July 11

Great Commission – Make Disciples of Children (Going)

Daniel Watts

One of my favorite summers of children’s ministry was when our church did not have a building.

The church had grown from a small Bible study meeting at a middle school to a church of several thousand with three services packed into a high school gym.

The church had purchased land but the building projects would not be done for months. The leadership of the children’s ministry decided to take the Great Commission imperative to “go” literally.

We identified five neighborhoods and decided to host VBS programs in those neighborhoods. One was at a clubhouse, another in the “green belt” but all of them were out among the children. We had to haul supplies, and recruit and train leaders for each separate VBS but the impact was awesome.

A large percentage of the children had never set foot in our church and we connected with hundreds of new children. Many of them accepted Christ as their LORD and Savior and ended up bringing their parents to our church.

It was a great example of “going” out from the confines of your property, and church community and engaging children right where they were. Unfortunately, the next year we had a building and fell in love with hosting the VBS on the campus.

Last week we made the grammatical argument that the only imperative in the Great Commission is to “make disciples”. This week we will examine “going” as the first participle describing how disciples are to be made.

To Make Disciples of Children, We Must Go To Them

Great commission - go to children


The first participle that describes making disciples is poreuqe,ntej. (In the original Greek, this participle precedes the imperative, thereby giving it some priority over baptizing and teaching.) 

The most literal way to translate poreuqe,ntej would be “in your going.” But nobody talks or writes like that in English! 

It reminds me of the time my three-year-old daughter ran into our house in Poland, and in English blurted out, “Dog me bit!” In Polish, as in many languages, word order doesn’t matter. You can say, “Dog bit me” or “Dog me bit.”

Unfortunately, when she said, “Dog me bit,” we weren’t sure based on the grammar what had happened: did the dog bite Brittany, or did Brittany bite the dog? The fact that she was crying provided the needed context clue. But I digress.

So, if we are to make disciples of children, we have to go to them. This means leaving where we are and moving to where they are.

After all, children can’t have a discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ—they can’t know Him, follow Him, enjoy fellowship with Him, talk with Him throughout the day, or learn the practices of a disciple—if they don’t know about Him. 

We have to go and tell them. We have to move among them and help them experience the love of Christ through us. We have to share the message of salvation in Christ.

When we are with the children, we can invite them to accept Jesus Lord and Savior and to begin to experience a new life as a member of His family. We can’t expect children to come to us.

Church events and programs are wonderful. Good News Clubs are great. Awana meetings are fantastic. And may each of these opportunities to teach children fuel our desire to be out among the boys and girls inviting them to meet Jesus and learn about Him. 

Next, the object of the participle “in your going” is “all the nations.” In other words, the grammar communicates that the going is to “all the nations.”

Matthew used this same Greek word for nations three other times in his gospel:

  1. In Matthew 6:7 and 6:32, “all the nations” is translated heathens, pagans, or Gentiles.
  2. In Matthew 12:21, Matthew cited the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4 to emphasize the prophetic importance of Jesus’ disciples not yet making Him known (Matthew 12:16). In this sense, the term “all the nations”—translated here as Gentiles—likely refers to the gathering of kings and political entities that represent the peoples of the earth who will ultimately come under the Messiah’s reign.
  3. In Matthew 25:32, “all the nations” is used in the great drama of God’s judgment, that day when Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. The phrase clarifies who will face judgment before the Son of Man. All nations, peoples, and kings—from all nations—will come under the judgment and rule of the Messiah, Son of Man.

For the disciples—who were Jews, God’s chosen people—this idea of their faith expanding to all nations was big news. Jesus was sending them to Gentiles, heathens, and pagans: to people from every nation and people group, people who weren’t in any kind of relationship with God, people who had adopted other false religions, and people who believed in nothing at all.

Today we don’t use the words heathen, pagan, or Gentile very often. A more modern rendering of this aspect of Jesus’ command would be “Go to people who aren’t your peeps.”

In other words, we are to go to boys and girls being raised in non-Christian homes and therefore have no idea that God loves them or who Jesus is. 

We are to go to children who have been convinced by the world around them that more toys will make them happier. We are to go to children living in refugee camps who have no home, and we go into places wracked by violence where children go to sleep at night to the sound of small-arms fire.

Our going is to boys and girls in wealthy communities who have never had a parent say to them, “I love you.” Our going is to children who have never read the Bible and have never been inside a church. Our going is to all boys and girls in every corner of the world—poor or wealthy, happy or sad, educated or not.

Jesus Christ desires every child to have the opportunity to know His love and forgiveness, to experience His guidance and direction, to discover His purpose and plan for them, and to live as part of His family.

On the mountaintop before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples the full scope of the ministry task: to bring all the world under His reign.

The first participle of the commission is about going: the gospel truth about Jesus must reach children everywhere, even to the ends of the earth. And by God’s grace, children in every people group on Earth will become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Too often, however, when I teach that we go to make disciples rather than just recruit new believers, people hear me saying that I don’t care about lost people. Nothing could be further from the truth!

But—again—the Great Commission says nothing about making converts. The Great Commission is Jesus’ command to “make disciples.” Salvation is the first step of discipleship; the choice to ignore discipleship is not based in God’s Word.

Closing Thoughts

Great commission children's ministry

Several years ago, a small team from California arrived in Poland. After their training, they headed out to our neighbor to the east, a country still wracked by political turmoil today.

The team served at a church camp that hosted children in the church family as well as children from the local community. In addition, church members sponsored some of the children living in a nearby orphanage. The camp was a huge success. God worked in amazing ways in the lives of the children, the local leadership, and our team.

During the last evening of camp, the team helped build a bonfire for an outdoor worship service. A crucial element of the bonfire time was the local pastor presenting the message of salvation to children, giving them an opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, join the family of God, and commit to following Him as His disciple.

The pastor rose, and our team was so blessed to hear—through the translator—a beautiful age-appropriate message for children. At the end, the pastor presented the message of salvation and invited children who wished to respond to come forward. About fifteen children did.

At that point, the pastor described the situation in the country. Following Jesus Christ, he explained, could mean persecution, trouble in school, and problems with family members and the authorities.

Our team was shocked. They couldn’t believe a pastor would say such things to children who wanted to become Christians. That’s how he was closing his gospel presentation and his invitation to the children to put their faith in Jesus?

Then our team heard the pastor ask the group of about fifteen if they were sure they wanted to repent and follow Jesus Christ. Yes, he used the word repent. (Interestingly, in eastern Europe people are said to repent; terms like born-again, confess Christ, and got saved are less common.) 

Our team thought that the entire group would dash back to their seats without making any commitment to Jesus. Instead, to the team’s shock and delight, another twenty or so children stood up and walked forward to join the others.

That evening more than thirty-five children prayed, received the forgiveness of sins, and committed themselves to following Jesus Christ.

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