Following Christ vs Being a Christian. Words matter!
Have you ever struggled to get your kids to help you clean the house? (Answer: Is the Pope Catholic?) Well, there was a study that you might find "helpful." In 2014, the University of CA, San Diego, the University of Washington, and Stanford University conducted two experiments with about 150 kids between the ages of 3 and 6. In both experiments, an adult talked to the kids about helping before they were allowed to play. In one of the experiments, helping was referred to in the verb form (as in, help me.) In the other experiment, helping was referred to in the noun form (as in, be my helper.) After the talk, the kids began playing. At various points while playing, they were presented with four opportunities to stop and help the adult. Guess what happened! The kids who were talked to about being helpers (the noun form) were significantly more likely to help than the kids who were talked to about helping (the verb form.) In fact, the kids who were talked to about helping didn't help any more than kids who received no talk whatsoever. What they found, in short, is that asking a kid to be a helper is far more effective than asking a kid to help. Or, as I like to put it, "be-ers" do while "do-ers" don't. But why? It's because motivation is driven by identity. Kids are more likely to do something when it's a part of who they are. So why is this important to a KidMin leader? Is this just a way to get kids to help clean up the room? (Umm...well...it could be used for that.) But no! It's much bigger than that! Understanding this principle is the key to discipling kids (or anyone for that matter.) Discipleship is about helping kids develop their identity in Christ, it's not about behavior modification. In other words, it's about who they are, not what they do.
"Discipleship is about helping kids develop their identity in Christ. It's about who they are, not what they do."
So ask yourself this: Do you tell your kids to follow Jesus or do you tell them to be Followers of Jesus? Do you tell your kids to obey Christ or do you tell them to be a Christian? One is about behavior, the other is about identity. Instead of telling kids to behave like Christians, tell them what it means to BE a Christian. If kids understand that being a Follower of Jesus means living His way, then they are more likely to live that way than if they're simply told to be good. If the identity (noun) comes first, the behavior (verb) is much more likely to follow. When I was writing the GO! curriculum, this was one of my guiding principles. Words matter! They have the power to shape a kid's life. More than that, they have the power to shape a kids eternity!
As KidMin leaders, let's devote ourselves to creating nouns (Followers of Jesus) first! If we do that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the verbs will certainly follow!