Inoculating Kids to the Great Commission

I help teach a Mix Martial Arts class at my church. It's a free activity that we sponsor on Monday evenings. We've been running the course for a little over a year and have found that we've collected a wide variety of men. Some are Christ-followers. More are not. We've got middle aged men, teens, and a bunch of medical students. I love the class because of its potential to collect an eclectic group of men and to have faith conversations with them.

I went home disturbed, though, after Monday night's class. One of the younger fighters, Dan, informed me that he intended on fighting at a cage match in a few months. Pennsylvania just legalized MMA fighting and several fight cards have been quickly developed and promoted.

Dan's declaration to fight bothered me. Dan just graduated from high school and doesn't have a real plan for "what next." Dan skipped his graduation ceremony to come to the church and train. He wants to become a chef but isn't taking steps to get into a culinary school. We have good school in town and a great one in Pittsburgh. I suspect that his dad isn't in the picture and that his mom is just too exhausted to help fill out his financial aid. So when Dan told me about his desire to fight, I tried acknowledge him, but then asked about school. I offered help him fill out those financial aid forms.

Dan thanked me, but then changed the topic back to the cage fight.

I have all kinds of mental reason as to why this is a bad idea. We offer a free class twice a week. We're not a training camp, or even a "real" school. Dan needs to be training four hours a day to have a chance in the cage.

MMA is, well, dangerous. Even at our low level of training, I've managed to fracture my jaw and a bone in my right hand this summer (both hairline fractures, gratefully). When I fought Tae Kwon Do I had my nose broken during training. Once I was T.K.O.'ed in a tournament by an amateur boxer. I have no intention of ever stepping foot in a cage to fight. There's a fatherly instinct in me that doesn't want to see Dan get seriously hurt as he figures out what he wants to do with his life.

This weekend I'm going to be writing an article for Children's Ministry Magazine on how we inoculate children from obeying the Great Commission. I think we do ministry to children a lot like I'm training Dan. I'm willing to teach him all the pieces of the game, the striking, the redneck ju jistsu, and the clinch-- but I don't really want him to use those tools in a real life situation. I suspect that we parents and pastors approach ministry to kids like that. We'll talk about loving people who think differently than we, about sharing our faith with those people in a conversational, manner. But deep down we are worried about them ever trying it.

Someone might get hurt.


  1. Here's a question I have that I think has bothered me for some time, but never able to articulate it. Maybe I'll fail to again here, but I'm going to try anyhow. Is the great commission for everyone or just those chosen as apostles (or apostle-like gifts today)? Did all of Jesus' followers receive this commission or just the 11 remaining? And does it conflict with the Greatest Commandment, specifically part B (to love your neighbor as yourself)?

    My concern is that not everyone can teach/preach, which is the main command of the Great Commission. But everyone can love.

    I'm not all that motivated to prepare my kids to go out and preach and teach, but I am very motivated to teach my kids to love by love, as unconditionally as I am able to love. But are we (generally) inoculating our children from the greatest commandment, too? Because, yes, they can absolutely get hurt through that as well.

    Maybe I'm playing semantics between the two GC's, but I've always noticed a clear distinction and wondered why such the emphasis in churches on the Commission and less so on the Commandment. And maybe you've already answered it here, because they can get MORE hurt by love rejection than they can by preaching rejection.

  2. Tim,

    I wouldn't pit one against the other. The Greatest Commandment provides the core value for how we do the Great Commission.

    Any child can invite someone to church, or stand up to a bully on behalf of a week child, or naturally weave God into a conversation.

    I'm not suggesting that we stuff the Four Spiritual Laws into a child's lunchbox before sending them on the bus. I'm suggesting that we teach them how to have natural conversations about God as they are loving to others.

    I think adults are back at this because we don't start to learn how until we are adults. We compensate for this deficit with weird programs.

  3. Lloyd Dobler: Kickboxing. Sport of the future.

    "Say Anything". 1989.

  4. Not to pick on you or anything Larry, but I geniunely cannot wrap my mind around Christians partaking in MMA fighting. Learning to defend yourself and using Tae Kwan Do for fitness sure, but actively engaging in fighting other men seems extremely contrary to the gospel for me. I cannot see Christ endorsing glorified violence for entertainment. We are not called to be violent to eachother as Christians.

    Maybe I'm way off, and if so, seriously, enlighten me. I'm not one for being judgmental and I by no means am questioning your faith, I'd honestly just like to hear your take on how you balance fighting with adopting and practicing the gospel.

  5. Emily, I'm admitted a conflicted intellectual mess on the topic. I believe in self-defense unless non-violence presents and opportunity to promote peace and the gospel. I'm an inconsistent stew of St. Augustine, JROTC, Ronald Reagan, MLK, Tolstoy, and Derek Webb. Like I said, I'm an intellectual mess.

    We don't "live fight" in the class. The submission fighting is actually humane, you tap out when you are in pain or thing you might become in pain. We strike punches and kids into pads and not each other.

    But to answer your question, I don't have this sorted out.

    That's the most honest answer I have.