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How, when to lead children to Christ addressed in revised NAMB materials

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP)–With 56 percent of Christians today having accepted Christ before age 13, the questions of how and when to lead children to a personal relationship with Christ have never been more critical for families and churches.
But by integrating a unified evangelistic strategy from infancy forward, it is possible to ensure that children have every opportunity to make decisions that change their lives for eternity, said Skip Arnhart, a children’s evangelism specialist for the North American Mission Board.
Arnhart gave an overview of guidelines for both sharing the gospel with children and determining their readiness for making a lasting decision during a workshop on “Sharing God’s Special Plan,” NAMB’s completely revamped set of resources on children’s evangelism. The workshop was part of REACH ‘99, a church-planting and evangelism conference Aug. 30-Sept. 3 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The revised “Sharing God’s Special Plan” materials introduced at the conference are the culmination of two years of work by Arnhart and a national task force as part of the agency’s new emphasis on children’s evangelism. Available separately and in kit form from LifeWay Christian Resources, the materials include a witnessing booklet designed especially for children, a training manual and accompanying videotape, a set of cards designed to train children how to share Jesus with their friends.
Arnhart said readiness is critical whenever the gospel is presented to children, because it is all too easy to lead them to a decision when their understanding is not complete.
The key issue is the child’s understanding of sin, Arnhart said. They must first understand the meaning of sin as a violation of God’s commands, a basic issue of right and wrong. They also must understand they are guilty of sin, based on their own actions as well as on the inherited sin nature that began with Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden
“When you are born you are born a sinner, whether you like it or not,” Arnhart said.
They then can reach an understanding of how Christ died for their sin, and how that gift can be theirs if they express genuine repentance and accept him as Lord of their lives.
How do you know they understand? Just asking them if they understand is not enough, Arnhart said. Any question that leads to “yes” or “no” answers — commonly found in witnessing materials for adults — can be fraught with danger for children. In order to please adults, they will simply answer in the affirmative.
Children must be asked to explain in their own words the critical concepts, which are complex enough that understanding is highly unusual in preschool years and in most children occurs from the ages of 9 to 11, Arnhart said.
“The beautiful thing about this witnessing booklet [God’s Special Plan] is, number one, it is interactive. The child participates,” said Arnhart. He mentioned how one woman had been less than enthusiastic about the booklet because of its complexity. She had used it with a child recently, and the child lost interest.
“And I thought, ‘Great. What does that tell you about the child?’” Arnhart said. The booklet had been effective in demonstrating the child was not ready to make a decision. Instead, they are congratulated for having made a “step towards God” and encouraged to continue learning more about God’s plan for their lives.
“That’s what the tract is designed for,” Arnhart said. “It’s a gospel presentation for children, but it also helps the adult determine whether the child is ready to be saved.”
The actual presentation of the gospel should be undergirded with prayer, Arnhart said — for the one sharing, for the child, and that God would give the adult the wisdom to know if he had chosen that time to “call that child unto himself.”
With or without a tract, the presentation should include questions that require explanations as answers, Arnhart said. And they should include relevant Scripture. “Our words will touch their emotions, but God’s words will touch their hearts,” he said.
Counseling also should be given adequate time, Arnhart said. He advised never attempting to present the decision to the church the same day a child responds during a service unless the pastor or leader is familiar with the child and the decision. Counseling can occur after the service if the family is willing to wait, but Arnhart advised making it a policy to do such counseling in a later visit to the home. The child is comfortable, and time is not an issue.
As with any witnessing encounter, the gospel should be explained in terms the individual can understand. Words such as “asking Jesus into your heart,” for example, can create confusion. “When you’re talking to a second-grader, you have to talk like a second-grader.”
“Sharing God’s Special Plan” materials may be ordered through LifeWay Christian Services, 1-800-448-8032.

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  • James Dotson