Communicating the Childlike Wonder of the Gospel to Your Kids
By LESLIE LUDY
I once read through a Sunday school preschool curriculum that walked teachers through the process of sharing the Gospel with young children. It cautioned against using “heavy terms” such as “sin,” “death,” and “hell” and encouraged teachers to focus mainly on the light and happy aspects of the Gospel message. While I understood the writers’ desire to protect young children from subjects they weren’t ready for, I also was saddened to see the power and fullness of the Gospel reduced to a “warm and fuzzy fairy tale” designed simply to make children feel good.
As I shared in my book Set Apart Motherhood:
If children never recognize the seriousness of sin and the horrible destiny that awaits those who do not know Jesus Christ, their hearts will not be prepared to understand the “good news” of the Gospel. So it’s important not to sugarcoat the truth. Kids need to be disturbed over their sin. They need to recognize their helplessness to be clean and justified before God. And they need to understand the misery of hell. Before they can grasp the Good News, they must fully comprehend the bad news.
I have discovered that my kids’ hearts are far more stirred by the message of the Cross when they understand the seriousness of sin and hell and become acquainted with their complete and utter need for a Savior. And yet, this doesn’t mean that sharing the Gospel with our kids needs to be a miserable, upsetting experience, like the fire-and-brimstone sermon in the movie Pollyanna that gave all the parishioners “sour stomach” for the rest of the week. The Gospel is the most wondrous, joyful, exciting message in the universe — so it’s important to convey it to our children in all its epic power, hope, and majesty.
Rather than “dumbing down” or “sugarcoating” truth into a feel-good version of Christianity, it’s far better to look for creative ways to share the fullness of the Gospel with our children. They may not be ready for a long, liturgical sermon, but they are capable of grasping deeper spiritual concepts than we often give them credit for. We just need to communicate truth in a way that truly captures the childlike wonder of the Good News. After all, Jesus Himself said, “…unless you…become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3). Contrary to popular belief, children are not less capable of understanding the Gospel than adults are — in fact, in many ways they are more capable than adults of comprehending its beautiful simplicity. So let’s take advantage of these early years when our kids are ready to respond to God’s life-changing truth with childlike wonder and joy!
If you feel a bit paralyzed by this task, let me first encourage you with a key principle that I wrote about in Set Apart Motherhood:
A lot of Christian parents I’ve known think that others are more qualified than they are to share the truth of Jesus Christ with their kids. It’s tempting to believe that if our kids attend Sunday school and Bible clubs, they’ll be introduced to the Gospel, which can then be reinforced at home. But this is backward reasoning. God has entrusted us with the privilege of leading our little ones to Christ (see Eph. 6:4). Following Jesus is the most crucial decision our children will ever make; the decision that will determine their eternal fate. Who better to facilitate this all-important decision than we as parents, the ones who have been anointed and appointed by God for this sacred task? Remember, no matter how unqualified you may feel, God has specifically called you to lead your children to Him. If you ask Him to equip you and lead you, He will provide all of the wisdom, creativity, and diligence you need to point your children’s hearts to Christ.
Once you make the decision to rise up and embrace this sacred call of sharing the Gospel with your children, begin to ask God to show you how to communicate truth to them in ways that will reach their heart. Here are a few ideas that have worked well in our home:
Get Excited about Truth
Our excitement is contagious to our kids. When we share the life-giving message of the Gospel with our children, it is vital that we do it with genuine enthusiasm and joy. I am a naturally reserved person, so jumping up and down and acting super-peppy isn’t really my thing. However, even a reserved person can show passion and excitement for the truth. When I speak about truth with fervor and conviction, it captures my children’s interest and awakens them to the importance of what I’m sharing with them. I’ve noticed that when I spend time personally meditating upon the amazing wonder of the Cross, reading the Psalms, and listening to powerful worship music, I become freshly excited and passionate about sharing truth with my children — rather than just “going through the motions” of teaching them principles from God’s Word simply because it’s the right thing to do.
I like to start out my devotional lessons with phrases like, “We are going to talk about something AMAZING today!” or “I have something SUPER exciting to tell you about today!” Right from the start, it sets the stage for both me and my kids to get excited about the tremendous wonder and joy of God’s truth. Even when I am sharing the more weighty aspects of the Gospel, such as the seriousness of sin, I always use it as a catalyst to lead into the amazing, astounding, wonderful, hope-filled good news of Christ — so there is always a reason to be excited about what I am talking about!
No matter what aspect of the Christian life I’m sharing with my kids, I’ve found it is so important to always tie it back to the foundational message of Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. He gave everything for us, and it should be our delight to give everything to Him in return. When my children have that perspective, truth never becomes dour or dutiful. Living the Christian life must flow out of a love relationship with the King of all kings, rather than simply following a moral code. When I help my children understand this, the Gospel becomes life-giving rather than obligatory, and there is always a reason to get excited about truth.
