Our evangelism and discipleship of children is Unsure
“How do we know if a child is ready to accept Jesus? How can we answer parents’ questions about this as well?”
The concept of “being ready” may be something that we cannot measure. Only God knows when a child is “ready” to accept Him. There are definitely times that are “too soon” and “too late” for this decision.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly a strong earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. At once all the doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, presuming that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself! We are all here!”Calling for lights, the jailer rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 22: 25-30)
“The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to that chariot and stay by it.’So, Philip ran up and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…Then Philip began with this very Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.As they traveled along the road and came to some water, the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is there to prevent me from being baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” (Acts 8: 29-38)
Throughout scripture, people respond to Jesus by making personal decisions. These decisions are based on what they know and feel. There isn’t an example of a person who was required to understand everything about God’s love before he/she was permitted to follow Jesus. When a parent asks, “How do I know when my child is ready to accept Jesus?” a good answer is “When he/she asks.”
I’ll never forget a very bad mistake I made when I was serving as a Children’s Pastor at a mega church many years ago. The church was holding a baptism at a local lake. Since I was the Children’s Pastor, the families with children who wanted to be baptized were all standing on the shore waiting for me to baptize their children. After an hour or so, a young boy waded out to me. I waved at his parents and grandparents on the shore who were all filming this adventure. I asked the boy, “So, what are you doing here?” to see what his initial answer was. He said, through shivers, “I don’t know, my parents told me to come out here and get baptized.” Right away, I sensed something was different from all the other children I had baptized that morning. I asked the boy to tell me what he knew about baptism. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” In my mind, I was confused. I thought of the very essence of this question about “how do we know when a child is ready?” I looked at the family gathering on the shore, and I thought about my responsibility as a Children’s Pastor, then I made a decision that I will always regret. I walked the boy back to the family without baptizing him. I told the surprised parents that their child wasn’t “ready” to be baptized. I asked them to call me at the church to talk more about it. They put away their cameras and walked the confused boy back to their car.
I didn’t hear from the parents for 2 years! One Sunday, a mother came to me after service and identified herself as the boy’s mother. Through tear-filled eyes, she told me that her son has felt like God rejected him for 2 years! I realized as she was telling me this sad story that I stumbled that child! I felt very convicted to do all I could to fix this situation! After several meetings with the boy and his parents, the boy’s baptism was planned. He was finally baptized, but I’m sure he will never forget being rejected by God!
I tell you this story because it illustrates my current perspective to NEVER turn a child away because I feel he/she is “not ready.” I have “wrestled” with the “worst case scenario” for letting a child pray to accept Jesus before he/she is “ready,” or telling a child that he/she can’t become a Christian yet. It is far more damaging to tell a child that he/she can’t become a Christian than it is to maybe baptize him/her “too soon.”
If we let a child respond to Jesus at a young age, we are encouraging that direction. The child will feel encouraged to grow spiritually. Many youth “recommit” their lives to Jesus because they now understand more about that commitment than they did when they were children. If we block a child when he/she expresses an interest, we may “stumble” him/her.
Afterall, if any of us waited until we understood all that is involved in becoming a new person in Jesus, we may never respond to His invitation based on faith alone. For more help in this critical challenge, click on the APPENDIX link below.
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