Danny Akin delivered a message for The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Pre-Conference titled “Little Global Hearts: How to Give Kids a Vision for the World.” Akin began with the eye-opening truth that, in 2019, still half of the world’s population was unreached with the gospel. Reaching them with the Good News will require believers who are raised up to be passionate about the Great Commission.
Akin addressed a common question for many Christian parents, “How do we embed Great Commission DNA into our children?” by laying out 10 practical principles for instilling into them a lifelong passion for Christ and the lost.
Topic Page: Parenting
The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the audio or video before quoting.
Danny Akin: “Little Global Hearts.” How to give our children a vision for the world, building Great Commission families. Two texts that are going to drive my study this morning, the first I will read now, and the other in the body of the message.
First is the Great Commission passage found in Matthew 28, where Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations [all the ethnes], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20).
Those of you that have studied that text, know that there’s only a single imperative, “make disciples,” but orbiting about that imperative are three important words, “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.” And because of their close proximity to that imperative, I believe they rightly have an imperatival force: we are to go, we are to baptize, and we are to teach.
Last words are meant to be lasting words. Last words convey what a person thinks is important. And of all the things that Jesus could have talked about, before he ascended back into heaven, he talked about the Great Commission, getting the gospel to every ethne, teaching them “to obey all that he has commanded.” In the process he promised us that we would have his presence until “the very end of the age.”
Those who are committed to the Great Commission, rightly focus on what we call the outer edges of lostness, what missiologists call the underserved, the unreached, and the unengaged people groups of the world. Today, if you consult either the Joshua Project, for example, on one hand, or the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention on the other, you will discover the following:
- There are approximately 7.59 billion people on planet Earth today,
- Among whom are 17,043 distinct people groups,
- Of which, 7,078 are still unreached.
- These unreached people groups add up to somewhere, depending on how you count the numbers, between 3.1 and 3.5 billion people.
- In 1900, half of the world’s population would fall into the category of unreached.
- In 2019, half of the world’s population is still unreached. With all of our money, with all of our technology, with access, and still half of the world’s population falls into the category of “unreached.”
It’s hard to believe that you and I still live in a world where you and I could go into certain countries, be dropped by parachute or helicopter, hit the ground, start walking, and we would walk days, weeks, even months, we would never encounter a church; we would never even meet a Christian. That’s why I believe it is right, in fact it is imperative, for us to give focus to the underserved, the unreached, and the unengaged peoples of the world. Obedience to Christ demands it, and our love for neighbor demands it as well.
It is right, in fact it is imperative, for us to give focus to the underserved, the unreached, and the unengaged peoples of the world. Obedience to Christ demands it, and our love for neighbor demands it as well.
However, and I believe this is very crucial, I think obeying the Great Commission should begin in the home, though it certainly should not end there. Parents and grandparents, by what they teach and how they live, should model for their children a passionate obedience to the Great Commission. And, arguing that obedience to the Great Commission should begin in the home, is strategic. After all, both good theology and good missiology are more caught than they are taught, though both are involved. So there’s a vital role that moms and dads and grandparents play in conveying and modeling for their children who, by God’s grace and for his glory, will follow in their footsteps.
Obeying the Great Commission should begin in the home, though it certainly should not end there.
I cannot emphasize this too strongly. Most children, in spite of what the secularists will tell us, do look up to, admire, and follow in their parents’ footsteps. What you love they will love; what you value they will value; what you have a passion for, they will have a passion for. After all, survey after survey after survey revealswhen asked, “Who is your hero?” children and teenagers alike say, “My heroes are my mom and my dad.”
What you love they will love; what you value they will value; what you have a passion for, they will have a passion for.
So, here’s my question for this morning, “What do we do to embed a Great Commission DNA into our children, so that they will have a lifetime passion for that which is the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ?” I’m going to be very, very practical in the remainder of my time, and I’m going to put out 10 very simple principles that I would commend to you for your consideration.
What do we do to embed a Great Commission DNA into our children, so that they will have a lifetime passion for that which is the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ?
1. Be Incarnational in Our Parenting
Number one, we should be incarnational in our parenting. We should be incarnational in our parenting. Missionary David Livingstone said, and I quote, “This generation can only reach this generation. But will we raise our children to effectively impact their generation for Jesus Christ?”
