I've been taking a class on evangelism and missions. Because of this I've been thinking about evangelism a lot and particularly how it relates to children. Child evangelism is a subject that is close to my heart, and I think it'll make more sense if I tell you my story, err, testimony.
I grew up in a super Christian home. My mom tells me about how I was in church the first Sunday after I was born. She played the piano and my dad led the youth and music. We went to church every Sunday. Since the day of my birth I could count the Sundays I have not been in church on two hands (That's less than 10). I was presented with the Gospel at a very early age.
I'm told this story, because I don't really remember it... though, I think I've developed some fake memories of it because I've been told the story so many times. I don't know though. I was really young. One day I saw an advertisement in a magazine for a carpet cleaning product. The ad had a spilled glass of wine. This advertisement jogged my memory to ask why I couldn't take the Lord's Supper. In a kid friendly way my dad explained that the Lord's Supper is only for baptized believers. I was curious and wanted to know more.
My dad shared the Gospel with me that day and I became a Christian. I was young; not even 4. Knowing my father, he did not force me into any decision. It was my choice. I'm sure he shared the Gospel to me in a way that helped me understand my decision. Then he let me make it.
I was baptized soon afterwords (I do remember this), and for years I didn't even ponder the idea that I might not have actually been saved at 3. But eventually, I'd say around 8, I started to have real doubts about my salvation. I didn't actually remember asking Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. The only way I knew about my experience was through my parents. I struggled with this for years. I remember somewhere around 10 or 11 having insomnia. I was afraid that if I died while I was sleeping I'd wake up in Hell. I would stair at the ceiling and pray to God that I'd be saved, but, for some reason, in my mind, it didn't seem to stick. The next night I'd be just as scared. I never said anything publicly because I was already supposed to be saved... and well, I was the preachers kid.
Finally at 14 I decided that was enough. I killed my pride and walked to the front of the church and told everyone what was going on. I was once and for all letting everyone know that Jesus was my Lord and Savior and that I would follow Him wherever He led me.
Since that day I wouldn't say I've never ever had thoughts about if I was really saved or not, but whenever those thoughts come up I can quickly point to the moment I made it right. I don't think never thinking about if you're really saved is even healthy. Paul says to
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless you fail the test.Pondering our salvation is healthy. It's what keeps us in check. The way I figure it is that if I wasn't saved at 14 no one can be saved. I meant it as much as I could mean it. Any doubts have been reasonably destroyed.
So, what happened at 3? Was I saved, or did I just want to take the Lord's Supper? As I've matured mentally and spiritually I've come to a few of conclusions.
- I was saved at 3 (Three weeks from 4). I truly believe that if I would have died after that time I would have gone to Heaven. As far as I know I meant it at 3 as much as I meant it at 14. My parents tell me there was a definite change in my life. I remember wanting to follow Jesus. I believe He was my Lord then. God doesn't play games. I was sincerely praying for salvation, if I meant it, and I believe I did, then I was saved. So why all the doubts?
- I think Satan had my number. He knew what bothered me and he tortured me with that knowledge. The reason I think it was Satan and not the Holy Spirit is because of the manner in which it was done. I was not drawn to God though it. I was scared to death for years. There wasn't a beckoning. It was only condemnation. No matter how many times I prayed to God for salvation the doubt wouldn't go away. In my experience that's not how the Holy Spirit works. At least for me, the Holy Spirit works in a way that has urged me along. So what happened at 14?
- I got it right and removed Satan's foothold in my life. I made sure I was straight with God. I settled it once and for all! I do not regret what I did at 14. In fact, I'm thankful for 14. I really believe 14 was a confirmation of what God did in my heart at 3.
So how should we handle evangelizing children. I know there are smarter people than me who can answer this question, but because of my experience I feel like I can, in some way, speak to this conversation. Children should have the Gospel shared with them. There is no age that shouldn't have God's Good News told to them. Hey, I'm already telling Levi!
Parents should observe their children and determine their spiritual sensitivity. Some children are more receptive to the Gospel than others. Quentin at 3 is way more verbally open about God than Maggie is at 5. Quentin tells us how he loves Jesus so much. Maggie wouldn't normally say something like that... She has a hard enough time saying she loves us. Parents can look at their children and know if that child is capable of understanding the Gospel. Parents need to guide their children through the process and explain as good as they can all that it means to be saved. I strongly encourage parents encourage their children to talk about their decision. They should tell kids that if they have any doubts about their decision to please talk to them. Remind them of this constantly, at every age.
I think talking through it with my parents would have solved a lot of my problems. When I was young my parents would have been happy to talk to me about my doubts, but I didn't know it. I'm not throwing them under the bus. They didn't know I was having doubts, how could they? They couldn't read my mind.
Finally, some people worry that Children don't understand the gravity of the decision they're making. My question to those people is, did they? I didn't not even at 14. I didn't understand the places God was going to bring me and the faith that was going to be required. But I was saved. Yes, I believe that we should try and help people understand what this decision to follow Christ means, but we can't get too wrapped up in the intellectual side of salvation. I don't need to know the make up of water and all its properties for it to sustain me. I just know I crave it and that it refreshes me. The same could be said for salvation. Jesus never said to come to Him like a grown adult who understands SO much (do we really?). He told us to come as little children (Lk 18:16; Matt 19:14; Mk 10:14). As my brother said on Facebook today, "The beauty of the gospel is that it's simple enough for a child to understand, yet so complex, deep, and powerful, that we may never completely understand the gravity of it all."
Yes, we should evangelize children. We should help them understand Christ's great sacrifice, their sinfulness, and the Lord's salvation from an early age. They may not understand it all at the point of salvation, but if we don't evangelize them they will understand even less. We cannot keep them in the dark, but we must proceed with caution and try our hardest to council them on the deeper things of the Gospel. I think we'd all be surprised at what a 3 year old (almost 4) can understand.