A major goal for every Christian parent should be to lead their children to Christ. When parents think about leading their children to Christ a lot of ideas tend to swirl around in their heads. First, they often don’t feel qualified. They worry that they will get it wrong. They worry that they won’t know how to answer questions that come up. So parents often leave it to the church. No doubt answering a child’s spiritual questions can be challenging at times, but it is extremely important that parents play a primary role in leading their children. Parents need to be okay with telling their children that we are all going to look in the Bible and find the answer to those questions. Parents don’t need to have all the answers, but showing your children that anytime you don’t know you turn to the Bible will leave a lasting impression.
Another thought that parents have is that they just want their kids to make a decision as soon as possible. While the motivation is good, this can set a child up for years of questioning and doubt. Parents will often just have a child pray a “salvation prayer” in the first good conversation they have about spiritual issues. For the most part, kids want to please their parents. They don’t have any reason to object to praying a prayer. It seems like it would be fun to be a part of the same club as your parents and their friends at church. Therefore, it is very easy to get a “decision” or agreement to the facts without true surrender and life change.
So what does it look like to lead your child to Christ? What are the key components of that process?
Constant spiritual conversations: It needs to be normal in your home that you discuss what the Bible says about situations that arise. Spiritual conversations are not one-sided. While you and the church are pouring God’s truth into them, you should also be drawing those truths back out of them. So when you are having spiritual conversations with your kids, ask good questions that cause them to pull from what they know about God and the Bible. Also, ask good follow-up questions when they are expressing interest in knowing Jesus. Get to the heart of why they are interested. Too often parents hear that their child is interested and quickly lead him in a prayer. But if you ask the child, “Why are you so interested in knowing Jesus?” his answer might be because his friend got baptized last week, or because they don’t want to go to hell, or even that they want to be allowed to take communion in church. These answers can lead to great conversations that can bring clarity to where the child really is spiritually. Some follow-up questions might be: “What was it about your friend being baptized that made you interested?”, “Do you know what baptism means?”, “Are you as interested in giving your life and your decisions to Jesus as you are not going to hell?” In your spiritual conversations, avoid big words or confusing words like “ask Jesus into your heart”, “you need to be saved”, “redemption”, or “repentance.” When you read passages that use words like repentance take the time to explain what it means and then use the simple explanation to refer to that passage. “Here God says that we are supposed to repent of our sins. That means to be sorry for our sins to the point of wanting to move away from them.” Define all the words you can in the Gospel message. Even the quote above may require an explanation of the word sin. Also, don’t make the conversations about becoming a Christian, going to heaven, or getting baptized. The conversation should stay focused on having a relationship with God and making Jesus the “boss” of your life. Sometimes using an illustration like the Bridge illustration can help your kids see the message more clearly.
Conviction: One of the greatest dangers that can yield false decisions is the fact that your kids may have grown up in church and they totally agree with the facts of the Gospel. Too often we act like “believing” just means agreeing to the facts. Think about how we often baptize people. “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He gave His life on the cross for your sins, and that He rose again? Then I baptize you…” The Devil believes those same facts. But the Devil will not surrender to God’s rule. Maybe we should add the question, “And have you surrendered your life to Him?” Belief in the Bible is more than agreeing to the facts. It is believing those facts to the point that you are willing to surrender your life to Christ. What this means for your children is that you must watch for true repentance and a heart of surrender before calling them a “Christian.” When a child grows up in church, it is very easy to agree to pray a salvation prayer because he agrees to all the facts. You want to see that they have a sense of conviction and are concerned about how to be right with God. You want to see that he is motivated to pursue God and not just agreeing when you or his teacher tells him he should. One pastor said that every kid should learn the 10 Commandments and James 2:20 (If you break one law, you have broken them all). That can drive them to understand that they have a sin problem and need a Savior.
Commitment: As stated above, belief is more than agreeing to the facts. It is believing those facts to the point that you will trust Jesus with your life. Don’t rush a “decision,” look for a real commitment. Help your children understand what it really means to “follow Jesus.” Take some time to discuss the passages where people were interested in following Jesus until told them what it really meant. The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10 and Matthew 19) is an interesting study. It almost seems like Jesus is telling him that if he will just finish obeying the law, he will have eternal life. But really what He is doing is showing him that he is more committed to money than to Jesus. This can lead to a great discussion about what is holding your child back from committing his life to Jesus. You want your children to grapple with the commitment. As much as possible in their young world, they need to understand that following Jesus is not all fun activities, gold stars, and snacks in their church class. It means forgiving people you don’t want to forgive. It means submitting what you have to Him. It means dying to self.
One tool we use with adults that illustrates this is what we call the Dating to Marriage scale. We start on one side of the scale and talk about how people begin to get to know each other. First, you become aware of that person, then you become interested, then you start spending time around that person, then you really start getting to know the person, and then you get engaged. At that point, you believe this is the person for you. You agree with what you have seen. But you still aren’t married, because you haven’t come to the wedding yet and actually committed your life to that person. We talk about how people often have cold feet on their wedding day. Why? Because even though they have already agreed that this person is the one, there is a sense that they are making a life-changing commitment on that day. They know that their lives will be tied together. They know that their finances will become that other person’s finances. They know that they will need to make decisions based on what the other person wants. This illustration is probably not concrete enough for young minds. I share it with you to show you the difference between a “decision” and a “commitment.” Engagement is a decision, but nothing really changes until that wedding day because that’s when the real commitment happens. Take this same approach with your kids. If you don’t see conviction and a real desire to go all-in with Jesus, tell your child that you are happy they are interested and you want to keep talking about it. Help them gain a clear picture of what trusting Jesus with your life means.
I’m not advocating for making it hard for your children, but I am advocating for making it clear.