How to share the Gospel with your child
It’s not as daunting as you think! Lisa Phillips seeks out advice and offers practical ideas
If you’re a Christian parent, you’ve probably heard the famous Proverb . . . “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it” (Ch 22:6). You probably agree with it too. But when it comes to sharing the Gospel with your children, living out the truths of that Proverb day by day can prove something of a challenge.
From the earliest age our children can stump us with questions about God. “Why hasn’t he invented any new animals lately?” asks your pre-schooler, already a product of our acquisitive culture. “We’ve had these old ones for ages.” Or perhaps you’re thrown a more considered “Why did God make typhoons?” in response to the harrowing images of Burma on our TV screens.
Your children’s deepest questions about God and faith may mirror your own. Yet no one is better placed than you to share the truth about God’s love with them, however unequal you feel to the task.
“Although the church can teach children stories and facts, they learn most by observation and experience,” says Sue Price, director of Church Ministries at Kingsway Communications. “Parents are key role models, and, even if they think they are passing over the spiritual training of their children to church or school, their own attitudes and conversations about spiritual matters will have a major influence on their children.
“Even if a child attends church regularly on a Sunday, and a midweek club, they are unlikely to spend even 5% of their waking hours in that environment. Church, or school, may be the main provider of facts – Bible stories, Christian attitudes etc – and at church a child may find peer role-models or adult mentors, but the parents’ response and behaviour will either reinforce or hinder the child’s spiritual development.”
Feels like a weighty responsibility, doesn’t it? But Sue urges parents not to be put off by their own lack of knowledge, lack of time, or even lack of faith. “Parents should never be afraid or ashamed to explain to their children that they don’t know the answers to all the questions they are asked,” she says. “This is where the church can help. If the church has family-related activities such as parent and toddler groups, family services, children’s midweek clubs etc, then they could consider how they could give both children and parents the opportunity to ask questions and explore issues in an informal way.
“Lack of time shouldn’t be seen as a constraint,” Sue adds. “It isn’t necessary to ring-fence ‘spiritual time’. Families can regard prayer as a matter of involving God in conversations and decisions so that it just happens as and when it is appropriate. If you read stories to children at bedtime, then introduce the Bible and Christian-based novels, or leave time to discuss why the character in a story behaved in the way they did, and whether or not they made the right choices. When you are out on a walk or on a journey, talk about God’s creation, or let the children lead a discussion on spiritual issues.”
Influence your kids – whatever their age
When they’re young
Make the Gospel message part of everyday conversation. As you help children grow their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them, remind them of God’s role as Creator and Provider; reassure them of Jesus’ love for them when they are afraid or hurt; make prayer a natural part of your day; sing simple worship and Bible-teaching songs to them and with them; read Bible stories.
When they go to school
This age-group loves facts and accumulating knowledge. Bible stories and memory verses learnt now will remain with them forever. Encourage this learning through church groups or daily Bible reading notes and Bible encyclopaedias aimed at the age group, and interact with their learning. Ask them what they have found out and discuss any questions they have. Continue to encourage them, and to interact with God through prayer.
When they become Teens
This age-group is likely to swing wildly from certain faith to complete doubt and back again – possibly in the course of a day! Peers will be a major influence. Let them know that they can express their doubts and discuss them with you at any time (which, with older teens will probably be at 1am!) and you won’t just close down the conversation. You continue to be a role-model even though they may claim to reject everything you stand for. Find Christian books, music and DVDs that are created for this age range, even if they are not to your taste, and be willing to take them to a youth group in another church if that is what it takes to keep them engaged with the Gospel.
* Supplied by Sue Price, director of Church Ministries at Kingsway Communications. Sue’s main area of responsibility is the children’s ministry resources. She has been a conference director for the annual Children’s Ministry Conference for the last ten years, and regularly gives seminars and workshops at training events for children’s workers in the UK, Europe and even the Amazon region of Brazil, where she’s linked to a charity called Ray of Hope Amazon. She has been involved in the children’s and family work at her own church for over 20 years. For resources, or further information about sharing the Gospel with your children, contact: Kingsway Children’s Ministry on Tel: 01323 437749 or go to: www.childrensministry.co.uk.
Ten creative ideas
1. Design and create a family prayer box. Keep an empty pad and a pencil beside it, and encourage every member of the family to write down their prayer or praise request and to place it in the box. Set aside a regular time each week to go through the prayer box, and to talk and pray together as a family. Go one step further and keep a family prayer diary. Every now and then go through it, and talk about the prayers that have been answered – and the ones that haven’t!
2. Choose a family Bible verse each week. Share a key verse from the Bible over a mealtime, and ask everyone what they think it means. Print out a copy of the verse, and encourage your children to memorise it. Your children can also take turns choosing the weekly Bible verse, and telling everybody why they chose it. This will not only make them feel part of things, it will also encourage them to scour their own Bibles.
3. Watch TV together – and we’re not talking the God channel. Watch the news, and ask the question, what do you think God thinks of that? Regularly watch a series or one of the soaps with your teen. Don’t fret about the content. Not only will you connect with them at their level, but you will also create the opportunity to talk about the real issues thrown up by the programme. Give a Christian perspective on the situation, and see what they think.
4. Invest in Christian music. Either with songs that appeal to young children, by the likes of Ishmael (you’ll find your kids singing the lyrics for years to come), or through edgier, youth culture bands for your teens. Christian music playing in the house can have a subtle and powerful influence over attitudes, relationships etc. Check out www.christianmusic.about.com for news and reviews on major bands and artists.
5. Plant a small branch in a pot, and have the family cut out nine fruit shapes from coloured paper. On each piece of fruit write one of the following: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control. Once you’ve attached the fruits to your ‘tree’, encourage each member of the family to select the one they need at the moment. Maybe your child is trying to be kind to an unpopular child at school, or needs to be more patient with a brother or sister. Being honest about your own struggles will encourage honesty from your children.
6. Set aside a time for reading the Bible. Encourage your children to respond to what they have heard. Younger children may like to draw a literal picture of the story/passage you are reading, while slightly older children can draw or write words showing how it makes them feel. Take time to show each other your responses.
7. Make your family Bible study time fun. Add a few ‘perks’ to encourage your more reluctant children to attend. Serve favourite cakes and drinks, while you study, pop popcorn, or splash out on a take-away or meal out when you’ve finished, and spend time discussing what you’ve learned over dinner.
8. Give the family a challenge to go around your house collecting as many small, but important items that they can find. These may include a plug from the bath, a watch battery, keys to the front door, a safety pin, a button, a shoelace. The list is endless. Talk about how important each one of them is. Then look at the Bible story about Jesus and the little children from Mark 10:13-16. Tell them that Jesus thinks children are important.
9. When your child gives his or her life to Christ, there are big benefits. Spell these out to your children. You can do it in a creative way. Let them know that becoming a Christian secures their place in heaven; that God offers them unconditional love – they don’t have to measure up to society’s demands; and that being a Christian means experiencing freedom. Wrap these three things up as beautiful gifts to open. Open each gift, and talk about the real gift inside. Share your own testimony with your children.
10. Last and most important is simply to live out your faith in front of your children, day by day and year by year. Kingsway’s Sue Price believes this “hands-off” approach is in the end the most powerful. Let them see you reading the Bible and praying. Treat the people around you with respect. Exhibit God’s peace in a crisis. Find ways to be a blessing to those in need. Don’t compromise your own beliefs. Forgive. This is the toughest approach, but kids have a nose for what’s genuine, and what’s not, and parents are right there on the front line.