|My youngest bit of adorableness taken by the excellent Austin Images.|
Yes, we are told to have faith like a child. I believe many people commit their lives to Christ during this time because faith almost comes naturally, ESPECIALLY if it's what they've been taught their whole life. But I've sometimes seen parents and children's workers out of a combination of fear and an admirable desire to lead people to the Lord (myself included!), push a kid to "become a Christian" before they're ready.
Here's the problem I see with it:
-Pre-mature decisions often lead to the child ceasing to ask questions. This is not always the case, but I've had more than one child come to me with questions. Those who then "become a Christian" many times never come to me again with questions about the Word. Those that I have spent time with and not "wrapped things up" with a prayer and decision will often come back with more questions. I believe the Holy Spirit continues to work in both kids' lives, but with the extra time to ponder and ask questions, the latter child often has a chance to get a better grasp of the Cross and salvation than the former.
-Pre-mature decisions can lead to doubt later on. If they didn't really "get it" and later on they look back and wonder about that decision, it can be disheartening to wonder if that "monumental moment" was really all that monumental... I think it's far better to allow the Holy Spirit to do the prompting.
2. Don't assume they get it and believe it. This one is hard not to do. I've heard both of my kids repeat the gospel on their own level in various situations. It makes my heart melt into a big pile of mush. I praise God that they are hearing my husband and me and that it's even starting to sink in. My husband and I had a long conversation once about my oldest and the fact that at just shy of 4 he seems to be receptive and sensitive to the Word and the Lord. I really think he "gets it" on a preschool level. I believe that he believes every word that comes out of his Mommy and Daddy's mouth about Jesus and that with his childlike faith he embraces the gospel as truth! BUT, I have to be careful not to assume that it's all a done deal and we're good to go. Partly, because either way, he needs to continue to hear the gospel until the day he dies, just like I do. It's not something we get and "move on." And secondly, he hasn't had the opportunity to understand it and articulate it on a level as to claim it for his own. I think this is a good, healthy step for kids to go through. I'm not naive enough to think that my boys won't one day have some of the same doubts and questions I had as a child and that I've seen dozens and dozens of other children have. I think it's good for me to present it over and over again, but all the while for me to keep in mind that there may be a "processing" stage where they begin to really embrace their faith. I think it's good to be mindful and continue to look for opportunities to discuss their faith with them the entire time kids are under our care. As I said in my post yesterday, whether pinpointed or not (and I don't think that should necessarily be the goal), justification does happen at a point in time. Don't assume that this critical piece of the puzzle has taken place in your child's life.
3. Present the gospel over and over and over again. I don't mean like the "ABC's of becoming a Christian." (Note: While those can be helpful and I'm not necessarily knocking using a method like this or the Romans Road or the colored beads or the Five Fingers or any of those things, I think they can often become 'canned' versions of the gospel if we're not careful. I think kids listen a whole lot better to a gospel presentation that isn't memorized, but instead is you having a 'real' conversation with them about the gospel and why you think it's so exciting!) That being said, I think these 'real' conversations needs to happen on a very frequent, consistent basis. There are so many opportunities to 'present the gospel' in any given day. Each time discipline happens I can remind my boys that everybody messes up and that's why Jesus died for us. Each time I see them doing something right I can remind them that it's wonderful, but apart from Christ's work on the cross, meaningless because even our "good" works can't earn heaven. I can pray before bed thanking God for sending Jesus and begging him to open the eyes of my children to understand the gift he's given them... with them present to hear the prayer. I don't have to give a 3 point sermon every time. I believe even a thoughtful sentence or two a few times a day can have a profound impact on how my kids view life and God.
4. Be excited about the gospel myself. If I'm not, my obligatory, dull presentation of the most incredible act in the history of the world may very well fall on deaf ears. Kids pick up on what's exciting and what's boring pretty quickly. If my boys see 100 times more excitement and discussion over Mizzou Football (Go Tigers!) than the saving work of Jesus Christ in our home, then they'll pretty quickly pick up on what's important. What's exciting. And what they want to invest their time and energy into. Not growing apathetic about the gospel can be a struggle for me (I assume I'm not the only one?) and why preaching the gospel to myself over and over and over again to remind myself just how incredible it really is is a critical element to this. I wrote a post about a year ago on my journey "back to the basics" of my faith and how drastic of a change it's made in my life.
5. Know that at the end of the day, there's absolutely nothing I can do to save them. This is important. God does the work. Not me. Not even my child. Apart from the Holy Spirit helping me to understand the gospel, I would have never come to faith. The same holds true for my child, which is why I pray every. single. day that God would open their eyes to the gospel and they would follow hard after him all the days of their life. (I pray this with them, when they're going down for naps or bed, because I think it's good for them to hear me cry out to God on their behalf and because it's an easy time for me to remember).
I am by no means an expert on this topic. I've worked with kids for years and these are some of my thoughts based on what I've experienced with other children and my own. What would you add?
Part 1 - Salvation and Kids: To Convert or Not Convert? That is the Question
Part 2 - Salvation and Kids: So.... What Exactly Does the Bible Say About It?
Salvation and Kids: The Most Important Prayer