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Don's Testimony - Kids in Discipleship

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					                  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
                              according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory
                                                           in the church and in Christ Jesus...
                                                                           Ephesians 3:20-21


                  A Story of God’s Guiding Hand
My earliest memories are full of family: warm, happy memories of telling
stories around the dinner table, cutting firewood as a team, and worshipping
God together in our living room each night. Dad and mom made us feel
very loved and secure. My parents’ love attracted me to God’s love.

Called to be God’s Friend
Sometime in my single-digit years, I began to pursue God for myself. My
one-on-one time with God began as a responsibility, a duty that should be
faithfully carried out each day. Toward the end of grade school, I discovered
Jesus Christ as my Friend as well as the Savior I had asked into my heart earlier.
To know Jesus as my personal Friend was a huge breakthrough for me!
Time with Jesus began to change and reading Scripture began to really
speak to my heart…because now it was all about my new Friend.
During fifth grade, my teacher, Emma Wortham, inspired me to give my life
to serving others. As I watched her care about us as students—take us on
hikes down country roads, and challenge our thinking—she stirred up a
dream in me to teach and to make a difference in the lives of children for
Jesus.

Called to be a Spiritual Leader
The years swept by like clouds in a blue summer sky. I found myself in high
school. Jesus and I had been friends for years, but I had no idea how to
share Him with others. Many times, while looking out over the student
assemblies, God would impress my heart with a passion to stand up and be
a spiritual leader. I sensed that God was challenging me to boldly call people
to Him, but I had no clue how to go about it. I held the office of pastor in
almost every club and class without knowing how to use the gifts God had
been developing within me from childhood. I desperately needed someone
to coach me in using my gifts.

Called to Share Jesus with Children
During my college years I became increasingly involved with reaching children
for Christ. Camp counseling, leading a Branch Sabbath School for Native
American children and serving as a Task Force Youth Pastor filled my heart
with the challenge and absolute joy of leading kids to Christ. I was continually
amazed at how open children are to receiving the Gospel. Elder Jim
Thurmond and Elder Ron Whitehead were men who encouraged me in leadership
during this era. They gave me freedom to stretch, experiment and
grow.
I changed majors from elementary education to pursue pastoral ministry.
Wedding bells rang in 1988 when I married April, a schoolteacher with a love
for children.

After completing seminary, April and I began pastoring our first district of
three churches. Ministry to the children and youth of our district was always
a big part of our focus. The churches were small, the resources lean, but we
always found church members who would eagerly give their time and talents
to reaching the kids of their church. The eager willingness of these
small churches to sacrifice for their children is still a powerful memory.

Elder Roy and Venice Thurmond were Spirit-led mentors for April and me
during those three years. As a retired pastoring couple with decades of
experience, they could have brushed us aside for our inexperience. Instead
they wrapped their arms around us, prayed with us, brainstormed with us
and joined us in reaching for God’s dreams.

I felt the weight of responsibility of shepherding and leading three churches.
Our son Jason was born during these years. Three church families had a lot of
needs. I was on the road a lot. My precious family had a lot of needs too…but
I was a very busy, responsible pastor. There was little time to be a dad.

God’s Dreams for His Kids
God began to open up my mind to His dreams for His kids during our five
years of ministry in Holland, Michigan. The whole church dedicated a
Sabbath worship service once a quarter to reaching children for Christ.
Attendance was always high on those Sabbaths. The church family worked
together to make every facet of the worship service meaningful to the heart
of a child. Children began bringing their neighborhood friends with them on
these special days. The Holy Spirit began moving on our church family to
make the rest of our church services in between our Children’s Sabbaths
more kid friendly.

As our church family grew, so did the need for me to be a leader. The idea of
how to be a leader, share a clear vision and develop other leaders was all
foreign to me. Again, I needed mentoring. God brought two men from our
congregation, Dan Seymour and Leon Slikkers, to mentor me in leadership.
These visionary Christian businessmen invested their time in studying leadership
books with me, exploring how the principles applied to my ministry
and praying for God to bless and stretch me as a leader. Their tremendous
investment in me stirred a great desire within me to invest my life in developing
leaders…both young and old.

