I've Told My Child the Gospel, Now What?
I had an experience with my children that mothers dream about. Each child asked me how to become a Christian, usually when they were in Kindergarten. The question would come in the midst of daily activities, while driving in the car or eating lunch. It was the moment I had been praying for and when it came, I would feel a pit in my stomach. “Don’t mess this up, make sure you explain the gospel clearly,” I thought. The Lord provided the words and after my explanation each child expressed a desire to become a Christian. I instructed them to tell God that they needed forgiveness for their sins and to trust that he would forgive them because of Jesus’ death on the cross.
Thankfully, my goal wasn’t just to get my children to pray one prayer. If it had been, everything might have stopped there. “Yes!” I might have thought, “My kids are going to heaven! Nothing more needs to be done.” But I knew that those moments were just the beginning of instruction in the gospel. They needed to understand how the gospel impacts the daily life of a believer. Plus, time would tell if that initial prayer had represented real heart change.
My kids are older now and have heard the gospel many times. Some currently profess faith in Christ and some don’t. As their mother, it’s still my desire to see each of them rooted and growing in the gospel of Christ, so my work in explaining the good news continues.
What has helped me most over the years is understanding a few principles when it comes to the gospel and children. These are just a taste of what we’ll delve into in our conference workshop. (If you’re unsure what is meant by the term “gospel” there are several excellent blog articles which explain this concept.)
Gospel Responses for non-Gospel Reasons
Of course, we all hope that anyone who responds to the gospel does so because the Spirit is at work in their lives, bringing a conviction of sin and saving faith. But we know that even adults sometimes have mixed motives. Maybe a guy is interested in a girl that says she will only date a Christian, or a parent urges a child to be baptized before they go to college.
These mixed motives can be all the more present with children. Children might express faith in order to please a parent or Sunday school teacher, or because it is what they think they should do, or because everyone else is doing it.
Now, I don’t want you to think I’m a cynic. Cynicism has no place in biblical Christianity. God is mighty to save and he pursues us relentlessly. Rather, I think it’s helpful to have our eyes wide open when it comes to kids professing faith in Christ. This allows us to respect their kindergarten prayers without putting undue weight on them.
The Gospel: A Core Message, Communicated Many Ways
We worship an amazing God. This is evident when we think about communicating the gospel. It is such a simple message, even a young child can grasp it. The basic truths of the gospel never change and yet there are so many different ways to explain the gospel. The gospel can be shared from any part of the Bible, Old or New Testament. Therefore, our gospel explanations need never be old or worn out.
Always the Whole Gospel?
Do we always need to explain the whole gospel when we are speaking with children? Obviously, if we have a gospel opportunity with someone we meet on the plane or our neighbor then we should definitely seek to fully explain the good news about Jesus. But, this isn’t always necessary for children with whom we have an ongoing relationship.
If a child has heard the message before, maybe there are times when they only need to hear a specific aspect of the gospel or its implications. If they are fearful, they might need to hear about God’s character and his providence. If they have been treated unjustly by a sibling, it might be an opportunity to highlight Christ’s unjust suffering on our behalf. If they are apathetic, maybe they need to hear that God created them for a purpose.
More than Words
I’m living in a house filled with teenagers. One lesson I’m learning over and over again is the value of closing my mouth and listening more. This is a season in which I’m spending more time praying the gospel for my children. I’m also seeking to embody the gospel when I interact with them. I can do this because I’m confident they have heard the good news many times in the past and will continue to do so as they attend our church. This frees me up to carefully seek opportune times to speak the gospel into their lives when it seems they have ears to hear.
The Gospel Isn’t One and Done
The gospel isn’t a ticket into heaven or fire insurance. It’s something even Christians need to hear often and apply to their lives. We should have this same attitude towards the children in our lives. We don’t want to tire of telling the gospel story. This will be most easily accomplished if we are continuing to preach the gospel to ourselves and apply it to our own lives.
The Gospel and the Holy Spirit
We all want the children we love to respond in repentance and faith towards God. Unfortunately, sometimes that can lead us to put pressure on a child to respond in a certain way. We need to explain the gospel and leave the heart work to the Holy Spirit.
A Taste of What’s To Come
What a privilege it is to share the gospel with a child. Of course, in the moment, it doesn’t always feel that way. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed, incompetent, or insecure. Or perhaps you’re excited, but just need a bit more training. Come and join me in the workshop I’m teaching at Verity Conference. We will grow together as we continue in the lifelong pursuit of bringing the gospel to children. They are precious to Jesus.