Children and the Missionary Cause

Three weeks ago we held our Missions Festival at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church, and one of the highlights of the week was our Friday evening Missions Showcase. It was an exhibit hall of sorts – over 30 missionaries and ministries were set up in our gym so that our congregation could visit with them and learn about what God is doing through them in the world.

But the highlight of the evening was what the children did. First, we gave them a “passport” – a pamphlet that beautifully showed all the ministries/missionaries we support around the globe – and told them to go from table to table, getting their passport “stamped” by those present and asking how they might be praying for the work these brothers and sisters were doing. Second, for one hour we rotated our children through four “missions stations.” Divided by age, the children moved from a prayer station (at which youth helped lead them in prayer for our missionaries), a letter station (at which youth helped them write and draw letters encouraging our missionaries), a story station (at which we told them the story of Jim Elliott and encouraged them to do what they could for the sake of the gospel), and a game station (at which we did a Bible sword drill of missionary passages and had them try to fill up a continental map of the world, in order to learn both the Biblical foundation and the geography of missions). I was so encouraged by the excitement with which the children left the Missions Showcase, and pray that parents are continuing to cultivate the seeds that were planted.

It is easy to neglect children as we think about the missionary efforts of the church. We assume they’re too young to go, they don’t have enough money to give, and they don’t really know how to pray. Thomas Smyth, a 19th century Presbyterian pastor in Charleston, South Carolina, would beg to differ. In 1843 he wrote “The Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause,” in which he takes to task the mindset that would overlook the children of the church when the topic of missions arises, or neglect to raise them with the heart, passion, and habits of a missionary.

Smyth’s opening premise is Christian parenting 101: Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 22:6 teach us “that our children by their baptism are devoted to the Lord, and become members of his church and kingdom, and that we are under obligation to bring them up as such, not merely by instructing them, and thoroughly imbuing their minds with christian truth, but also by accustoming them to, and interesting them in, every part of christian activity, devotedness, and zeal.” Our children are to be brought up as the Lord’s – “not only as those who ought to believe in him, and to know the doctrines that are of God, but as those who are bound also to love him, to serve him, to honor him, and to cooperate, according to the measure of their ability and their sphere of influence, in the promotion of his glory, and the advancement of his cause.”

This has everything to do with missions, of course:

As the term “Missionary” is employed to designate the work of making known “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” to those that know it not – which is the great work and duty of the church, and of every christian – it is therefore our manifest duty to bring up our children in a missionary spirit and in a missionary practice. A missionary is one who is sent to preach the gospel to those that are “sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,” whether abroad, or in our own country. To have a missionary spirit, is to be anxiously desirous that such missionaries should be sent, and the gospel made known to all that are “perishing for lack of knowledge.” And a missionary practice or habit, is the habit of carrying out this desire, first, by praying that such missionaries may be raised up and sent forth by the Lord of the harvest, into every part of his vineyard; secondly, by contributing as far as we can towards meeting the necessary expense of sending and supporting these missionaries, and supplying what is necessary to establish schools and print Bibles, and other needful books; and, thirdly, by uniting with zeal in such efforts as will promote this spirit, and secure this habit.

Smyth insists that children are able to possess this spirit and these habits, and that they ought to have this spirit and these habits. They ought to do all they can do for those who are lost. And if they are not, writes Smyth, then

…what are children doing? Their hearts are hardening and becoming utterly insensible, through selfishness, worldliness, and indifference, to the miseries, especially the spiritual miseries, of their fellow men. They are daily becoming more averse to holiness, and more inclined to sin. They are becoming confirmed in the opinion that it is right for them to live for themselves, unto themselves, and in the gratification of their own desires. They are led to believe, and to act upon that belief, that this world is all-important, and the future world of comparatively little interest; and that there is no danger to be dreaded from what a man believes, and not much from what a man does. But is this the instruction or discipline of Christ? Is such a child brought up for God? No, he is given over to the world, the flesh and the Devil as their lawful prey. He is allowed to grow up as an unbeliever, and to live as a young atheist in the world.

We must teach our children not only what to believe, but how to live – and one of the primary things we must teach them is how to give their money away. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and in doing good our children will certainly receive good. Smyth says, “The child who keeps his hand and his heart employed in what is good, who is learning what needs to be done for the heathen at home and abroad, and is giving his money or his prayers that they may be brought to Christ, is preventing much evil to himself. He is destroying the evil of selfishness in his own heart, or, rather, God is destroying it, by working in him the desire of doing good to others…’He that waters shall be watered also himself’ [Prov. 11:25].”

How are you encouraging and instructing your children in the missionary cause? Here are some practical things you can be doing:

  • Pray for a missionary you/your church supports at every meal.
  • Pray through the book Operation World at family worship.
  • Write letters/emails/pictures to the missionaries you support – if you don’t know their address, scan and email the letters/pictures.
  • If you give your children an allowance, encourage them to give a portion of that to missions.
  • Encourage your children to make money around their neighborhood for the cause of Christ around the world (raking leaves, mowing lawns, baking cookies, etc.)
  • Take your children with you on a mission trip out of the state or country.
  • Take your children with you to feed the homeless downtown.
  • Take your children to one of the ministries your church supports.
  • Talk with your children about whether God is calling them to the mission field.
  • Encourage your children to speak to their neighbors about Jesus.
  • Read missionary stories and watch missionary videos.
  • Have missionaries into your home for dinner.
  • Have international students into your home for dinner.
  • And many, many more (I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!).

Our covenant children are not too young to speak the name of Jesus to those around them, to pray for the kingdom of God to come, to give to its advance and spread. Being now to inculcate a missionary spirit and missionary habits into their hearts, and by God’s grace when they are old that spirit and those habits will remain within them.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Cheryl on February 11, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Caleb, I send a wholehearted Amen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Cheryl reese


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