SojournKids

Child Evangelism

Two Great Child Evangelism Resources!

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

Here are two fantastic child evangelism resources you can get on the cheap: Leading Children Towards Gospel Repentance and Faith by Marty Machowski, (Covenant Fellowship Church, 2007), $5.00

Helping Children to Understand the Gospel by Sally Michael, Jill Nelson, and Bud Burk, (Children Desiring God, 2009), $7.50

I'll probably be requiring both of these for Sojourn's Pastor's School this coming Spring.  Great resources!

Don’t flatter or deceive children by teaching them that their nature is good.

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

"We have to be willing to do what needs to be done in this physical world so that the rescue of the Gospel can be seen as glorious.  To that end, we have to train diligently, providing experiences to reinforce spiritual truth.  We have to lead and be in charge--to be courageous and do the hard things, allowing our children to experience some discomfort and even turmoil in this world in the hope that they will experience joy in the next.  It is better for a child to learn a heart lesson, though it cause him temporary pain, than for him to ignorantly follow a path leading to eternal pain." Sally Michael, Jill Nelson, and Bud Burk, Helping Children to Understand the Gospel, (Children Desiring God, 2009).

Think Tank: Evangelism & Manipulation

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

think-childrens-ministryMy friend, Pastor (and now school teacher!) Tony Kummer, just posted up the latest edition of the Children's Ministry Think Tank.  Here is the latest question and my thoughts.  Click over to his site to see very thoughtful answers to the same question from Brenna Phillips and Glenn Woods. How should children’s ministry offer an urgent Gospel invitation without emotionally manipulating children? When does child evangelism cross the line and become abuse? What principles guide you in this area?

Last week [now a few weeks back], I read the following words from Henry Zonio (http://elementalcm.com) regarding evangelistic presentations for children:

The key… is to help connect children and families to Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion. It’s more than just praying a prayer, raising a hand or coming to the altar. It’s about life transformation, and that is something that can’t be manufactured or manipulated into existence.

Henry is right. Real conversion—life transformation—can’t be manufactured or manipulated into existence. It is God’s work, not the work of a minister or parent. When we seek quick decisions from children, we are in danger of manipulation. So, in the spirit of Henry Zonio, here are some principles for avoiding manipulative evangelism.

1. Be clear. Little children think literally, and they can be confused by figurative language. Be simple and concrete. Stress the facts of the gospel. We are sinners (Romans 3:23), but Jesus took the punishment we deserve for our sins by dying on the cross (Galatians 3:13). We can trust him to make us right with God and be our friend and advocate (Romans 4:25; 1 John 2:1).

2. Encourage children to think about their sin. Teach kids about their personal need for the Savior. Don’t flatter or deceive children by teaching them that their nature is good. Instead, tenderly teach a child about his or her own failures. Point out the specific sins to which children are prone (greed, pride in performance, lying, disobedience to parents, etc.). Be tender but true. Then, pray that the Holy Spirit will use the truth to bring conviction to the child’s heart and conscience, and ultimately to give the gift of faith.

3. Call children to trust Jesus for salvation from sin—not just salvation from hell. Children are impressionable, so fear tactics about hell or platitudes about heaven are certainly manipulative and possibly abusive. It is not wrong to teach a child about hell as God’s just punishment of sin. It is not wrong to teach about heaven as a benefit of trusting Jesus. But we must be extremely careful not to play on a child’s emotions.

4. Call children to trust what Jesus has done to save—not just their personal experience with Jesus. When speaking about the gospel to children, our temptation is to focus on the child’s personal struggles with sin and obedience. We’ll focus on what God is “doing in me” now, rather than what God did for me on the cross. The gospel is NOT primarily about Jesus’ work in our heart but about Jesus’ work in history. While it is a Biblical truth that Christ is present with the Christian by his Spirit (Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 3:17), the work in our hearts is secondary. Over-emphasizing a change of heart can actually discourage a child. When a child becomes become aware of his or her sins, the child may become introspective and worry, “How can Jesus live in my heart when I still get so angry?”

5. Call children to trust Jesus with their whole life—not just “have a relationship” with him. We are sometimes very adept at reaching people on an emotional level, but our personal faith is more than an emotion. While it is not wrong for faith to move us on an emotional level, it is not as right as it could be. Salvation is not just saying yes to a relationship with Jesus. Rather, it is finally resting in Christ. This involves a life change—conviction, illumination, and regeneration –not merely a decision.

6. Call children to admit, confess, trust, pray, commit, decide, but don’t assure them that these things save. Leading a child in a “sinner’s prayer” may give the child false assurance. We must never give our children the impression that a prayer for mercy (a “sinner’s prayer”) guarantees their eternal destiny. It does not. Human hearts long to find assurance in things that we can manipulate – our own knowledge, emotional experiences, prayers, or our works. We must discourage children from seeking assurance in such things, and we must never give false assurances. False assurances are certainly abusive because they endanger a child’s soul—leading the child to believe he or she is a Christian when this may not be the case (Matthew 25:31-46).

Evangelism without Manipulation

UncategorizedJared Kennedy2 Comments

I've run into some fascinating posts over the past week regarding child evangelism.  The catalyst for my thoughts was Henry Zonio's post Evangelism as Child Abuse?  Can a Wrong Presentation of the Gospel Be Harmful to Children?  He points to several other blog posts and books that have been helpful for him in understanding matters related to child evangelism.  Henry's conclusion is fantastic:

Is it child abuse when we aren’t careful about how we lead children to Christ? I don’t know. I can understand those who claim that it is. Even Christ warns us about the dangers of leading a child astray, and I think that even applies to giving a child a false idea of what it means to follow Christ.

So what does that mean for evangelistic presentations to children?  The key... is to help connect children and families to Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion. It’s more than just praying a prayer, raising a hand or coming to the altar. It’s about life transformation, and that is something that can’t be manufactured or manipulated into existence.

The best article that Henry links to is by Michael Spencer (InternetMonk).  The article is entitled,  "Question: Is Evangelism Child Abuse?"  Someone had brought up the issue that proselytizing anyone under 18 is manipulative and tantamount to child abuse. In response, Spencer offers gospel-centered thoughts about evangelism and how he approaches it:

When I deal with students, I am straight up about evangelism. If they take my class, I will occasionally explain the Gospel to them. I stress that their beliefs are welcome to be shared as well. I use no decisional tactics and I have no personal interest as a teacher in what a student does with the claims of Christ. I pray for these students, and would find it impossible to pray for them without praying that they come to know Christ.

I am just as honest about preaching. I give full permission to ignore or reject whatever I say, but I am straightforward that my calling and vocation is to proclaim, explain and apply the Gospel. I use no altar call. I use no tactics or manipulations of any kind. It’s the Gospel, an appeal to believe, a prayer and I leave it with them and the Holy Spirit.

I tell my students that I am completely open to being evangelized by them. I invite questions and I ask questions. Because I am in a Christian school with a missions focus, I have many non-Christians in my Bible classes and preaching services. We have dialog constantly. It’s a natural outgrowth of the diversity of our school.

These are fantastic words of encouragement, and I look forward to posting more on the resources I've been reading as a result of Henry's post a little later this week.

Children's Ministry Think Tank

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

think-childrens-ministryTony 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.