Use Visual Illustrations
A few years ago, I wanted to share with Hudson about spiritual breaches, showing him that habitual sin or unforgiveness in his heart could allow the enemy to gain a foothold in his soul. The book of Nehemiah and the broken down wall of Jerusalem paints a tremendous picture of this important spiritual truth. But rather than just reading him the story of Nehemiah, I demonstrated the breach concept by using toy blocks to build a city with a wall around it. I then broke apart a piece of the wall, then grabbed a villainous army guy and showed him sneaking into the city through the gap in the wall to attack and harm the people inside. “This is what the enemy does when we allow breaches into our life,” I explained to Hudson. “He sneaks in through a gap in our wall and brings darkness into our life. If we don’t seal up that breach by confessing and repenting of our sin, he’ll keep coming back time and time again and gain a foothold of control.”
Though it was just a simple visual illustration using toy blocks and an army guy, it made a lasting impression upon seven-year-old Hudson and helped him to grasp the truth I was sharing in a deeper way.
Whenever possible, I try to look for simple, creative visual illustrations like these to help my kids better understand the spiritual truths we are discussing. For example, to show my kids that it is impossible to produce “godly fruit” without the enabling power of God, I might give them a plastic bag filled with brown bananas and bruised apples. No matter how many times they reach into their bag, the only kind of fruit that comes out is rotten. “That’s what happens when we try to live a good and godly life without God’s Spirit living inside of us,” I will remind them. “Only when He is in control of our lives can the right fruit come out of our behavior.”
It is not always necessary to use visual illustrations when sharing the Gospel with your kids. But for those times when you really want certain key spiritual truths to reach their hearts, ask God to give you creative ideas for demonstrating truth in a way that will really connect with them. I’ve sometimes found it helpful to read through children’s Bible curriculums for unique ideas and visual illustrations. However, be mindful not to adopt teaching methods that “dumb down” the Gospel. It is more than possible to communicate truth in a way that is sensitive to your children without stripping the power and punch out of the message — it just takes a little creativity and a lot of supernatural grace!
Invest Time and Energy
Our children need to be reminded often of the key spiritual truths upon which they should build their lives. Our goal should be far beyond merely leading them to say a sinner’s prayer and accept Christ into their hearts; they need to be discipled in their Christian faith all throughout their growing up years. We should put just as much effort into their spiritual training as a missionary or pastor would give to a new convert under his spiritual leadership (if not more!). The discipleship of our children is a sacred task that God has entrusted primarily to us as parents — not to Sunday school teachers or Bible club leaders. Outside Christian activities such as church and Bible clubs should merely be an enhancement to the consistent, deeper spiritual training our children are receiving at home.
To truly disciple our children in the Christian faith requires a sacrifice of time and energy on our part. I’ve known many dedicated homeschool moms who tireless work to educate their children well and run an orderly home, yet fail to invest time into pointing their children’s hearts continually to Jesus Christ. Sadly, when these children leave home, many fall away from their Christian faith. They were taught morality and given the basics of the Gospel. But their souls were never truly transformed by a daily, passionate, thriving relationship with Jesus Christ. As I said in Set Apart Motherhood:
All the character training, Bible knowledge, and church activities in the world can never replace a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Studies show that a disturbingly large number of young people who have grown up in Christian homes have left the faith by the time they graduate from college. Many of these young people had godly parents who spent years training them in godly behaviors. They attended Sunday school and church. They went to youth group and had Christian friends. And yet, they never made a covenant exchange with the King of all Kings; they never gave their lives to Jesus and entered into a personal, life-transforming relationship with Him.
I encourage you to carefully evaluate your daily schedule and take a close look at the things that you are investing the majority of your time into. If you are spending a large amount of time managing the mechanics of daily life but little to no time truly discipling your children, prayerfully consider what daily or weekly changes you can make in order to shift your priorities. This doesn’t mean you need to never do the laundry or clean the kitchen in order to spend four hours a day discipling your children. Even fifteen to twenty minutes each day of focused, consistent discipleship time can make a world of difference for a young child’s spiritual growth.
Additionally, look for ways in which you can encourage your children to cultivate an individual relationship with Christ. Provide them with the guidance and tools that they need in order to learn the disciplines of personal prayer, stillness, and Bible study. For very young children, it might be as simple as a picture Bible and notebook where they can draw pictures of what they are learning about God. For older kids, a Bible, a journal, and a CD of worship music — along with a regular time in their schedule — can set the stage for them to have a powerful daily quiet time.
It is important for kids to understand that spending time in God’s presence is a relational activity, rather than a duty or obligation. Emphasize the fact that God desires to cultivate a daily relationship with them. Encourage your kids to let Him speak to their hearts and write down what they are receiving from Him, to pour out their concerns and desire to Him and lay their cares at His feet, and to speak to Him as a near and intimate Friend rather than a distant and impersonal being.
Above all, remember that we cannot expect our children to become passionate about the things of God or develop a lifelong relationship with Christ unless we are passionate about Him. In order to see our kids grow spiritually, we must be willing to put time and energy into their spiritual training and discipleship with the goal of leading them into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
It’s exciting to recognize that we have an amazing mission field right in our own family. May we not allow the cares of this life to distract us from the tremendous opportunity God has given us to lead our little ones to Him. (Note: to go deeper into this subject, I encourage you to listen to the message Raising William Wallace, available for free download on Ellerslie.com.)