My greatest stewardship in life is not training a generation of students as a seminary president. It is training my five young children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
I feel the weight – and glory – of this stewardship daily and find immeasurable fulfillment and joy as I see my children taking steps toward Christ.
I am sure many Christian parents feel the same way — awestruck by the opportunity and responsibility that is ours. My wife Karen and I are often asked about building a Christian home and rearing children who grow up to follow Christ. We will be the first to admit that we are far from accomplished. On the contrary, we just keep plugging away, seeking the Lord’s grace in our children’s lives, as in our own.
This is definitely not an article about “success, and how we have achieved it.” Rather, as the old adage goes, we are beggars telling other beggars where we have found some bread. If you are seeking to influence little ones toward Christ, you might find these 10 tips helpful:
1. Remember, children do not have to become like adults to be saved; adults have to become like children. When Jesus made this point in Matthew 18, He was commending a spirit of humility, dependence and deference – virtues which are common in children and essential for whoever would follow Christ.
2. Remember, you are responsible for your child’s spiritual formation, not your church, your pastor or your children’s minister. Be faithful to teach them the Word, to shape their hearts and, yes, to indoctrinate them. Even if your church can help with your kid’s spiritual formation, don’t let it rob you of some of life’s greatest joys.
3. Remember what conversion is. Conversion is more than intellectual and more than our children’s ascent to biblical facts about Jesus. My children have known the broad contours of the Gospel since preschool, but that is not enough to save them. Be looking for the affective as well as the intellectual. Have an ear for confession, repentance, faith and submission to Jesus as Lord. Ask yourself, has Jesus changed their life?
4. Share your testimony with your children. Do your kids know how much Jesus means to you, how He changed your life, and when and how you became a Christian? Sharing your testimony with your children provides a natural context to discuss what God is doing in their lives.
5. Share the Gospel with your children. Do not leave it to them to connect the dots from Sunday School lessons and sermons. Share the Gospel with your children plainly, passionately and frequently.
6. Share the Gospel in settings where your children can overhear the Gospel in a less intimidating, more natural context. Moreover, they will sense how important the Gospel is to you, that it applies to all people, and that you value the Gospel and people enough to acquaint the two.
7. Provide natural contexts for spiritual conversations. In our house, we strive for spiritual conversations to be as natural as talking about school, activities, sports or any other aspect of our lives. For us, this most naturally takes place during family worship. The key is not the context but the consistency. Infrequently talking about the things of God ups the awkwardness for your children. Frequency makes it more natural.
8. Encourage steps toward Jesus. W.A. Criswell, the famed pastor of First Baptist Dallas, coined this helpful phrase. When your children express interest in following Christ, even if they are quite young or you have other reservations about their inquiry, you can still affirm them as they ask questions and “take steps toward Jesus.”
9. Talk to your pastor. Though you should not outsource your child’s spiritual formation, you should seek your pastor’s counsel. Let him visit with your child and join in shepherding them toward Christ. Sometimes the church assumes parents are leading their children to Christ while the parents are assuming the church’s ministers are doing the same. Assume nothing. Your child’s heart is too precious for ill-informed assumption. Partner with your church.
10. Be quick with the Gospel, but slow with the baptistery. Just because your child expresses interest in following Christ — or even professes they are following Christ — does not mean you have to baptize them right away. Baptizing young children who are not yet genuinely converted confuses both the child and the congregation. Even worse, it may mislead the child into thinking they are converted while they yet remain outside the Kingdom. Instead, be patient and trust the Lord. Let their desire for Christ ripen. Look for the fruits of conversion. Baptize them as you gain confidence they have truly met Christ.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of baptizing one of my own children. Leading her to Christ and seeing her grow over many months has been an unmatched joy. I now resonate with the apostle John’s assessment, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth” (3 John 4). As you shepherd your children toward Christ, may you know the joy of seeing your children walk in the truth as well.