By Jarrett McNeely, Connections Pastor
As a pastor, I hear this question often: “My child is starting to ask questions about their salvation and I’m not sure what to say. Can you help?”
While it may seem daunting at first, having gospel conversations with your child does not have to be intimidating or overwhelming. It is an awesome opportunity that we have been given as a parent to shepherd our child’s heart by sharing the good news of Jesus with them. As you step into this phase of discipleship, here are seven quick tips to encourage you in navigating gospel conversations with your child:
1. Stay on their level.
Parents will often say, “I don’t have the perfect words”, or, “I’m not confident that I will explain it correctly”. While this is a common fear of any parent beginning to have gospel conversations with their child, this should not stop us from entering into these moments. Remember to simply stay on their level of comprehension. Use words at their level of cognitive understanding. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple and concise. But also, don’t be afraid to answer the big questions they may be asking if they are at a comprehension level that is ready for it.
2. Let the conversation happen naturally.
Often, the greatest opportunities to speak gospel truth to our children come in the unplanned, everyday moments. Let the conversation happen naturally and in an appropriate amount of time. Some children will have a brief thought about something they heard at church and need quick clarification in the car on the way home. Once again, in these moments, keep it simple. Focus on the question asked and keep answers on-point. Other occasions such as family devotional times may lead to longer, more thorough answers to their questions. In either case, read the child’s attention span and be willing to let their body language tell you when it is time to pause conversations until another time. Also, be open and honest if you are unsure about how to answer a question they are asking. Let them know they asked a great question and tell them you are going to search God’s Word to find the correct answer. Maybe even take time to find it together!
3. Trust the Holy Spirit
It is essential that from the very beginning we learn to trust and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As these gospel conversations begin to be more frequent over time, it is important to trust the Holy Spirit’s pace and timing. We must remember that while we play a vital role in sharing the good news with our child, it is the Holy Spirit that does the work in the child’s heart. Sometimes parents want to rush the process by prematurely asking the child to make a decision before they understand what they are doing or before they have a personal conviction of their own sin. Although intentions may be noble, rushing the decision could lead to the child misunderstanding their salvation. Spend time in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to guide you in the way that only He can. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide your interactions, your words, and give you discernment about where your child is on the journey of coming to a place of personal relationship with Christ.
4. Share information and share your story.
At an early age children often begin asking questions about God, Jesus, creation, and other spiritual and religious topics. During this phase of the journey, they are starting to gather information. So what do we need to do as parents? Share that information! Answer the questions. Talk about how God created us to have a relationship with Him. Help them grow in their knowledge about God. Concepts such as who God is, why Jesus came to earth as a baby, what sin is, why Jesus chose to die for us, what happened when Jesus rose from the grave, etc. are all pieces of information you can share in helping them understand their need for a Savior. Also, as a parent, do not underestimate the value of your own personal testimony. Be willing to share your personal story as an example of making the decision to follow Christ. Parts of your testimony may be helpful in explaining what happens next in making the decision to trust Jesus as their Savior and Lord. When they know that there has been a time in your life that you have taken responsibility for your sin by confessing it to God, they will hopefully see your example and follow in your steps. Remember, you are their primary spiritual discipler and influencer. They will look to you and your example on how to live for and follow Christ. Your example carries more weight than anyone else in their life.
5. Understand the shift to personal conviction.
The ability to discern the readiness of a child’s heart can be difficult for any parent. This begs the question: How do we know when a child understands their need for salvation and may be ready to make a decision?
Just because a child knows the answers to important faith based questions does not mean that a child understands how to personally and spiritually respond to that information. In other words, just because they know information about God does not mean that they understand their personal need for salvation.
As children mature and grow, the information that has been gathered begins to be understood in a personal way. The shift to personal conviction happens when their comprehension of the facts about God, Jesus, and sin leads to spiritual understanding and conviction of the sin in their own heart. As parents we want to be sensitive to when they shift from the place of information gathering to the place of personal brokenness over their need for salvation. All the conversations had, information given, and personal stories shared are for the purpose of leading your child to the place of understanding that they have unresolved sin in their life that separates them from God. Our prayer is that they will be personally convicted by the Holy Spirit to ask Jesus to forgive them of that sin and desire to give their life to Christ. When a child is broken-hearted over their sin and realizes that Jesus is the only One who can forgive them, they are ready to come to faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
6. Guide them in confession, repentance, and receiving salvation.
Once a parent is certain that the child is showing personal conviction of sin and ready to place their faith in Christ, the child is ready to be guided through confession and repentance that leads to receiving salvation. The following verses of scripture can be helpful in guiding in that discussion: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8, Acts 4:12, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10,13, and 1 Cor. 5:17. As you discuss these verses, the concepts of confessing sin, repenting of (turning away from) sin, and placing faith in Christ will need to be shared. Help your child understand that receiving salvation begins with confessing you are a sinner, but it does not stop there. Confession not only involves choosing to turn away from sin, it also involves turning toward the Lord. This is why repentance must also be a part of the conversation. They must be willing to repent by turning away from a sin-focused life. By turning toward the Lord, your child is choosing to place trust and faith in Him. Faith and repentance are necessary for true confession that leads to salvation in Christ. As you guide your child through this conversation, remind them of the beauty of grace. We cannot save ourselves according to our actions. We are fully dependent on God to do it. He has extended the free gift of salvation to us, and we need only to accept it. We did nothing to deserve His unconditional, sacrificial love. But now that your child understands how sin separates them from that perfect love, they must choose to receive God’s grace and forgiveness and commit their life to follow Christ.
When these concepts have been explained and understood, ask the child if they want to pray to Jesus and commit their life to Him. A simple prayer like this could be used: “Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I ask you to forgive me of all my sin. I know that you died on the cross for me. So I want to live this life fully committed to you. I place my faith in you and ask you to be my Savior and Lord. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”
As a part of Church at The Mill, we encourage and invite you and your child to meet with one of our pastors as you navigate this part of your family’s spiritual journey. It is our privilege to partner with your family in this way.
7. Talk about next steps as a new believer.
If the child prays to follow Christ, begin talking with them about the next steps of obedience and growth as a new believer. Help your child think of someone such as a family member or friend with whom they can share their decision. Encourage them in their excitement as a new believer to let others know about their decision to follow Christ. Another important next step to discuss is baptism. In searching God’s Word and in accordance to what Jesus modeled in His own life, Church at The Mill believes in Believer’s Baptism. We believe that baptism is fully immersing a believer into water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as an outward confession of inward faith in Christ and as as a significant first act of obedience. Baptism is not required for salvation, however, it is a natural next step of obedience following salvation. As a person is taken down into the water, it represents the death of their old life before Christ. As they rise up out of the water, it represents their new life in Christ. It is important to publicly tell the world that you have trusted Christ and that you are being baptized into the fellowship of other believers who have done the same. We encourage parents to consult with your pastor in regard to baptism in order to assure that your child has full understanding and that the timing is right for them personally. Next steps for growth and obedience may also include a new believer’s class for your child. As parents, prayerfully consider how you can help your child understand what is next for their new relationship with Jesus. Take time to show them how to read the Bible, to read the Bible with them, and even take time to model quiet time with the Lord in front of them. Remember that the discipleship journey is one that never ends for us as Christ followers.
Parents, above all, remember that you are not alone. God knew you were the exact parent your child would need for these moments and gospel conversations. Enter every phase of this journey saturated in prayer and surrendered to the Lord and He will surely guide your every step. Our pastors and church family are also here to offer support and answer questions along the way. We pray these tips in navigating gospel conversations help you step confidently into these opportunities to shepherd the heart of your children.