Uniting the generations in worship, discipleship, fellowship and witness.

Don's Story

 

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 worshiping 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 church-based 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 church-based 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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