Tony Kummer's Ministry To Children.com blog just launched a new feature called Children’s Ministry Think Tank, and he's asked me to join the project. I'm sorta flattered. What do I know? About twice each month, Tony will email a group of three children's ministers tough questions and then post our answers on his website. His aim is to get different perspectives and help everyone to learn. I'm participating this month along with Brenna Phillips (the Children’s/Family Minister at Mission Fellowship Church in Middletown, Delaware; www.brennaphillips.com) and Glen Woods (a Children’s Pastor in Portland, Oregon; Children’s Ministry Conversation). I'm pretty excited about this new gig. Please pray that I will have something substantive grace-filled to contribute. Here is question #1:
Jon is an 8 year old boy with little church background. He’s been coming to your children’s programs for several weeks. One day he sticks around and seems like he wants to talk. He says, “I don’t want to go to hell, how can I be saved?” How would you respond?
Here is my answer:
I would ask Jon a lot of questions—trying to get a sense of whether or not he understands that he is a sinner in need of the Savior. I would respond by stressing the facts of the gospel. In this kind of a situation, I typically emphasize God’s laws and commands for children (obeying parents, not lying, etc.). I pray that the Holy Spirit will use this teaching to bring Jon to conviction about his sin (Deut 6). Exploring what Jon is learning about hell can be helpful when helping him understand the seriousness of his sin. Then, I would speak plainly about God’s gospel promises and Jon’s need to turn away from sin and trust Christ (Acts 2:38-39), whose death and resurrection count for him (Rom 5:8). Finally, I would encourage Jon to pray—confessing his sins and confessing trust in Jesus.
I recognize that children are easily deceived and manipulated (Ephesians 4:14). Just like adults, they are often tempted to find assurance of salvation in things they can manipulate—their own knowledge, emotional experiences, prayers, or good works. Children must be discouraged from finding assurance in such things and encouraged to trust only Jesus. I would be careful not to offer such false assurances or pressure Jon for a commitment. I would not assure Jon that his prayer for mercy (his “sinner’s prayer”) guarantees that he will go to heaven. It does not. Salvation is God’s work. I would assure Jon that Jesus promises to save those who trust him, and I’d encourage him to keep trusting Jesus for his whole life. I would not be skeptical about Jon’s sincerity. While I don’t want to give Jon a false sense of security, I also don’t want to discourage him from trusting Jesus.
If a child from an under-churched family speaks with one of our children’s ministry workers about the gospel, they have been trained to let the SojournKids leadership know so we can meet with and explain the gospel clearly to the child’s parents. I would let Jon’s parents know about the questions he is asking. I would encourage this family to come back to our regular church gatherings, and I would seek to build a deeper relationship with them. God saves sinners through exposure to His preached and taught word. Many parents come to Christ because the Lord first works in their kids.
Check out Tony's Children’s Ministry Think Tank to see the other answers.