Each week in our children’s ministry, we gather our elementary-age kids for a time of worship. It includes praise songs, hand motions, call-and-response Bible and catechism memory, creative Bible teaching, and a time of prayer. We enjoy each of these assembly gatherings. We cherish the opportunity to sing and teach the good news to kids every week.
But a few of the assemblies stand out in our memories. Last October, for instance, we gathered the kids to pray for two of their peers who, along with their parents, would soon be moving to the mission field. The future missionary kids—a sister and her brother—stood at the front of the gathering. Then their friends and teachers extended their hands to bless them with prayers. We prayed for safe travels, that they’d make new friends quickly, and that they’d talk about Jesus with boldness. These are powerful moments.
One of the reasons we cherish these “missionary kid commissionings” is because, over the years, our local church has adopted simple programming structures. We have Sunday services and small groups for community and discipleship, but we don’t have Sunday school classes or a midweek missions education club. There are advantages to this. Our families have more of an opportunity to be on mission in their communities. But there are disadvantages too.
The “simple church” model requires us to think more intentionally about how we will pass on God’s mission to the next generation. Of course, our regular curriculum covers the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17–20) and the expansion of the church in Acts. We understand that teaching the Bible means teaching about missions. But without a missions education program, it’s easy for churches to leave out what God is doing around the world right now. Even in churches that have more traditional midweek missions education classes for kids, I (Jared) wonder how often Christian families talk together about God’s mission outside of the church.
It’s a glad and beautiful thing when the good news arrives in a new place (Ps. 67:4; Isa. 52:7). We don’t want the next generation to miss out on that joy! So, how do we make teaching kids about missions more of a priority in our churches and our homes? Here are five practical suggestions.
1. Start with Yourself
How often do you think about missions? Kids imitate what we model. We’ll only cultivate a passion for missions in kids if we’re passionate about missions ourselves.
What is your church already doing to support international missions? Have you considered how can you be a part of that? If your church has missionary prayer cards available in the lobby or the back of the sanctuary, pick one up this Sunday. Then pray for that international worker during your own devotions this week. While you’re at it, sign up for a missionary’s prayer letter and consider giving directly to the missionary.
Before long, you may find your own passion for missions overflowing to the kids around you.
2. Start Small
When you turn toward teaching kids about missions, leverage what is in front of you. One of my (Allison’s) favorite games to play with young kids is “airplane.” We choose a destination and off we go on our imaginary flight! Imaginary play is a great opportunity to talk about other areas of the world.
“We’ll only cultivate a passion for missions in kids if we’re passionate about missions ourselves.”
Also, be intentional about exposing your kids to ethnic and cultural diversity. Set up a play date with kids of different ethnicities and races than those of your own. This may be as simple as taking your kids to a playground in a more diverse area of your city.
You should also read books to your children that show other cultures. And, if your children are older, encourage them to read books from diverse authors or books set in other cultures.
In my (Allison’s) home, I like to keep my prayer cards in a place where I see them every day. I have an old window that I turned into a frame and strung rows of twine across. I clip my prayer cards to the twine, and I have this hanging near my dining table. If your family eats meals together, consider using this time to pray for one of your church’s missionary families.
There are a number of helpful prayer guides available that you can use for family prayer. The International Mission Board has an online prayer guide that is updated daily. We’re also fond of Operation Mobilization’s Window on the World, a missionary prayer guide that’s designed for use with children both at home and in children’s ministry or Sunday school classes.
4. Do Something Creative
Work with your kids to put together a care package for a missionary family that your church supports. If that family has kids, let your children pick out gifts for them and write notes. It can be helpful to find a family that has kids near the same age as your own.
“One of the best ways to teach your kids about missions is to take them with you as you go.”
A friend of ours takes this kind of creativity to the next level. Each year, she has her kids choose a country to research. Then, they not only pray and send a care package, but they also make a family meal based on traditional cuisine in the country her kids chose.
5. Bring Them Along
If your church or another church nearby sponsors annual short-term trips, talk with the leaders about which trips may be appropriate for your children; then, consider taking your kids with you somewhere to serve others this year in place of your normal family vacation. One of the best ways to teach your kids about missions is to take them with you as you go.
Allison Rushing serves as Director of Kids at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky, and served as a journeyman through the IMB in South Asia for two years. She has a master of divinity in missions from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Jared Kennedy serves as Pastor of Operations and Families at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky, as Children’s and Family Ministry Strategist for the Sojourn Network, and as an adjunct instructor at Boyce College. He wrote The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible and co-authored the PROOF Pirates and Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet Vacation Bible School curriculums. Jared contributes to The Gospel Coalition, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and He Reads Truth. You can follow him on Twitter.