As an evangelism professor, I like to ask my students how many of them have heard a sermon on the home over the past few years. Nearly every student raises a hand — and that's good. The home is a premier subject for preachers. But when I ask a follow-up question, almost without exception no students raise a hand. The question: "How many of you have heard a message explaining either how to present the gospel to a child, or how to teach your children to witness?"
Both elements of this question are vital. As a young pastor, I taught the parents of elementary age children how to use a marked New Testament to witness to their own children. I included several do's and don'ts, particularly related to pushing children too soon without avoiding their obvious spiritual questions, as well as simple counsel on how to lead a child to Jesus Christ. Over the next year several parents had the wonderful joy of helping their own older child come to Christ!
I think we spend so much time trying to protect our children that we overlook the need to prepare them to make a positive impact through the gospel. If children can understand salvation, they can also understand how to present the Good News. My son, Josh, who turned fourteen this summer, led his little sister to Jesus Christ when he was ten. He was equipped to be a witness for the Lord because he had seen me lead him to faith in Christ and because our children's minister at church had helped him to know what to say. When Josh went into the youth group, one of the first things he wanted to do was to take the youth evangelism classes our church offers. Over the past six months or so, Josh has led three adults to Christ, and several other youth have had several experiences. I thank God for a church that allows younger people to follow the direction of biblical teens like David, Josiah, and Daniel!
In the second grade Hannah, now in the fourth, asked every single child in her public school classroom if they knew Jesus in a personal way. She also made invitations for all her classmates to come and witness her baptism, and this was her idea!
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 summarizes the heart of our faith: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Furthermore, we are to teach our children this as well. Part of that training includes talking about the things of God when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up (verse 7). Our love for God should be obvious, written on the door frames of our houses and tied symbolically to our bodies! In other words, our faith should be a very public matter.
A couple of years ago Josh was with me at the bank. I spoke with the teller about the Lord, discovering she loved and followed Jesus. As we left, Josh said, "Dad, she is a Christian, isn't she?" "She sure is," I replied. Impressed that the teller spoke so openly about Jesus, Josh said, "Wow, Dad, no one talks about Jesus like that in public — well, no one except you. While I was glad Josh saw a positive example of consistent witnessing in my life, I was struck by his recognition that witnessing was not the normal part of the everyday life of most believers.
Let me cut to the chase: The reason most of us don't talk to lost people about Jesus is that we don't talk with saved people about Him! When speaking of Jesus begins to pervade our lives, teaching our children to proclaim Him will not be so difficult. How can the church, including ministers and parents, teach our children to witness? Believe in your children. We need to raise the bar of Christianity in America, starting with our homes!
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor who witnessed a mighty movement of God in his day, said we will never see God move in a general way unless He first moves in our homes. I don't want my kids simply to survive in the culture today; I want them to make an impact to the glory of God! Model witnessing — it is caught more than taught. Our children will do less of what we say and more of what we do. Are you modeling a witnessing lifestyle?
Take the kids with you when you witness — door-to-door, in parks, at car washes, and so on. Use a simple tool. I love gospel tracts, so my kids use them when we go out witnessing. Teach children to witness according to their strengths. This is critical for all believers, but especially for children. Josh, my oldest child, is cautious, less spontaneous, and thus far more comfortable witnessing when he knows the framework. If I tell him we're going door to door from 1:00 to 2:30, for example, he thrives. Hannah, on the other hand, will talk to anyone, anytime, about virtually anything.
Learn your children's strengths and encourage them. Make it fun! We do a lot of servant evangelism, including free car washes, handing out sodas in the park, and giving away popcorn with tracts. This opens the door to witness in a winsome manner.
Teach children that success is in sharing, not winning. A pastor friend of mine once had to pull his husky son off a scrawny little boy at a playground. "Dad, I tried to tell him about Jesus," the boy explained, "but he just wouldn't listen!" That's not what we want our kids to do. But if we can help them discover that knowing Jesus is the most important thing in the world, they'll soon conclude that the most important thing they can do is to tell others.
For further information on witnessing to children, see Introduction to Evangelism by Alvin Reid, (Broadman and Holman, 1998), chapter 14. Another useful resource by Alvin Reid is Light the Fire: Raising Up a Generation to Live Radically for Jesus (Winepress Publishers, 2000). For more information on this book, visit www.alvinreid.com.