Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Gospel and Children

At our church, summertime brings with it VBS, children's camps, and youth camps. These events bring forth opportunity to share the Gospel with young people.

I have been guilty of saying, "I am not good at sharing the Gospel with kids." But, interestingly enough, through being a public school teacher, and involvement in things like AWANA and VBS, I have had far more opportunities to share the Gospel with children than with adults. My feelings of inadequacy in sharing the Gospel with kids, are invalid.  The power to Salvation does not rely in how "good"a presentation is, the power lies in the message of the Gospel. (Romans 1:16)

Through talking to children, it has become apparent that the biggest impediment to the Gospel is a lack of understanding of sin. Here are some conversations I have had with children:

Me: What is sin?

Child: It is the stuff bad people do.

Me: Like who?

Child: You know, the people in jail and stuff.

Me: What is sin?

Child: The wrong things we do, but we don't really mean to do them.....maybe we just get angry and do them on accident.

Me: Are you a sinner?

Child: No.

Me: Are you a sinner?

Child: (Hesitates...) Well, sometimes.  But, not a really bad one.

Me: Why do you do things like hit your brother or sister?

Child: (Shrugs) They hit me first.

I know this lack of seeing sin is not limited to only children. In fact, I would say it is the tendency of all humans to try and convince themselves that they are not "that bad." The truth is we are all wicked in our hearts. Perhaps we have not physically committed some sin as grievous as murder, but Christ makes it abundantly clear that we are guilty because of the nature of our heart.  "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 3:15

So, this has caused Stephen and I to really think about how we will teach our child that they are a sinner in need of a Savior. There is nothing more important to teach our children. And, as we are intentional about this we approach it with a humbleness realizing that we cannot artificially produce spiritual fruit in our child's life. However, we trust that as we are obedient God will prepare their heart and bring them to repentance and faith. So, I share these thoughts with you in hopes that it may give you some things to think about as you intentionally teach the Gospel .

1) Accept responsibility as parents. It is our duty, not anyone else's to teach our child about their sin and the Gospel. We are responsible for lovingly identifying sin, its consequence, and the hope offered in Christ. That means that when our child is disobedient we call it sin. That means when we mess up, we call it sin. We don't simply rely on the church and its leaders to identify sin for our kids. After all, we are the ones who see them everyday and can teach them to recognize sin in their everyday actions and in their heart.

2) Begin young.  The temptation is to wait until the child is "old enough" to understand. Or, to wait until the child begins to ask questions. But we don't teach our children other things in this manner! Think of a child who has not even begun to talk. We tell this child, "Look at the green tree."  or "The cow says moo." We will repeat these types of sentences over and over again before the child even knows what a color or animal is. Eventually, it clicks and the child begins to point at the tree and say, "TEE." They don't get it just right at first but we use that as a stepping stone to teach them more, to teach them better. We are so intentional in teaching our children things that are much less significant than the truth of the Gospel. But when it comes to teaching the Gospel, we think we should wait until they can understand what we are saying! Seems kind of silly, huh?

So, what would it look like to begin young?  When that child is disciplined for disobeying a command, we say, "It is a sin to disobey mommy and daddy. God does not like sin. He must punish sin.  That's why he sent Jesus." Now, granted this is not the full Gospel, but when we teach our child, "The cow says moo," we are not concerned that they know that the cow is a ruminant bovine mammal from which we get most things dairy. NO! We just want them to have a foundation of knowledge so that later in life they will be prepared for a deeper understanding.

3) Identify motives.  We know that Jesus' death was not simply to pay for our "mistakes." It was to pay for the deep, sinfulness of our heart; sinfulness that deserves hell.  We would do our children a disservice if we only pointed out actions as sin. Instead, we should help them discover the sinful motives of their heart. For example, Mom says, "Johnny, why did you hit your brother?" Johnny, "He took my car." Mom, as she gets down to Johnny's level, lovingly and calmly says, "No, that's not why. You hit your brother because you think it is your job to punish people who make you mad. But, that is not your job, that is God's job. When humans try to do God's job it shows how sinful we are. God's word says it is my job as your parent to punish you when you are sinful so you will get a spanking for hitting your brother." This conversation could even proceed to the fact that God will punish sinners who do not repent and believe in Jesus.  By helping our children identify their motives we prepare them to understand sin as something they are, not just something they do.

4) Modeling the Gospel in discipline. We will aim to model our corrective discipline after the Gospel. Hence, the process of corrective disciple should be: identify the transgression, identify the punishment for this transgression, administer the punishment, then model reconciliation. We cannot forget this last step as it is the ultimate goal of the Gospel. Once the punishment has been fulfilled we must be intentional about reconciliation. This means that there are no grudges held and no late additions to the punishment. By being purposeful to reconcile with our kids we wil model the sufficiency of Christ's payment for sin and the reality of Christ making possible reconciliation with God.

Now, I am not trying to be naive. I know all of this will be easier said than done. There will be days that I lose my temper. There will be days that our child covers their ears as we attempt to point out their sin and tell them about Jesus. There will be times when we fail miserably at teaching our children the Gospel. As much as I know that, I also know that God has entrusted me as a parent to teach my child the truth of the Gospel. Not doing so is disobedience.

I pray this gives you some things to think about. I am not claiming to have answers, but instead wanted to humbly share with you talks Stephen and I have had regarding how to teach our children the Gospel. I know without a doubt that we still have much to learn.

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