It was during these years that God gave me a breakthrough! As I concluded
a sermon I was preaching one day, I invited anyone who wanted to learn
how to lead someone to Christ and give them Bible studies to meet me after
church. I promised to mentor and coach anyone who felt God was calling
them to come forward.

Two eighth-grade girls stood shyly off to the side after this appeal. They
looked like they wanted to talk with me, but it appeared that each one
thought the other should go first! ―What’s up?‖ I asked them with a smile.
―Well,‖ they said, ―We felt like God was calling us during the sermon. We
want to learn how to lead our friends to Jesus!‖ I realized that these were the
ones the Holy Spirit was calling to be disciple-makers.

I trained them, let them watch me lead children to Christ and give Bible studies,
empowered them to lead the children’s Bible studies and then coached
them each weekend as they learned. Several weeks later, they came bounding
up to me with grins a mile wide. ―The kids we are studying with gave
their hearts to Jesus!‖ Several months later when the girls were finished
with the studies I baptized the kids these girls had led to the Lord. In front
of my congregation, I said, ―Today these children are not being baptized
because their pastor led them to Christ, or because of you adults. These
children are being baptized because the Holy Spirit raised up these two girls
to lead their young friends to the Savior.‖ What would happen, I wondered,
if we found a way to disciple all of our children to be disciple-makers?

Called to be a Dad
It was exciting to see God work in our Holland church! Our church family was
growing steadily. My own family was growing as well. Our daughter Julie was
born during these exciting years, but as the need came to build a new home
for our church family, I found I had little time for my own. Many weeks would
sweep by with me gone five or six nights a week.
One night stands out in my mind. I had been busy all day preparing sermons,
visiting, and empowering my church family in ministry. I had just finished
a quick supper and led my family in worship. Opening up the front
door, I picked up my briefcase to race off to another meeting. Something made me stop.
Maybe it was the sound of sniffles. Jason and Julie were
standing there in their pajamas…crying. ―Daddy, don’t go. You’re always
gone. Play with us.‖ I hugged them close and explained that this is what
daddy had to do. I had to pry their arms off my neck as I raced out the door.
God was blessing my ministry, but something didn’t feel right at all.
The image of my kids crying at the door stayed with me and troubled me.
What if I won the children of my church yet lost my own? In my last year at
Holland, God began to slowly help me begin the journey of becoming a dad,
not just a father.
I accepted an invitation to be the Gulf States Conference Youth Director. My
focus would be leading the children and youth of the conference to Christ
and involving them in service and outreach. I was leading youth events
three out of every four weekends. April and I wanted to be apart as little as
possible, so we intentionally took our whole family with us on most of our
travels. I wanted to seize the moments I had to be with my children. The
sheer complexity of my schedule forced me to begin a practice that I wish I
had started years before. I began to create dates with each of our children.
My heart began to be really drawn to them and their hearts to mine.

Youth-led Evangelism
As I traveled across Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, I found
kids and teens that were eager to serve and put their hands and feet to work
for God. I was energized to see how the Holy Spirit was moving men,
women, youth and children to passionately be a part of God’s last day mission
to the world.
A never-to-be-forgotten moment for me was watching 200 teens come
together from our conference and the Michigan conference for youth-led
evangelism in Panama City, Florida during spring break. In the mornings the
teens spent one-on-one time with Jesus through the Word and prayer. They
formed prayer partners and boldly asked for the Holy Spirit to empower
them as witnesses for Jesus. The teens preached their hearts out about
Jesus, prayed and sang with people in the streets, served the poor and did
yard work for the elderly in need.

