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Talking with children about salvation requires developmental knowledge

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–About the time a child realizes it’s wrong to throw rocks at the neighbor’s car, he also can begin thinking about accepting the truth of Jesus, a preschool/children’s consultant said.
“When a child comes to the age of accountability — when he or she begins to know why something is right or wrong — that’s the time we can start talking to them about salvation,” Pamela Boucher told children’s leaders at the National Conference for Church Leadership Aug. 2-6 at Ridgecrest (N.C.), a LifeWay Conference Center.
“One of the biggest issues regarding accountability is that children begin understanding the difference between right and wrong at very different ages,” said Boucher, preschool/children’s ministers consultant in the pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources. “Some reach accountability at 5, and some not until they’re 15,” she said.
Leading the seminar, “Talking with Children About Salvation,” Boucher outlined appropriate Christian words and phrases to use with children and signs children display when the Holy Spirit begins to work in their lives.
Reaching children early with the Word of God is a critical step to evangelism, Boucher said. “Seventy-five percent of Christians made professions of faith before they reached age 16, and 50 percent of those did it by the time they were 12,” she said.
“The early years of learning and teaching spiritual truths are important and valuable. The earlier we can expose children to the Scripture and the more often we can do it, the easier it will be for them to receive Christ when the time comes.”
Boucher said creating a climate of faith at church helps children understand the meaning of salvation.
She described an environment or climate of faith as one in which children learn about the love of Jesus.
“You can put pictures of Jesus on the walls and play hymns and Christian music for the children. Of course, the greatest way for children to have a Christian environment is to have Christian parents and a Christian home. That means we must minister not just to the child, but to the entire family.
“The home environment can either help or hinder what we are trying to do at church,” she said.
Tossing abstract “churchy” words at children may confuse them, Boucher said, noting, “Church words are very abstract and children are very concrete thinkers.”
Some of the words or phrases that confuse children, she said, are “getting saved,” “born again,” “washed in the blood,” “sin,” “take the preacher’s hand” and “give your heart to Jesus.”
“You’ve got to take the time to explain what words mean. In this case, heart is the part of us that allows us to feel. Explain to them that sin means making a wrong choice or doing something that doesn’t please God.”
If a child does choose to publicly accept Jesus, an adult should determine if the child knows for certain what he or she is doing, Boucher advised.
“Ask them why they are coming forward and what they understand about it. Don’t ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions that are easy to answer. A lot of times their reason will be that they want to be baptized. And that’s not good enough. We can’t assume they know what they’re doing.”
Boucher said some sure signs children are moving closer to accepting Jesus as their Savior are:
— an increased level of desire and interest in Bible study or spiritual matters. — an increased number of questions about the subject, such as “When can I take the Lord’s Supper?” “When can I be baptized?” “What is God really like?” “Is there really a God?”
— exaggerated fears. “Suddenly they don’t want to go to church or they are afraid of more things.”
— a shift in behavior. “Calm passive children will turn into more aggressive children, and boisterous children will become more calm and contemplative,” Boucher said.
“Every child will probably exhibit signs that are uniquely theirs. You just need to be aware of them.”
The National Conference for Church Leadership is sponsored by the pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Terri Lackey