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Nurturing a child’s faith crucial, yet requires care

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–In an age of rising drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, divorce and broken homes, reaching children for Christ at an early age has never been more critical. “By the time a person becomes a teen, all thinking processes and morals have been concretized,” said Don McCutcheon, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s mass evangelism department and a specialist in children’s evangelism.
By age 16 or 17, values have been set. “Their decision-making habits have been concretized. By that time, they have already decided to accept or avoid behavior that is not in keeping with God’s Word.”
When children are reached for Christ, McCutcheon said, “they can be taught how to live, pray, study the Word and how to apply the Word in their lives.”
Evangelism is more than a decision; it is the beginning of discipleship, he said. “Discipleship gives tools so children can understand why they make decisions and choose to walk with God. Discipleship teaches them how to make decisions. Children fall back on what they have learned.”
Children in today’s society, in their desire to gain love, are at risk of mental manipulation and other pressures, McCutcheon pointed out. “We need to give them hope. If we are going to win the world, we need to show children there’s more to life than Nintendo, television and the ways of the world. There is someone who cares for them.”
Last year, Westside Baptist Church in Titusville reported more than 30 professions of faith from children. William Dillenbeck, minister of education and outreach, noted the church makes a deliberate effort to confront children with the gospel.
“Statistics show that more than 80 percent of all people who make professions of faith do so between the ages of 8 and 12,” he said. “It is essential to reach out and share with children at that age. Those who receive him will have years to serve him.”
He suggested churches employ a minister to children even before a youth minister. “If you get a children’s minister who is committed to soul-winning and discipleship, you will eventually have youth who are solid Christians with a foundation. They will be your future leaders.”
In the past, Southern Baptists were more aggressive in evangelizing children, McCutcheon said. This was replaced by a desire not to pressure children and a concern that children are not old enough to sincerely make a decision to accept Christ.
“Children need to know they are loved by God,” he said. “When they are old enough to understand God’s way of salvation, they need to be told lovingly and honestly in a language they can understand. Children must be given the opportunity to choose whether or not to accept Jesus as Lord. They need to be able to choose without feeling they have disappointed significant others in their lives. They must not be pressured or manipulated.”
At what age is a child able to make a profession of faith? McCutcheon cites Ruth Graham Bell and Corrie ten Boom as two who have stated they were converted at age 5. He calls such examples a “rare occurrence,” but adds children reared in a strong Christian environment and a Bible-believing church will respond with understanding at a much earlier age.
A child 9-10 years old usually is able to comprehend the gospel if it is presented in language he or she can understand, McCutcheon said.
He acknowledged some children make a conversion decision that is for the wrong reason, either because they are trying to please significant adults in their lives, out of curiosity or from peer pressure.
In talking with children about conversion, McCutcheon recommends adults take care that a child is not answering questions just to please the adult. He suggests those who provide this type ministry love children, be well-trained and understand developmental stages. The background of leaders must be screened and policies formed to protect the children, he said.
McCutcheon recommended several resources for churches wanting to be more deliberate in children’s evangelism. “God’s Special Plan for Children,” published by the North American Mission Board, includes a training video, a manual, a witnessing booklet and a user’s guide for the witnessing booklet.
“First Steps” by Camille Hamilton is a discipleship manual and “The World’s Greatest Adventure” is a personal commitment guide for decision counselors.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman
    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Barbara Denman ›