Something Missing
There was no doubt in my mind that God had blessed that event, that the
teens had grown in their faith and that they had been a witness. I began to
think that what kids needed was more of these experiences. But something
was missing. When I would see these kids they would tell me how much
they enjoyed the BIG events, but they were often frustrated with how to use
their gifts in their home church.

Teens would tell me of their struggle to have their own daily time with Jesus
in the Word and through prayer. One girl came up to me whom I recognized
as an active member of her church youth group. She came from a good
home. She shared: ―I told my pastor I wanted to be baptized. He asked me
a few questions about my faith and said I would be baptized the next weekend.
I was excited! I just knew that when I came out of the water I would
have a real relationship with God. I just knew that my church would give me
a special place to use my talents and to serve. Well…I was baptized. That
was two years ago, and I am still waiting for all those things I thought would
happen.‖ She paused, looked me in the eyes, and said, ―You know, I don’t
think I even really know what I believe!‖
I asked God for answers to why we were losing so many of our kids. I had
listened to hundreds of parents over the years share their frustration and
anguish over having their children walk away from God. Many times their
painful stories were the same: ―We sent our kids to good Christian schools.
We took them to church each Sabbath. They were involved with all the youth
activities but now they have left the church. Where did we go wrong?‖ I wondered
too.

The Vision
In the Fall of 2001 I earnestly asked God for a vision of what to do to draw
the hearts of our kids to Christ, to secure them in their faith and to empower
them for a lifetime of service. I studied and restudied Joel 2. ―Lord,‖ I
prayed, ―you said that ALL will be filled with Your Spirit. You said that the
young will dream dreams and the old will have visions. You pictured a time
when the generations would work side by side to share You across the land.
How can we experience this for our children?‖
I asked my wife, family members and a number of friends to pray with me
for direction from the Lord. Finally, the breakthrough came! WE LACK A SIMPLE
PROCESS TO DISCIPLE CHILDREN TO JESUS CHRIST! This revelation hit
me like a ton of bricks. I realized that children can faithfully attend our
church schools, Sabbath Schools and other children’s ministries and yet
grow up without being intentionally discipled to Jesus.
The vision God gave me began to take shape; it was so simple, I was almost
embarrassed. The vision was clear and compelling, but utterly impossible
without God’s direct intervention. God’s Vision: A global movement to DISCIPLE
His children. Through prayer and studying God’s Word, a discipleship
journey for children began to come together.
After further study of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, I was inspired with God’s model
for discipling children. I came under conviction that God calls parents to be
the primary spiritual mentors of their children. The present model of ministry
to children lacks two vital elements. First, parents must be trained and equipped to be
primary spiritual mentors to their children in the home.
Second, children must be empowered disciples in using their gifts in worship,
ministry and mission NOW.
For several years I had felt impressed that one day I was to create a churchbased
center for training children. Now it became obvious that the discipling
of children needed to happen through the parents with the full, active support
of their home church. Then the vision came together. Create a churchbased
training center to equip leaders to lead the parents in their church to
disciple their children.
I shared the vision with my sister Lauree and her husband Mark, my brother
Bob and his wife, my parents and some of my closest friends. This special
circle became prayer partners, encouragers and candles in the midst of the
foggy unknown future.
God called me to find a church somewhere where I could model a discipleship
process for children and then train other churches to do the same. It
would have to be a place that had a passion to see children discipled to
Jesus Christ. It would have to be a place that had the heart to partner with
churches around the world.
As I prayerfully shared the vision God had given me, I was absolutely
amazed that time and time again leaders I had grown to respect and trust
would affirm the great need and repeatedly encourage me to move forward.
One such example was a call I received from Noelene Johnsson, the
Children’s Ministry Director for the North American Division. With excitement
she shared her support and said, ―I have been praying for a discipleship
movement for children that would stretch from coast to coast!‖