Robert Coleman, who for many years taught at Trinity said, “The ultimate goal of Jesus for his disciples was that his life be produced in them, and through them into the lives of others.” We know that the incarnation is a manifestation of God’s love for us. In fact, I taught my children, how do we know that God loves us? Well, one of the ways we know that God loves us is He entered into our world, he got down on our level and came into our world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Our incarnational love for our children models God’s incarnational love for us. So, parents should step back on a regular basis and ask this simple question, “How are my children looking at life right now? Given their age, their sex, their personality, their interests, their friends, how do my children look at life?” We love them well by getting down on their level and entering into their world. Folks, never forget that long-distance parenting is a pipe dream, it is not true, and it does not work.
2. Love Your Mate Well
Number two, you can instill in your children a Great Commission passion by the way you love your mate. In a letter to his wife, Ann, missionary Adoniram Judson wrote, and I quote, “If such exquisite delights as we have enjoyed . . . with one another, are allowed to sinful creatures on earth, what must the joys of heaven be?”
Great partners almost always make great parents.
Great partners almost always make great parents. Why? Because the number one need in the life of a child related to love is security. Nothing brings security in the life of a child like knowing and seeing it before their very eyes. My dad loves my mom, my mom loves my dad, and they’re always going to be here for me. Children, I believe, should learn about God’s love for the nations by the way they see their parents loving one another. Never forget that the Bible utilizes very powerfully the imagery of the bride and the bridegroom.
3. Spend Time with Your Children
Number three, you need to spend time with your children. In addressing the importance of childhood and parenting, the missionary Hudson Taylor said, “At no [other] time is there greater capacity for devotion, or more pure, uncalculating ambition in the service of God” Apparently, Hudson Taylor’s parents took the time because, early in his life, they instilled a missionary devotion so that, listen to this, at the tender age of five, Hudson Taylor said, “When I am a man, I mean to be a missionary to China.”
By the way, Jim Elliot surrendered to be a missionary as a teenager. Bill Wallace surrendered to be a missionary as a teenager. Our teenagers are not fools; they’re not dumb. It is not too young for them already to be thinking about who they’re going to be and what they’re going to do.
And what are we, as parents, encouraging them to pray about, to think about, and to consider? I believe a second text that undergirds what we need to understand as Great Commission parents is found in Deuteronomy 6. Most of us are familiar with the Shema:
Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and might, and these words that I command you shall be on your heart.
But not as many are familiar with what follows in Deuteronomy 6:7–9:
You shall teach them [God’s commandments: to love the Lord your God with all of your heart] diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorpost of your house and on your gates.
In other words, the fulfillment of this parental charge requires a serious investment of our time with our children. So, what’s the problem? Studies suggest that on average, children spend somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes a week with their dads, but they spend 20 to 25 hours a week with a television set, or what we now call technological babysitters. Twenty-five to 35 minutes a week with their dad, 20 to 25 hours a week with a TV or another type of technological babysitter. Reader’s Digest took a survey some years ago of four- and five-year-olds, and they asked them this very simple question, “If you had to vote to give away either your television set or your daddy, which would you vote to give away?” And 33%, 1 in 3 said, “I’d rather give away my daddy than I would my TV.”
One man, in reflecting upon his childhood, actually sat down and wrote this, and it went into a local newspaper, speaking to his parents as an adult,
You didn’t take care of me; you sent me to daycare. You didn’t feed me; you sent me to McDonald’s. You didn’t study with me; you bought me a computer. You didn’t talk to me; you bought me a stereo. You didn’t look at me; you bought me a TV. You did not play with me; you bought me toys. Now that I’m grown and you are old, why should I come and see you? I don’t even know who you are.
I often say that love is a beautiful four-letter word, but sometimes I think we spell it best this way: T-I-M-E. So, fathers in particular, what kind of projection of the Heavenly Father are you giving your children in terms of the time that you invest in them?
Love is a beautiful four-letter word, but sometimes I think we spell it best this way: T-I-M-E.
4. Learn to Listen to Your Children
Number four, learn to listen to your children. James 1:19 tells us, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Moms and dads, do you know your children’s heart? Do you know what concerns them? Do you know what interests them? Do you know what matters to them? Ann Dunagan rightly notes,
Often an adult may ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But as missions-minded parents and teachers, our typical question could have the potential of directing a child toward total obedience to God and complete surrender to his purposes. We should say, “Oh, I wonder what exciting plans God has prepared for your life? When you grow up, will you do whatever God wants you to do?”
Hearing the heart of your child may happen in regular, normal, casual conversations. But, moms and dads, there should never be anything casual about our listening.
Get with your children, turn off the TV, put away the smartphone, and put away the iPad. Zoom in eye to eye, ear to ear, heart to heart, and by locking in, in that way you’re saying to your children, “I think what you think is important, and I am here to listen.”
