By Dr. Mark P. Gonzales
“Find out what God is doing, then get in on it.”
This marvelous aphorism, popularized by pastor and writer Henry Blackaby 20 years ago, crystallizes how we should approach the Christian life. It is also a wonderful conceptual starting place in trying to describe a global movement of God that began to emerge in 2004. Since then, this 4-14 Movement has been rapidly growing like a powerful wave to catch — a great metaphor from Rick Warren’s first book, The Purpose Driven Church, where he compares a major move of God’s Spirit with the big wave that seasoned surfers seek to catch and ride. While it looks relatively easy to do when watching the sport from the beach, it is actually enormously difficult and requires critical timing and expert balance. Well, regarding the emerging 4-14 Movement, the wave is upon us. We don’t want you to miss it, and thus miss out on what God is doing.
What is the 4-14 Movement?
The view from the beach is that it is a roaring call to bring children in the midst of church and global ministry as co-builders of the Kingdom of God. Why? There are two main reasons:
1. Jesus said as much in Matthew 19:14, when He rebuked His disciples for trying to keep children out of their midst.
2. Throughout Christendom and in the secular world in particular, children tend to be taken for granted, relegated to secondary importance, neglected, exploited and even abused at alarming rates. The statistics1 are staggering:
• 33 percent of the world’s six billion people are children age 15 and under
• 37 percent of these children (674 million) live in absolute poverty
• 56 percent (over one billion children) are living in severe deprivation
• 72 million primary-aged children in the developing world have no access to schools
• 8.8 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2008, due to treatable diseases
• Millions more have been injured, disabled, and killed in armed conflicts
How did the 4-14 Movement start?
While the initial ripples of the movement began to stir in the ‘90s with the writings of people like Dr. Dan Brewster, professor and writer with Compassion International, the first rolling swell emerged in a summit of 53 children’s ministry organizations in 2004, which was initiated and hosted by Dr. Jack Eggar and his Awana Clubs International team in Chicago. It was here that research findings were highlighted by Brewster and George Barna of the Barna Research Group, that well over 80 percent of all people who come to Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14. This “4-14 window,” a term coined by Brewster, is therefore the ripest field unto harvest in evangelism, discipleship, and mentoring children and young people in ministry today to be our ministry leaders tomorrow. All 53 organizations agreed: A resounding call to bring children in the midst as co-builders of the Kingdom of God, would unquestionably be the most effective, single mission strategy to reach the world for Christ in our time! While Awana subsequently led the way in the years that followed to partner with other organizations in co-sponsoring various 4-14 forums and conferences in countries around the world, a unified global effort was not launched until 2009 when Dr. Luis Bush and the holistic Transform World effort caught the 4-14 wave. This was very significant. 4-14 national summits and conferences have been springing up in record numbers around the world as the movement seems to be building toward a crest in the next few years.
What is the goal of the 4-14 initiative within the 4-14 Movement?
In serving as a pastoral consultant for Awana Clubs International since 2005, and invited to do likewise by Luis Bush for Transform World/4-14, I have discovered that at this point, there seem to be three operative goals or definitions at play within the movement…
• Gospel Definition: The 4-14 Movement is a mission strategy to focus on children and youth to reach and train them in world evangelization, discipleship, church growth, and rescue ministry.
• Holistic Definition: The 4-14 Movement is a call to meet the holistic needs of children around the world to not only transform their lives, but to train them to be transformers of their world for Christ.
• Rescue Definition: The 4-14 Movement is a call to rescue children at risk around the world in a spirit of Christian compassion and with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As long as each group continues to appreciate each other’s niche callings within the movement, and not feel frustrated or threatened by each other, all participants should be able to rally around the general call to reach, teach and mentor children as co-builders of the Kingdom of God. And as long as that general call is firmly grounded and driven by sound Biblical theology, the 4-14 wave will get larger, stronger, and have a greater impact in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the Biblical theology that drives the 4-14 Movement?
Points of agreement seem to be twofold: First, that the movement is mostly comprised of practitioners, teachers, pastors, and parents in children’s ministry who are far more interested in methodology and strategy than technical theology and philosophy. Secondly, because of this, most seem to be satisfied and unified with a simple but solid Biblical theology to drive the movement that can be summarized as follows:
• Start with the Greatest Commandment to love God and mentor children. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
• “Make disciples” in “all nations,” and “teach them all” that Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:19-20)
• Apply His Matthew 19:13-14 exhortation to include children as recipients and fellow agents of ministry.
• Include His Matthew 25:35-46 declaration that addressing hunger, nakedness, sickness, etc., is an evidential expression of the real gospel.
We just need to be reminded that the Lord calls us to walk in unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is like an 80-tuba ensemble simultaneously playing middle C as an evening concert. Unity is like the wondrous harmony of an 80-piece orchestra of diverse instruments playing different notes within the limited agreement of playing the same piece, in the same key, while under one conductor. The 4-14 Movement can be beautifully diverse theologically, and yet still be unified in ministry.
How can anyone catch the wave of the 4-14 Movement?
• Ask the Lord to open your eyes and heart along with millions of others to help rescue children from their plight.
• Create tabletop “prayer tent” prayer listings for children in various nations, and challenge families to practice mission prayer together at mealtime.