God Still Calls
My wife April and I asked God to send us to a place He deemed most strategic
to develop and launch this discipleship initiative we now called Kids In
Discipleship (K.I.D.). ―Where would God send us?‖ we wondered. We were
willing to go absolutely anywhere God would open the door.
On a clear, cool night I took our son Jason, and then our daughter Julie out
on a piggyback ride under the stars. ―Look up and see the stars.‖ I told my
children. ―A long time ago God told Abraham to leave his home and go wherever
God would lead him. God is calling mommy and daddy to go and lead
a ministry to disciple kids to Jesus. We don’t know where we are going, but
we know God is with us. Would you like to go wherever God will lead us
next?‖ My kids hugged me tight as they looked up into the stars. ―We want
to go wherever Jesus wants us to go Daddy!‖ They exclaimed. It was a
solemn, holy moment.

From that time forward God’s leading quickly became more evident. A series
of divine appointments ultimately led to an invitation to present the discipleship
vision to conference presidents of the Southern Union. The
Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Collegedale, Tennessee
expressed interest in the mentoring and discipling of children and began to
explore ways to make it happen.
I resigned my position as Gulf States Conference Youth Director. We were
given a touching farewell party that ended with a circle of prayer surrounding
our family. The office staff prayed for God’s mighty providence as we pursued
the K.I.D. vision. My bridges were now truly burned behind me. We had
three weeks of paid vacation but still no promise of a salary at Collegedale!
I remember looking into the tiny face of our newborn baby Jessica and wondering
―What does God have in mind for this little girl? What kind of adventure
is she about to go on with our family?‖ I was determined to waste no
time in connecting with Jessica. Wherever we were going, I was committed
to being an active dad! In the midst of many uncertainties we were confident
in God’s leading and boldly stepped out in faith knowing that since this was
His vision He would provide!

God Provides
Through a series of absolute miracles the Collegedale Seventh-day
Adventist Church in Tennessee, the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, the
Southern Union, and the North American Division came on board as sponsors,
and The Kids in Discipleship Center was established at the Collegedale
church in March 2002. Here Kids in Discipleship was launched and piloted.
We came to Collegedale with a clear vision, God’s promises, enthusiasm and
lots of questions. ―Would our new church family share our passion to disciple
children?‖ we wondered. ―Who would God bring to build the team that
would pioneer the Kids in Discipleship ministry?‖ ―Where would the money
come from to support this ministry as it spread to other churches?‖ God had
answers!
The Collegedale church family has rallied around K.I.D. in numerous ways.
The Collegedale pastoral staff has been and continues to be a great source
of encouragement and counsel. Men and women from the congregation and
community volunteer in leading Footprints in the Sand and Footprints for
Kids (small group multi-generational Bible studies for parents/mentors and
kids), serving as Classroom Chaplains at A. W. Spalding Elementary School,
leading family service projects, creating delicious meals for guest teams
who come for training at K.I.D. University, and coaching these teams
through their first year.

