There’s a sad phrase I hear from teens/young adults from time to time, referring to the moment they came to faith: “I tried that and it didn’t work.”
I hear it most from those who have come to faith in the emotion of the moment, or those who haven’t been given the space to adequately process what it means to follow Jesus - to count the cost.
As a children’s evangelist - I need to ask why.
In my travels I still see the “put your hand up if you want to follow Jesus” approach, and if not that, then something very similar. I also see pressure put on children to respond in small group settings, and then see both scenarios reported excitedly later on social media or in news letters with the headline “we had x number of conversions today/last week…..”
Sometimes we forget that a child deciding to follow Jesus is not about us, but more about the work of the Holy Spirit and the calling of God.
But Sadly, it sometimes seems to be more about keeping a tally of conversions or being able to prove we did our job well.
It is a child’s choice whether to answer the call of God, not ours. Our role is to facilitate - to give them the opportunity to follow Jesus, to help them understand both the gift and the cost… and then give them space and wriggle room think.
I recall some one saying during my year as a trainee children’s worker “We don’t want premature [spiritual] births”. As someone who was formally a neonatal nurse - that metaphor rang very true. I later added to the quote with “let them arrive in the Kingdom when they and the Spirit are ready”
I’m a children’s evangelist - I have an evangelists heart. I long to see children answer the call of the Spirit to follow Jesus. BUT, I recognise that this is only the beginning of the journey, and it’s a journey that shouldn’t be forced.
As a children’s nurse, there is no way I would have said “Now this child is born, my work here is done”. No, I recognised the need to continue caring.
My nursing training also taught me there was a need to eventually wean, and give proper food to children - and when necessary cut it up for them so they could eat it without the risk of choking. A good parallel for how we teach and disciple our children!
So what do I do when explaining the Gospel to children?
When taking clubs, camps or groups at festivals, I never do the “stand up if you want to follow Jesus”. I deliberately set at a time when children can talk to me that is alongside another exciting activity - the first step of counting the cost.
Some children will come because I’m “the lady at the front” and they want to please me, so I will often get someone else to speak to them.
If a child comes along saying they want to be a Christian, I talk through their understanding of it and often send them away to think more. I often tell them to chat to their parents - even those who don't come from church families.
There will always be some children who are insistent that they want to become a Christian there and then. Their mind is made up and they won't be shaken on that. I don’t stand in their way - but I do insist they tell their parents, within my hearing.
Because I am often a visitor - I will make sure follow up is in place, and give children advice on how to access the support they will need.
I often pray that if children come to faith, it would be obviously God’s work. There was one notable conference where children kept coming to me saying they had woken in the night and felt God calling them. They had given their lives to him there and then.
Quite an answer to prayer - all the glory to God and no temptation to take any credit!
So, it seems Evangelism is much more than telling Children about Jesus:
It's nurture, discipleship and mentoring - both in the family and the church.
It's good Bible teaching.
It's being a good example
It’s giving room for children to ask their questions, to wrestle with the things they struggle with in a safe environment - without judging them.
It’s all these things, and a lot more. All because we have a desire to see a child have a resilient and life long faith
I don't want a child to respond to the gospel because they want to please us.
I don't want them to respond because their friends did.
I want them to respond because God has said “Come to Me”.