5. Read Missionary Biographies to Your Children
Number five, read missionary biographies to your children. Follow the biblical pattern of knowing the heroes of the faith that we find in Hebrews 11. There is power and inspiration in story.
My son Jonathan named his son, Judson, after Adoniram Judson. My son Paul, who works for the International Mission Board, named his son, Micah Elliot, honoring the memory and missionary, Jim Elliot. Those missionaries are indeed wonderful and worthy role models for cultivating a missional life. And I would argue very strongly that biographies of missionary heroes should be a regular staple of the spiritual diet of your children.
There are a number of websites that make this very easy, “The Children’s Corner” website has brief vignettes of Christian missionary biographies. You can easily find the stories of Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael, Eric Liddell, Adonarim Judson, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Nate Saint, William Carey, and many, many, many more. So, take advantage of these wonderful, marvelous, inspirational stories of regular men and women, just like you and me, through whom God did extraordinary things.
6. Engage with Missionaries
Number six, engage with missionaries by having them in your home, sharing a meal with them, listening to their stories. It’s difficult to overstate the impact of Jim and Elizabeth Elliot on modern missions. Elizabeth was the child of missionary parents. Jim notes in his writings that he had a father that particularly directed his life in terms of spiritual interest and spiritual formation and ultimately missions. He also noted that their home was often visited by missionaries.
John Stam, another missionary martyred in China, had parents who ran the Star of Hope Mission in Paterson, New Jersey. Betty Stam, his wife, also martyred, was born into a missionary family. Her other four siblings also all became missionaries just like Betty. In one of her writings she said, and I quote, “All five of us children expected to return to China as missionaries. Our parents never urged it, it just seemed the natural and the right thing to do.” And these stories can be multiplied a thousand times over.
7. Go on Mission Trips and Take Your Children with You
Number seven, go on mission trips and take your children with you. Start wisely with short-term trips and trips that have easier access, then move to mid-term trips and conditions that are more difficult.
Most career missionaries first caught the missionary bug on a short-term missions trip. What does it look like then, for a child? Watching mom and dad on the mission field, being there with them. What does it look like then for a child over time to be infected with what I call the missionary disease? Again, in the book The Mission-minded Child, Ann Dunagan says it like this,
- A mission-minded child…dreams of fulfilling God’s destiny.
- A mission-minded child…may want to become a missionary-or a teacher or a doctor or a newspaper reporter or a state governor or a pastor or a businessperson or an airplane pilot or an author or a florist or a mother-as long as it’s what God wants!
- A mission-minded child…prays for that next-door neighbor.
- A mission-minded child…is not a picky eater!
- A mission-minded child…takes home a photo magnet from the visiting missionary family and puts it on the kitchen refrigerator.
- A mission-minded child…spends a summer night sleeping outside on the trampoline, gazes up at a sky filled with twinkling stars, and realizes God’s plan is infinitely bigger than his or her own backyard.
- A mission-minded child…imagines rollerblading on the Great Wall of China!
- A mission-minded child…recognizes the names of David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and Loren Cunningham.
- A mission-minded child…knows how to use chopsticks.
- A mission-minded child…puts extra money in the monthly missions offering and feels extra good inside.
- A mission-minded child…thinks it could be fun to sleep in a mud hut in Africa!
- A mission-minded child…reads all the way through the Bible by the age of ten (or eleven or twelve) – and is excited to start again!
- A mission-minded child…stares at the photos in the new geography textbook or magazine and imagines climbing to the top of that Egyptian pyramid, snorkeling in those tropical-blue waters, and giving a new outfit to that poor boy with the ripped-up shirt.
- A mission-minded child…befriends the new kid at school.
- A mission-minded child…thinks beyond the “box” of what’s merely expected and hopes to do something big, or something little, for God.
- A mission-minded child…wants to obey (even when no one is looking).
- A mission-minded child…loves Jesus!
8. Teach Your Children About What the Bible Says About Missions
Number eight, teach your children about what the Bible says about missions. Teach them, for example, the beautiful, grand redemptive storyline of the Bible, and be very precise about it in terms of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. Raise the questions for them to consider: Who am I? What went wrong? How did God fix it? And what is my role in this drama? Where am I going? And in particular, teach your children that the greatest missionary who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the greatest Christian missionary, the apostle Paul. For those of us that love and are driven by theology, never forget, Paul was a missionary before he was a theologian. [Paul’s first missionary journey was in AD 46, and his first epistle was written around AD 50.] Paul’s theology is missionary theology.