The Priority of Prayer
Noelene Johnsson wisely encouraged me to take the ―High Impact Volunteer
Management‖ course from Al Newall in Colorado Springs. I left that threeday
intensive training event with three convictions. First, the K.I.D. ministry
must be volunteer-led. Second, the volunteers that God brought us must be
discipled and developed as leaders. Third, and most important, we needed
to find a prayer team that would continually intercede for God’s blessings
and breakthroughs for the K.I.D. ministry.
I began asking God to raise up someone who had a passion to call people
to pray for our new ministry. A few days later Kathy Hammond, a church
member, asked me, ―Would you like me to organize a prayer team for you
and this ministry? God has placed this on my heart.‖ Within a few days she
coordinated a system for sharing weekly praise and prayer requests that
went out to a team of people committed to praying for K.I.D.
Ed Wright, senior pastor of the Collegedale church at the time, preached a
stirring series on the need to fully disciple children. He challenged the parents
to take their God-ordained role in becoming their child’s spiritual mentor.
In the spring of 2002 God raised up eight couples with a heart to grow
as disciples and disciple-makers for their children. These couples enthusiastically
invested themselves to pilot a series of twelve lessons to equip
parents/mentors to be disciples and disciple-makers of their children.
Months later, I was reviewing what God had done in the lives of the families
involved with the Footprints journey with Jesus. I was amazed that God was
providing so many open doors, willing volunteers and, most of all, willing
hearts open to be discipled to Christ. Out of curiosity I called Kathy and
asked her how many people were praying for God to work in our ministry.
When she told me, I realized that the number had more than doubled! I saw
the direct connection between God’s people uniting to ask great things of
God – and God doing great things for His people!
A Ministry Gathers Momentum
The Footprints curriculum was developed, prayed over and crafted with a
small team of volunteer writers eager to see God begin a movement for His
children. God raised up scores of volunteers who devoted their time and talents
to help this ministry become an effective tool for the Lord.
The miracle is not in the lessons themselves, but in the lives of the parents,
mentors and children who open their hearts for a new experience with God.
I watched as dads and moms started to rethink their priorities, get real with
their Creator and reinvest in their kids. I listened as parents shared their
struggles and triumphs as they grew in leading their kids to worship in their
own homes.
The K.I.D. ministry now consisted of a series of four sermons that the church
pastor shares with the congregation; Footprints in the Sand—a twelve-week
small group Bible study for parents and mentors; Footprints for Kids—a 31-
week multi-generational small group Bible study for parents/mentors and
their children. In addition, K.I.D. University was developed to equip volunteer
leaders to direct K.I.D. in their church. Using these resources and
processes, the following four churches became the first to serve as beta
sites for K.I.D beginning in July of 2003: Andrews, North Carolina; Murphy,
North Carolina; the Highland Church in Portland, Tennessee; and Apopka,
Florida.
Between July 2003 and October 2004 other churches were trained as beta
sites and leaders from these sites have become K.I.D. coaches to additional
churches who are launching this ministry. This period of piloting and testing
has given invaluable insight into the development of this ministry.
In the summer and fall of 2004 calls have been coming in from across the
United States requesting training. Every week we ask God to enlarge our territory
for His kingdom. Every week God raises up new opportunities as well
as the means to supply them.

Transformed Lives
For close to three years we listened to scores of stories from moms, dads,
grandparents and teens that have gone on the Footprints journey together.
We have witnessed the Holy Spirit drawing families closer to each other as
they reach for Jesus together. We have seen children and their parents come
alive with the realization that Jesus has trusted them with their own call to
service of sharing Him down their street, in their homes and at the office.
Transformed lives inspire our hearts!
Taking other families on this greatest of life adventures has impacted our
whole family! April and I, along with our three children are on our own daily
discovery with Jesus. We wrestle, like most everyone else, with how to say
―no‖ to life’s busyness so we can invest the time it takes to stay close to our
kids. We are ever learning how to align our family’s blend of talents and gifts
for God through worship, ministry and mission. Often our efforts fall short,
but God is merciful, and full of grace.
God has been opening the door of my heart to our children. My heart has
been drawn to theirs, and theirs to mine. For a dad who used to be ―too
busy‖ this has been an awakening. I know April and I have only a window in
time to disciple our precious children for the Savior and so do you. Seize
this day!

A Personal Invitation
This leaders’ handbook is your invitation to come along on a journey with
Jesus. Your Savior, Jesus Christ, is fiercely jealous to have a relationship with
you, the children in your church, and your entire church family. This leaders’
handbook provides you with a step-by-step process to equip your church
family for the Kids In Discipleship ministry.
We are living in difficult times. Families are under attack. Satan has a plan
to steal the hearts of our children. It is time to intentionally disciple them to
stand tall for Jesus in this final era of earth’s history.
May the Lord richly bless you and your church as you disciple your children.
May the Spirit of God give you holy boldness to sacrifice, to speak up, to
stand up and be counted as one who will help a child experience God’s
dreams.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I
give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on
your children” Deuteronomy 6:5-7

				
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