For many believers, fulfilling Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations begins at home—with their children. In fact, few experiences bring greater joy to Christian parents than seeing their children come to faith in Christ.
The process of evangelizing one’s children, however, can be a daunting task. For many parents, the questions are as practical as they are disconcerting: How should I present the gospel to my children? What’s the best approach to take? How do I know if I’m doing it right?
Pitfalls, both real and imagined, intimidate virtually every parent who contemplates this responsibility. On one hand, there’s the danger of leading children to think they are saved when they are not. On the other, there’s the risk of discouraging children who express a genuine desire to follow Christ.
How, then, should we evangelize our children?
The answer to this question is not an easy one, but it begins with recognizing and avoiding some of the common pitfalls in child evangelism.
Common Pitfalls in Evangelizing Children
1. Oversimplifying the Gospel of Christ
Because a child’s comprehension is less developed than an adult’s, the temptation for many parents is to oversimplify the message of the gospel when they evangelize their children. Sometimes this stems from canned or programmed approaches to child evangelism, which often abbreviate the gospel, downplay the demands of the gospel, or leave out key aspects of the gospel altogether.
Like adults, children must be able to understand the gospel clearly before they can be saved. This involves grasping concepts such as good and evil, sin and punishment, repentance and faith, God’s holiness and wrath against sin, the deity of Christ and His atonement for sin, and the resurrection and lordship of Christ. Certainly parents need to use terminology children can comprehend and be clear in communicating the message, but when Scripture talks about teaching children spiritual truth, the emphasis is on thoroughness (Deuteronomy 6:6–7).
Oversimplification is a greater danger than giving too much detail. It is the truth—found in God’s Word—that saves, but that truth must be understood.
2. Coercing a Profession of Faith
Whether parents present the gospel in an oversimplified or thorough manner, many solicit some kind of active response to that message. It could be a show of hands in a group setting, a rote repetition of “the sinner’s prayer,” or almost anything that may be counted as a positive response. Children will almost always respond in whatever way parents ask—not at all guaranteeing real acts of faith in Christ.
Rather than getting their children to pray “the sinner’s prayer” or enticing them into a superficial response, parents must faithfully, patiently, and thoroughly teach them the gospel and diligently pray for their salvation, always bearing in mind that God is the One who saves. There is no need to pressure or coerce a confession from the mouth of a child, for genuine repentance will bring forth its own confession as the Lord opens the heart in response to the gospel. And as time goes by, it is never right to reinforce to the child that a childhood prayer is evidence of salvation (see #4 below).
3. Assuming the Reality of Regeneration
The next pitfall is assuming with certainty that a child’s positive response to the gospel is full-fledged saving faith. The temptation here is to regard regeneration as a settled matter because of an outward indication that the child has believed. One cannot assume, however, that every profession of faith reflects a genuine work of God in the heart (Matt. 7:21–23), and this is particularly true of children.
Children often respond positively to the gospel for a host of reasons, many of which are unrelated to any awareness of sin or real understanding of spiritual truth. Many children, for example, profess faith because of peer pressure at church or a desire to please their parents.
In addition, Scripture indicates that children tend to be immature (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20), naive (Prov. 1:4), foolish (Prov. 22:15), capricious (Isaiah 3:4), inconsistent and fickle (Matt. 11:16–17), and unstable and easily deceived (Eph. 4:14). Children often think they have understood the ramifications of a given commitment when they have not. Their judgment is shallow and their ability to see the implications of their decisions is very weak. Despite the best of intentions, they seldom have the ability to think far beyond today, nor do they perceive the extent to which their choices will affect tomorrow. This makes children more vulnerable to self-deception, and it makes it more difficult for a parent to discern God’s saving work in their hearts.
For this reason, only when a child’s stated convictions and beliefs are tested by circumstances in life as he matures do parents begin to learn more conclusively his spiritual direction. While many people do make a genuine commitment to Christ when young, many others—perhaps most—don’t come to an adequate understanding of the gospel until their teenage years. Others who profess Christ in childhood turn away. It is only appropriate, then, that parents move cautiously in affirming a child’s profession of faith and not be quick to take any show of commitment as decisive proof of conversion.
4. Assuring the Child of Salvation
After becoming convinced their child is saved, many parents seek to give that child verbal assurance of his salvation. As a consequence, the church is filled with teenagers and adults whose hearts are devoid of real love for Christ, but who think they are genuine Christians because of something they did as children.
It is the role of the Holy Spirit—not the parent—to give assurance of salvation (Rom. 8:15–16). Too many people whose hearts are utterly cold to the things of the Lord believe they are going to heaven simply because they responded positively as children to an evangelistic invitation. Having “asked Jesus to come into their hearts,” they were then given a false assurance and taught never to examine themselves and never to entertain any doubt about their salvation. Parents should commend and rejoice in the evidence of real salvation in the lives of their children only when they know the child understands the gospel, believes it, and manifests the genuine evidence of true salvation—devotion to Christ, obedience to the Word, and love for others.
5. Rushing the Ordinance of Baptism
A final pitfall for many parents is having the child baptized immediately after he professes faith. Although Scripture commands that believers be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38), it is best not to rush into the ordinance in the case of a child. As previously stated, it is extremely difficult to recognize genuine salvation in children. Rather than rushing them into baptism after an initial profession, then, it is wiser to take the ongoing opportunity to interact with them and wait for more significant evidence of lasting commitment. Even if a child can say enough in a testimony to make it reasonably clear that he understands and embraces the gospel, baptism should wait until he manifests evidence of regeneration that is independent of parental control.
Here at Grace Community Church, our general practice is to wait until a professing child has reached the age of twelve. Because baptism is seen as something clear and final, our primary concern is that when a younger child is baptized he tends to look to that experience as proof that he was saved. Therefore, in the case of an unregenerate child who is baptized—which is not uncommon in the church at large—baptism actually does him a disservice. It is better to wait until the reality to which baptism testifies can be more easily discerned.
Article from Pulpit Magazine