This post launches a new feature called Children’s Ministry Think Tank. I have asked several friends in children’s ministry to join the project. About twice each month, I will email them tough questions and post their answers here on the website. My aim is to get different perspectives and help everyone to learn (including me).
Please read through the responses and share your own ideas below.
Think Tank Question #1
Jon is an 8 year old boy with little church background. He’s been coming to your children’s programs for several weeks. One day he sticks around and seems like he wants to talk. He says, “I don’t want to go to hell, how can I be saved?” How would you respond?
Response From Brenna Phillips
There are some missing factors with this question. Who has been bringing Jon to church? Is he attending with a parent? Is he attending with a friend? Is he attending by a bus ministry? Or is he simply walking to church by himself?
Since Jon has been attending church for several weeks, then a relationship should have begun between him and the CM leaders. From at least week 2 of a child’s attendance, leaders in the ministry should begin to talk to each child in the group to find out their interests, activities, education, and family, anything to gain more knowledge into his life to know how to plan each week’s lessons to meet needs.
The CM leader needs to sit down with Jon and the person responsible for bringing him to church. A relationship should have begun with the parent; therefore, he/she is familiar with the leader and feels comfortable talking to him/her. Tell the parent about Jon’s question. Go through the ABC plan of salvation with both of them:
- Admit you are a sinner.
- Believe in Jesus as Savior.
- Choose to follow Jesus.
Emphasize the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to Heaven. Emphasize the benefits and good points of having a relationship with Jesus and that Heaven is the end result. Instead of scaring him out of Hell, we want him to enjoy Jesus and Heaven.
If Jon has been attending with a friend, the CM leader needs to talk with the friend’s parent about Jon’s family. How receptive are they to his spiritual relationship? Plan to visit Jon’s family with the friend’s parent and let them know about Jon’s inquiry.
If Jon has been attending via bus ministry, the CM leader needs to inform the bus captain of Jon’s question. Ask from where he is picked up and plan a visit to the family with the bus captain.
If Jon has been attending by walking to church on his own, the CM leader should have already found some information about him and from where he comes and lives. When Jon asks this important question, the leader needs to sit down and talk to him about the benefits and good points of Heaven and explain the ABC’s of salvation. Then plan a visit to Jon’s home; although, since he has been attending church for several weeks, he should have already attempted to contact the family.
Overall, relationships should have already begun with each person involved in Jon’s attendance at church since he has been attending for several weeks. The more CM leaders know about a child’s life, interests, activities, and family will help them to minister in appropriate ways and meet needs. Children and families are more comfortable when leaders have shown an interest in their lives.
Additionally, the CM leader should not be the only person involved in leading Jon. There are other leaders as well: small group leader, parents of friends. Since Jon has been attending for several weeks, each person can have an impact on his spiritual journey and can be involved in the discussion.
Brenna Phillips is the Children’s-Family Minister at Mission Fellowship Church in Middletown, Delaware, and teaches 3-4 year old students at an early childhood learning center. www.brennaphillips.com
Response From Glen Woods
Response: I would begin by asking a couple of open-ended questions of the boy, and then listening to him. First I would ask what “going to hell” means in his understanding. Is it simply a phrase used in cursing others, as some of the kids I deal with on the streets of Portland might believe? Or is there a deeper meaning which has to do with what can happen after we die? Then I would ask what he means by “being saved.” I would want to determine his level of understanding concerning God’s redemptive plan and what that means for him personally.
So it might go something like this. Boy: “I don’t want to go to hell. How can I be saved?” Me: “You’re telling me you don’t want to go to hell. Can you help me understand what that means for you?” Then the boy gives his explanation, possibly with some degree of accuracy and including a warning that we must be saved to avoid hell, likely mixed in with some confusion depending on who has been influencing him daily. Me: “So you have heard that going to hell is for people who aren’t saved. I am wondering, what do you think being saved means?” The boy explains, again with some accuracy mixed with error and a whole lot of uncertainty.
After letting the boy share his understanding, I would then prepare to share the gospel in a way he can understand. If he is highly verbal, I may handle it primarily in a verbal way. But if I determine he would benefit from a different approach, I could do it with play, using puppets or action figures at my disposal. Either way, I would explain, or show (my preference is to show so that the child can play it over again at home) in
simple terms what sin is (disobedience to God) and how it all got started (Adam and Eve), what God decided to do about sin and why (redemption through the sinless sacrifice of Jesus Christ because of his love for us), and what we can do to accept this free gift (repent of sin by saying we are sorry and meaning it so much that we want to stop doing it, believe Jesus died and rose again for our sins in our place, and follow Jesus as Lord from now on by wanting to do what he asks).
Glen Woods is a Children’s Pastor and warehouseman in Portland, Oregon. He writes at Children’s Ministry Conversation.
Response From Jared Kennedy
I would ask Jon a lot of questions—trying to get a sense of whether or not he understands that he is a sinner in need of the Savior. I would respond by stressing the facts of the gospel. In this kind of a situation, I typically emphasize God’s laws and commands for children (obeying parents, not lying, etc.)–praying that the Holy Spirit will use this teaching to bring Jon to conviction about his sin (Deut 6). Exploring what Jon is learning about hell can be helpful when helping him understand the seriousness of his sin. Then, I would speak plainly about God’s gospel promises and Jon’s need to turn away from sin and trust Christ (Acts 2:38-39), whose death and resurrection count for him (Rom 5:8). Finally, I would encourage Jon to pray—confessing his sins and confessing trust in Jesus.
I recognize that children are easily deceived and manipulated (Ephesians 4:14). Just like adults, they are often tempted to find assurance of salvation in things they can manipulate—their own knowledge, emotional experiences, prayers, or good works. Children must be discouraged from finding assurance in such things and encouraged to trust only Jesus. I would be careful not to not offer such false assurances or pressure Jon for a commitment. I would not assure Jon that his prayer for mercy (his “sinner’s prayer”) guarantees that he will go to heaven. It does not. Salvation is God’s work. I would assure Jon that Jesus promises to save those who trust him, and I’d encourage him to keep trusting Jesus for his whole life. I would not be skeptical about Jon’s sincerity. While I don’t want to give Jon a false sense of security, I also don’t want to discourage him from trusting Jesus.
If a child from an under-churched family speaks with one of our children’s ministry workers about the gospel, they have been trained to let the SojournKids leadership know so we can meet with and explain the gospel clearly to the child’s parents. I would let Jon’s parents know about the questions he is asking. I would encourage this family to come back to our regular church gatherings, and I would seek to build a deeper relationship with them. God saves sinners through exposure to His preached and taught word. Many parents come to Christ because the Lord first works in their kids.
Jared Kennedy is a husband, a father, and the Director of SojournKids (http://sojournkids.com), the Children’s Ministry of Sojourn Community Church in downtown Louisville, KY.
What Would You Say?
I hope you have enjoyed this conversation, but it’s not complete until you share what you think. Please leave a comment below to join the discussion. Feel free to answer the think tank question or interact with our repsonses.