Conversations about becoming a Christian
Talking with a child about becoming a Christian is one of the most important conversations you can have; yet, sweaty palms, shaking knees, hives, fear and hesitation often accompany it. Worry and doubt can creep in. “I don’t want to say something that messes up the rest of their life spiritually.” “How will I know if they are ready to make a sincere decision?” “The conversation I had about this when I was young was confusing, and I don’t want to do that to anyone else.” There’s good news—WE don’t save anyone—the Holy Spirit does.
The best thing we can do is to be growing in our own relationship with Jesus. It starts there. The more time we spend praying, serving and studying God’s Word, the more sensitive we become to the work of the Holy Spirit around us. Here’s more good news—there’s only one way to Christ. There is not one way for adults and another for children. John 14:6 tells us that Jesus is the way. If you are a Christian, you are simply sharing with someone else what has already changed your life.
We need to understand children so that we can communicate truth in a way that is theologically accurate but in a way they can understand. In these conversations, questions are key. They let you into a child’s mind and heart. They help you see where the child is on their spiritual journey. The questions a child asks help you determine what type of information they seek.
Some of the first questions asked come from a place of curiosity. Children are constantly discovering more about their world. Questions asked from curiosity are usually about facts. These conversations happen when a child experiences something new, like seeing communion or a baptism for the first time. Young children ask questions as they learn to fit spiritual experiences into their lives. These types of questions are great at leading into a spiritual conversation, but they don’t always mean a child is ready to make the decision to follow Christ. Questions of this nature tend to start in the older preschool years.
As a child learns more about faith, their questions begin to shift. A personal connection occurs. A child begins to realize there is a connection between the facts they know about spiritual things and their world. Connection questions can be triggered by a life event such as a tragedy, natural disaster, sickness of a grandparent, or the death of a pet. While curiosity questions are fact-based, a child asking connection questions is showing an interest in how spiritual things relate to their community or someone they know.
The personal relationship to things of God leads a child to a place where a decision needs to be made. The link between things of God and the world they live in starts to become personal. God is not only in the world around them, He is part of their everyday life. They have to decide whether or not they are going to live for God. This is the place on the journey where facts about God that affect the world have an impact on their individual life. The child experiences conviction and has an understanding that a choice needs to be made.
One of the greatest influences on a child’s faith happens next. Once a decision to follow Christ is made, discipleship becomes essential. There is often a gap at this stage, which is reflected in the way it is described. There is a clear distinction between “leading a child to Christ” and “teaching a child to follow Christ.” In order to bridge this gap, you need to have a plan to help the child grow in knowledge of what they believe and provide opportunity to live it out. Here are some helpful things to remember when talking with a child about their spiritual journey.
Ask the right kinds of questions. Remember, questions give you insight into what a child is thinking. Too often the conversation goes like this:
Adult: Do you love Jesus?
Adult: Do you want to go to heaven?
Adult: Do you want to pray now?
What has the adult learned about where the child is on their spiritual journey? Not much.
Use open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are those that take more than one word to answer. They give an adult the opportunity to see what the child is seeking. A child says, “I want to go to heaven.” Ask questions like, “Why are you thinking about heaven?” or “How do you think someone gets to heaven?” to see what is on their heart. These types of questions help move the conversation beyond facts to examining a child’s understanding of what those facts mean to them. It’s the difference between a child’s ability to define sin and their understanding of the effects of sin in their life.
Use language children understand.
Sometimes the words we use can be a barrier for children. I encountered this firsthand as a summer missionary. While preparing to share the gospel with a group of neighborhood children, I asked if any of them had been saved. A precious little girl raised her hand and volunteered her story. She told us about being at the beach with her grandmother when a wave took her under the water. Her grandmother ran into the water and saved her. That was not the story I was expecting, yet God used it to lead into a gospel presentation and to teach me a lesson! Explain words like sin, repentance, grace and forgiveness. Keep the key ideas and important words in the conversation, but give the child a chance to share what they mean to them before moving on. When a child is trying to verbalize thoughts and concepts that are more abstract, it may take a minute for them to respond. Be patient. Allow them some time and resist the urge to answer for them. If the child still struggles to answer the question, consider rephrasing the question.
Keep the conversation going.
How you respond to a child’s spiritual questions can set the stage for future conversations or the lack of them. Consider the following situations where a child responds to an invitation at the end of a service and talks with the pastor.
- When the service ends, the pastor addresses the congregation and says, “I guess you saw Johnny come talk to me. Well, sometimes, little children don’t understand.” He then makes the announcements for the week and dismisses the service with prayer.
- The pastor addresses the congregation after asking Johnny to stand with him and says, “This is Johnny. He is asking some great questions about heaven. I want to ask you to pray for Johnny, his family and me as we learn more about the Bible and God’s plan together.” He then asks Johnny’s family to join them and prays for them before dismissing the service.
What are the differences in these situations? One sets the child up for future discussions and opportunities while the other appears to end the conversation. Not every child we talk with will be ready to make a decision, but that does not mean the conversation ends until they are older. Keep talking with them about spiritual things. It is much easier to have spiritual discussions with a 14-year-old if you have been talking with him since he was a 4-year-old.
Involve the family whenever possible.
Families spend more time together during the week than they do at church. For families connected to church, provide them with tools and resources for talking with their children. Guide them to scripture related to the topic their child is asking about. Suggest age-appropriate books they can read together. This will help the child learn about spiritual things and strengthen family relationships. For children whose families do not attend church, set up a time to visit them at home. You may have the opportunity to share Christ with the whole family!
Use the Bible.
There are so many wonderful resources and tracts for children. Even when using them, it is important to use a Bible, especially the child’s, if possible. Using the Bible helps a child see God’s promises in His Word. Many tracts include printed verses, but take the time to look up the passage in the Bible so that it connects the message you are sharing to God’s Word. Highlight or underline verses as you read them to help reassure the child if they have questions later.
Give them something to hold on to.
Just like an anchor holds a ship in place so the waves will not toss it about, providing spiritual anchors helps a child hold firm to their faith and the decision they have made. Here are some ideas.
- Write about the experience in their Bible.
- Provide opportunities for them to share their testimony with others.
- Celebrate spiritual birthdays with parties or service projects.
- If the decision is made at camp, during VBS or other church event, take a picture of the event and have them write their testimony on the back.
Having faith conversations with children doesn’t need to be scary. When you trust God to reveal how He is working in a child’s life, you start looking for opportunities to share. It becomes a potential part of every conversation.
Allison Walsh Kizzia is the preschool and children’s ministry consultant for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Because a chocolate chip cookie shaped her faith and life, she enjoys spending time in the kitchen with her 3-year-old as they seek to find the perfect recipe.