Here’s a letter:
I grew up in a very soterian gospel culture and now work in children’s ministry. One of my roles is to help parents learn how to talk to their children about following Christ in a concrete (developmentally appropriate) way. I have about 30-45 minutes a few times a year to teach parents how to “lead their kids to Christ.” Since I am now wrestling with redefining the gospel, I feel a little stuck in guiding these parents. I understand the lifelong commitment of parents to disciple their kids. However, the pattern of “evangelism” at the church I’m in would be to present the basics via John 3:16 and to lead kids in a prayer to trust Christ. It’s easy to talk about how eternal life starts now so that it’s not just an “evacuation plan” gospel. However, I’m curious how you would offer a simple explanation to a child that includes the King Jesus gospel.
I often try to get folks to rethink this by asking this question first: How do you teach your children about Aslan? You read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to them as soon as they can comprehend that wonderful tale. You may also put up a picture of Aslan in their bedroom. And many of us also take our children to a theater or we purchase a DVD so they can watch it at home. And, perhaps most of it all, when our children ask questions about Aslan and Narnia, we answer their questions. We encourage their fascination, and we sometimes bring up Aslan ourselves to them.
That’s exactly how we teach them the King Jesus Gospel. We read to them the Gospel story about Jesus, we may put up a picture of them in their room, and we might have a cross in our home. If a movie comes out about Jesus, we watch it and talk about it. There’s more we can do about Jesus: We can take them to church, where in Sunday school classes they can learn about Jesus. We read books about Jesus, and we listen to their questions about Jesus, and we do our best to answer those questions. Maybe you’ve been to the Holy Land and have pictures of the Sea of Galilee … and all these bring Jesus up in the presence of our children.
Notice that I’ve not said a word about Christianity. Our role as parents is to be witnesses to Jesus (just as Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8). We are called to point people to Jesus.
But I can hear you saying this isn’t enough. The issue here is not that. The issue is that we want to be able to count heads, we want to be able to say, “She’s made a decision and she’s in, while he’s still out.” This is where the problem arises: we are so intent on being able to count some child’s head as “in” and no longer “out” that we manipulate situations, we manipulate our children with guilt, and we get youth leaders who will do the same, and we hope the pastor will do the same … all hoping that we can finally relax at night knowing our kids have made the right decision and are now saved and “in.”
I get that but it’s wrong-headed: we’ve got to stop this grind and begin re-learning that we are witnesses to Jesus. What we are looking for is not that our children have made a decision but that they are beginning to live “in Christ,” that they are beginning to follow Jesus, that they are beginning to take steps that make it clear they see Who he is, what he has done for us (lived, died, buried, raised, exalted; forgiven, justified, reconciled), and how we are to respond to him (turning from what we want to what God wants, trusting him, and being baptized into his life, death, burial and resurrected life).
We need not be in a hurry. Ignore the apocalyptists and take your time to let the fertile soil of your home be the ground on which gospel seeds can take root and grow.
Another issue here is that we have some reason come to the view that we can do this in a 3-5 minutes. I don’t believe there’s any warrant for thinking we have to reduce the gospel to a few points so we can say we’ve presented the gospel.
But I do think in one minute, in 5 minutes, in one hour, in one day, in one week, in one month, in one year we can witness to Jesus by reading the Bible, by telling stories about Jesus, and by telling people what has happened to us in encountering the grace of God in King Jesus, who is Lord of the Empire and the Savior of the Expanses.
Tell your children about Jesus, tell them about his whole life, and explain some Why? questions: that he entered into this world in order to redeem it, because we have done such a bad job at what God called us to do (be co-regents with God in this world); he entered into what we deserved — death — so that we can enjoy what He alone is and can give — life. That he died with us in solidarity as one of us; that he died instead of us (our sin, our death); and that he died for us (“for our sins”). And he, like Aslan, saw the day when the Stone Table cracked, he roamed the land again, and we too can live in light of the new creation resurrection life.