9. Pray for the Nations and Missionaries by Name
Number nine, pray for the nations and missionaries by name. A. B. Simpson said, “Prayer is the mighty engine that is to move the missionary work.” A. T. Pearson said, “Every step in the progress of missions is directly traceable to prayer.” So, pray systematically for the world, every morning. This morning no different. I get a daily email from the Joshua Project that gives me information about the status of an unreached people group in the world, and every morning, seven days a week, I pray for that specific, unreached people group.
Adopt, as a family, an unreached people group. Adopt a nation where the gospel is desperately needed. Pray for India, pray for China, pray for Afghanistan, pray for Vietnam, pray for South Sudan. Adopt a specific missionary and pray and serve them as well. There are so many ways for us to pray well for the nations.
10. Model Missional Living as a Life Priority
And then finally, number 10, model missional living as a life priority before your children.
God is not calling us to win the world and, in the process, lose our families. But I have known those who so enshrined family life and were so protective of “quality time” that the children never saw in their parents the kind of consuming love that made their parent’s faith attractive to them. Some have lost their children, not because they weren’t at their soccer games or didn’t take family vacations, but because they never transmitted a loyalty to Jesus that went deep enough to interrupt personal preferences.
Seven Practical Questions
So, seven questions as I move to close.
- Are you a member of a Great Commission church? And if not, why not?
- Do you have a passport? And if you don’t, why not? You can’t go to the nations without a passport.
- How often do you do national and international missions?
- This one’s hard: Do you pray that your children and your grandchildren might someday become overseas missionaries?
- Do you give annually to missions? Do you give sacrificially?
- This is one my wife and I adopted a few years ago and never thought about it until a person put it before us: Do you have a missions savings account set up for your children and your grandchildren? I don’t for my children because they’re now grown, but we do have a missions savings account set up for our 12 and soon to be 13 grandchildren. Grandmomma and granddaddy are going to make the biggest gift to them when they go on their very first missions trip.
- Do you have a Great Commission ministry in your will? Are you planning so that you can continue to play a vital role in reaching the nations after you are dead and gone?
One of my heroes is a man named James Fraser. James Fraser was a brilliant student in England. He was an accomplished engineer and also a very gifted concert pianist, and he had a wonderful career mapped out for him. But in his senior year, a friend of him gave him a little gospel tract, we would call it today a little gospel booklet, and James Fraser read that little booklet, and it so changed his heart that he did not stay in England. He did not become an engineer and make a lot of money. He did not become a well-known concert pianist, but he moved to western China.
In the Himalaya mountains, he worked with what I playfully call the Chinese hillbillies, the Lisu people group. They were totally unreached and unengaged, and he would spend the rest of his life there. Today, any reputable missions organization will tell you that there’s somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 Lisu believers, all begun by the work of James Fraser, who was there for five years before he even had a single convert.
What in the world did he read that so radically altered and changed the trajectory of his life? I close with what he read, it came from a little tract entitled “Do Not Say.”
A command has been given: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” It has not been obeyed. More than half the people in the world have never yet heard the gospel. [And this is in the 1900s, by the way.] What are we to say to this? Surely it concerns us Christians very seriously. For we are the people who are responsible….if our master returned today to find millions of people un-evangelized, and looked as of course He would look, to us for an explanation, I cannot imagine what explanation we should have to give….of one thing I am certain – that most of the excuses we are accustomed to make with such good conscience now, we should be wholly ashamed of them.
The Great Commission is not an option to consider, it is a command to be obeyed. Let our obedience then begin with, but not end with, those closest and dearest to us. Let it begin in our homes, and let it begin with the little hearts of our children. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you for letting us be a part of what you’re doing in bringing every tribe, tongue, people and nation to the throne of the Lamb. Lord, I thank you that Revelation 5 and Revelation 7 are indeed the great missionary promise. In that day, in your kingdom, there are going to be people represented from every single tribe. Lord, you have promised us in your Word that is going to happen. So, for us the issue is really quite simple, will we be a part of what you are passionate for, or will we sit on the sidelines and watch? Lord, I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines. I want to be right there in the middle of what you’re doing. And Lord, I want that to be true for my children. I want that to be true for my grandchildren as well. So Lord, may I pray for them, as Lig so well said. May I model and provide an example for them. And may I teach them that indeed the Great Commission DNA will run throughout their bodies all the days you give them life. May they indeed bring great honor and glory to King Jesus by fulfilling and being obedient to his final marching orders to his church. This we ask for our good, but ultimately, for your great glory. We pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.