the faith of their parents. The reality is changing. In a globalised community where ideas spread fast, secularism is an aggressive force, and individualist ways of thinking are gaining traction in previously collectivist societies, the continuity of faith from generation to generation cannot be assumed.

“…children are model citizens within the kingdom of God.”

Second and related to this, mission organisations (including our own) have sometimes lacked focus on children and youth, preferring for various reasons to consider adult evangelism first. Yet we hear from Christians in Africa and other parts of the developing world that secularism, urbanisation, and influences spreading through the Internet with unprecedented speed—are affecting the lives of young people in new and unpredictable ways.

The effects of these widespread phenomena in society are things that modern mission will continue to grapple with. How can we equip youth and children to respond as Jesus’ disciples to the pressures and temptations they will face?

In recent years worldwide mission thinking has advocated for a greater focus on the importance of evangelism and discipleship within the ‘4-14 window’ (meaning ministry to children between the ages of four to fourteen).[2] CMS is planning to strengthen this mission focus too.

Close to home: How CMS serves children in Australia

As well as gospel outreach to children around the world, mission to children in Australia is similarly crucial—particularly when we consider the important question of who our future missionaries are likely to be.[3]

We asked some of those involved in oversight of ministry to youth and children with CMS to talk about why they are passionate to see children in Australia grow a heart for cross-cultural mission.

NSW & ACT

Youth and Children’s Coordinator Mike Southon (CMS NSW & ACT) works with children and leaders at CMS Summer School, and at CMS kids’ camps like Milimani and MMM.

Mike says “children who come through these Bible and mission-focused camps very often end up being leaders to other children on those same camps. Just as importantly, they are gaining their first insight into global mission in that context. At Milimani and MMM we will usually have CMS missionaries spending an entire four or five days of the camp – sharing their lives with children, and talking about the gospel work they do.

“We pour effort into these kids fundamentally because they matter to God. Alongside that, we know through long-term experience that many future gospel ministers, leaders, supporters, and missionaries are drawn from the ranks of children that have come away with us on CMS camps.”

Queensland with Northern NSW

Paul Vandersee coordinates youth and children’s work for CMS QNNSW. In a previous career as an exercise scientist Paul thought in terms of moving people from being sedentary to being active. Now, under God, he applies similar thinking to working with children and opening their eyes to the great mission purposes of our heavenly Father. Paul says, “The journey to long-term mission takes a lot of thinking (including mission awareness), training and prayer. But the journey to long-term mission will never happen unless something or someone starts the process off, and supports the journey.”

Western Australia

In CMS WA, State Director David Greeff runs with a similar theme: “CMS WA thinks that getting children and youth involved in and excited about mission will make it far more likely that they will be engaged in mission as adults. Our branch is only small, but we still run a separate program for the kids at our annual SummerFocus. This is so that we can introduce them to mission in a way that is natural to their age. As they meet and interact with missionaries who are at the conference, their interest grows, and we trust God will be at work.”

South Australia & the Northern Territory

For CMS SANT, Summer Conference is a strategic opportunity to begin growing a future generation of workers for the Lord’s harvest. The goal of their children and youth program is to “encourage children and teens to be part of how God is working globally through the gospel”. CMS SANT Regional Director Katy Smith says, “This is the reason why it is critical to recruit kid’s team volunteers who have a passion to see little people be disciples of Jesus, and to have a heart to share Jesus with their neighbour”.

Tasmania

CMS Tasmania State Director Scott Sargent stresses the importance of having CMS missionaries meeting children, and interacting with them as much as possible on Home Assignment. In Tasmania, that includes visiting schools, and running special information nights at their May mission conference, which is for university and high school students. The message is simple: “God cares for all the nations and wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

Victoria

‘Summer under the Son Kids’ is the annual summer conference for CMS Victoria. In January this year the children learned from the Lord’s prayer about God’s kingdom, God’s justice, and God’s forgiveness. Rachel Eastwood, Youth and Children’s Coordinator for CMS Victoria says, “Mission is so much more than people going overseas to tell people about Jesus. Mission is the way we all, including children, live out our lives as Christians, seeking to reach people for Christ.”

Mission to children: the big picture

We live in a divided world, where it is easy to think of our own group first, and others last or not at all. But in God’s great plan, there are no first- or second- class citizens. All are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). That will mean ministering without discrimination in mission locations around the world, and as we do, never forgetting that God’s kingdom welcomes little children into the very heart of his plans. It means recognising too that right here in Australia, God has given CMS the task of reaching children with the message of forgiveness, so that in years to come they may take his glorious gospel to reach a world that desperately needs Jesus.

Go

Whether here or in another place, do you have the gospel commitment, passion, character and skills to bring the gospel to young ones? Speak to your CMS branch about how you can work with youth and children here and elsewhere.

 

DNS

Kate Morris was inspired to mission by her experience of CMS Summer conferences. Read about it here.

[1] In this Checkpoint we have narrowed our focus to consider those under the age of 18; we are not dealing here with university students or older single people who in particular cultures may still be living under the authority of their parents.

[2] For a good recent example of this focus, see Steve S. Chang’s article for The Gospel Coalition, “Don’t neglect the 4-14 Window of Children’s Ministry”

[3] For an example, see Mimy Gardner’s article, How I became a missionary, publishing online in March.