SojournKids

Think Tank

Think Tank: Condition of Accountability

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

think-childrens-ministryWhat do you teach concerning a child's condition (sometimes called age) of accountability for responding to the Gospel? How would you counsel a parent who is concerned about a preschool aged child who seems disinterested in learning about Jesus? If you had to estimate (and you do), what is the chronological age that most children become fully accountable for their decision about Christ?

Some Christians and Christian traditions maintain that Scripture teaches an “age of accountability” before which young children are not held responsible for sin and are not counted guilty before God.  But several Bible passages indicate that children (even before they are born) have a guilty standing before God and a sinful nature so that they not only have a tendency to sin, but God views them as sinners (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Ephesians 2:3).  Experienced parents know that children do not have to be taught to do wrong.  It is their natural inclination to disobey, to lie, and to manipulate.

This is one of the strongest motivations for Christian parents and Christian churches teaching the gospel to their children from the youngest age.  We teach about Jesus because children need Jesus as their savior from sin.  As one famous preacher said, “The gospel is meat for men but it is also milk for babes.”  But kids don’t always want to hear about Jesus and trust him.  When a preschool age child isn’t interested in learning about Jesus, there isn’t necessarily a cookie-cutter answer, but here are some areas I’d explore with the parent: (1) I’d encourage the parent to examine his or her own heart.  Does mom and/or dad get excited about Jesus and learning from his Word?  Do they regularly pray and read Bible stories together with their family?  Young children often look to and follow their parent’s example.  Perhaps a parent has a satisfying relationship with the Lord, but it is private and not shared with the child.  Invite the child into your relationship with Jesus.   (2) I’d ask the parent whether or not he or she talks about sin with their child.  Does your child know that when she disobeys you, she is also disobeying God?  Do you just talk about your child’s misbehavior (taking a cookie, hitting his sister, not sharing), or do you talk with him about the heart attitudes and motivations that lie behind that behavior (greed, pride in performance, selfishness)?  When our children have a more honest view of the extent to which sin is rooted in their hearts, they will be more likely to look for and respond to Christ—who provides pardon and provision for that sin.  (3) Most importantly, I’d pray with the parent, and I’d encourage the parent to pray.  Salvation is ultimately God’s work in the child’s heart.  May God have mercy on our kids and help them to repent from sin and love Jesus.

As I stated above, I cannot justify an “age of accountability” from the Scriptures.  John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15).  Since salvation is God’s work in a person’s heart, it doesn’t require any particular level of cognitive understanding or behavioral response to be present and real.  Growth in faith is certainly evidenced by understanding and behavior, but it is not earned (or merited) by them.  Faith is more than a decision, it is a gift from God.  So, Tony, my age estimate is somewhere around conception. :)

See the answers given by other children's ministers here.

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).

Think Tank: Baby Dedication

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

Children's Ministry Ideas

I tapped out of the latest edition of the Children’s Ministry Think Tank. I have lots of excuses... preaching, web site crashes, etc.  But none of them are really that good, because the latest topic is a really important one.   So, even though I didn't make the posting deadline, I thought I'd go ahead and answer the question here... and provide a link to thoughts from other children's ministers.

Think Tank #3 Questions About Baby Dedication

What is your church’s practice of baby dedication? Does it integrate with a family ministry strategy? Are their membership requirements for the parents? What do you include in the ceremony?At

At Sojourn, our dedication service is a time we set aside to celebrate the children that God has given us.  Member families from our church community come to go public with their desire to bring up new children by God’s grace and according to his instructions.

Our service is simply called a Dedication. Some churches think about it as a baby dedication, but it is better called a Parent Dedication. This is not a water baptism, but it is a heavy thing--serious business for the parents involved. The dedication is a covenant--a holy commitment made between the parents, God, and our church community. It is serious business for our church as well. We don’t believe that God made children the responsibility of the nuclear family in isolation. Church and home are co-champions of God’s ways for our kids. Every member of Sojourn is responsible for these kids. We need each other. These parents need our encouragement, accountability, and our prayers. These kids need our love, nurture, and our gospel examples.

In the service itself, we call for the following committments from our parents and our church membership:

The Parent's Commitment

Parents, do you profess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and affirm the promises of God made to you and your children in his Word.  If so say  “We do.”

Will you promise to God and this church community to live gospel-changed lives before your children?  Will you promise to discipline them and show them grace?  Will you instruct them by word and example in the truth of God’s Word and in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Will you promise to pray for them and teach them to pray?  Will you promise to nurture them within the body of believers to the end that they become citizens in Christ’s kingdom?  If so, say, “We will with God’s help.” The Church’s Commitment:

Sojourn, will you promise in the presence of God and one another to live gospel-changed lives before these children and to pray that they will in turn be changed by the gospel?  Will you love and pray for these children—encouraging them and helping to nurture them in the faith?  Will you assist these parents in fulfilling their biblical responsibilities, hold them accountable by confronting sin, pray for them, and spur them on toward love and good deeds?  If so, please read the following:

With joy and thanksgiving, As Christ’s church, With God’s help, We promise to love, encourage, and support you As you follow Christ and parent your children.

We have parents write up a paragraph about their child for the ceremony, which we publish in a keepsake booklet. You can check out the complete dedication booklet for our April 2009 service here.

This coming Fall, we hope to offer a two-week "foundations" class on Wednesday nights that introduces our parents to the covenant commitment they are making at the baby dedication, introduces our philosophy of student and family ministry, and teaches some basic parenting principles for  parents of newborns.  This class will be an experiement for us.  We got the idea from Kingsland Baptist Church's (Katy, TX) "legacy milestones" philosophy, and we will be adapting some material from Bethlehem Baptist Church's (Minneapolis, MN) "foundation builders" classes.  Maybe I'll report back later with regard to how it goes.

Think Tank: Kids and Baptism

UncategorizedJared Kennedy3 Comments

think-childrens-ministry

The second  Children’s Ministry Think Tank from Ministry-to-Children.com addresses the issue of kids and baptism.  Here is this week's question as posed by Tony Kummer.  You can read my answer below or click over to Tony's site to read the answers from my colleagues.  Apart from some minor differences, our approach is fairly similar.

Think Tank #2 Questions About Baptism & Kids

What is your church’s policy about baptizing kids? Is there any age absolutely too young? If you had to pick a “typical” or “ideal” age what would you say? What happens when a kid comes back for re-baptism as a teen?

Response from Jared Kennedy

It is a joy to speak with parents that desire to tell the gospel to their kids and encourage their faith. There are lots of tensions that weigh on our hearts when we approach the issue of childhood baptism and church membership. With parents, we long to see our children saved and not discouraged. We also long to have a policy that will not compromise our church’s witness to the culture by accepting and baptizing a child too quickly.  Sojourn has put together a full policy booklet that helps parents navigate these tensions.  You can download it here.

Here is our policy in brief:

  1. Sojourn strongly recommends that parents wait until their child is at least twelve years old before presenting them for a baptism interview. This is a recommendation and not a mandate. Children will be interviewed, and their readiness for baptism will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  We recognize that the New Testament example is for baptism upon a valid profession of faith. Therefore, baptism ought to follow conversion immediately upon the appearance of discernable signs of conversion.  Time, however, is sometimes the only course of action for determining, as much as is humanly possible, the validity of a child’s profession of faith in Christ. For this reason, we strongly advise parents to wait.  Evidence of faith often becomes clearer as the child grows and shows the fruit of a changed heart.
  2. Conversion is God’s work in the believer. It is not simply a decision on the believer’s part. We strongly encourage parents to look for evidences or signs of conversion (such as conviction of sin, understanding of truth, and a renewed life in their child before presenting him or her for baptism.
  3. Since parents are responsible for instructing their children and overseeing their spiritual development, it is imperative that the church teach, instruct, and guide parents in this task. Parents of seeking children are paired with a representative from Sojourn’s leadership,who meets with these parents to discuss the tensions involved in discerning a child’s heart.  Parents are also be paired with mentors-typically parents with children who have been through the process before-who will counsel and advise the parents as they seek to lead their children in spiritual things.
  4. Over a period of time, the seeking child is led by his or her parents through a study that clarifies the gospel such as Who Will Be King by Matthias Media, A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Reformation Trust Today, or something similar.
  5. At the conclusion of this study, the child meets for an interview (or series of interviews) with his or her parents, the parents’ mentors, and a representative from Sojourn’s leadership. The purpose of these studies is for the mentors and leadership representative meeting with the child and parents to discern if the child understands and has embraced the gospel.   During these meetings, the pastoral and mentorship team also help the child to craft a testimony which, as with all baptism candidates, is read at the baptism service.
  6. Mentors and parents then jointly present the child to the elders for church membership and participation in the ordinances at the conclusion of their teaching/mentorship meetings.
  7. If the elders are convinced that a child has given evidence of a genuine conversion, the child is baptized and accepted into the fellowship and discipline of the church. The child, under the authority of his or her parents, is without voting responsibilities until the age of eighteen.
  8. At the age of eighteen, the child attends Sojourn’s membership classes and interviews, like adult candidates for membership, with an elder. The voting responsibilities given to adult members are exercised only after the completion of this interview.

Given our policy, most young people are not baptized until their teens though many come to faith at an earlier age.  We do not believe in re-baptism, but, if the teen, his parents, and Sojourn’s elders believe that a previous baptism occurred before the child was genuinely converted, we would allow the teen to participate in a second baptism service and receive a true baptism as a believer.

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.