How to Present the Gospel to Young Children

The young boy had the knife pointed at his chest ready to plunge it into his heart.  Just then, his mother walked in and screamed, “What are you doing!?”  The young boy said that he was going to cut his heart open to let Jesus come into it. You may or may not have heard about this true story of the result of a mother sharing the Gospel with her son, but this is a supreme example in how to and how not to present the Gospel to young children.  The mother had quite innocently mentioned that we can let Jesus into our hearts and when He comes into our hearts, we will always remain there. That was the primary reason the young boy entered the kitchen and reached into a drawer to pull out a long knife. 

As a long time Sunday School teacher of 3rd and 4th grade children (combined class), one thing that I have learned is that children take things literally; they are concrete learners and so our choice of words is of critical importance as you can see from the above story. What was intended to be a way of having the child accept Jesus “into their heart” nearly became a tragic ending.  The child was simply responding to the wording of how the Gospel was offered by his mother.  What she was intending to do became what she never wanted to happen.  Since children are concrete thinkers and rarely think in the abstract, there must be a specific way in which to teach children about Jesus and presenting Him as their Savior.

Children take words in a literal sense.  Instead of this mother telling the boy that he can let Jesus come into his heart, it is better to state that it is about believing in Jesus Christ and committing your life to Him.  John MacArthur’s book, “A Faith to Grow On” is one of the finest resources in how to share the Gospel with children that I have ever read.

Is Jesus God or is He Man.  The answer is both.  When Jesus was born as a human he was 100% human but He still remained 100% God.  But how can He be both 100% and not add up to 200%.  There can not be 200% of something can there.  The answer is no.  Here’s how to solve this dilemma.  

In chapter One of John, and elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is called the Word of God.  The Word of God is Jesus and Jesus is the Word of God.  He is One and the same.  In John One, Jesus was before the beginning and was with God (v.1) and the Word (Jesus) was  also God.  But Jesus, as God, also became man (v. 14) and so was also both God and man (human).  But how can Jesus be both 100% God and 100% man?

I am from Kansas so I am 100% Kansan.  I was also born in America, and so I am also 100% American.  I am fully both.  This isn’t 200% though.  I am both 100% Kansan and 100% American.  I am absolutely both and at the same time.  I am a legal resident of Kansas and a legal citizen of the United States.  There is certainly no conflict in these two.  People accept me as both and have no trouble believing this.   In like manner, so is Jesus both man and God.  He was referred to as Emanuel in the Old Testament, which simply means “God with us” or God with humans.

Jesus was born as a human but He was never born as a God.  He has always been God and He will always be God.  He was never created, but has always existed.  I was created and I did not always exist.  So people are not the same in this sense. 

John Mac Arthur’s book looks like it comes from a 3rd grade classroom. The pictures are bright and there are colorful images everywhere.  In big, bold lettering come the simplest forms of the message of the Bible.  The Bible is a love letter written to humans from the hand of God, as inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Biblical message of salvation has been described as being so deep, an elephant could swim in it, yet so shallow, a kitten could traverse it.

The more complex and hard things found in the Bible are not in the message of the Gospel itself.  The story of salvation through Jesus Christ is made so simple that even a child could understand it, thus many adults find it too simple and it is a major stumbling block for non-believers.  Yet, the trust and faith of a child has no problem believing in it.

I told my son once that I would be back to pick him up from his grandmas and that I would bring him a Happy Meal.  He had no problem believing this “good news”.  He knew I would return.  He trusted me that I would bring him his chicken nuggets and with the toy that came with it.  When I was about to leave, I told him this and he said, “Okay”.  My son fully trusted me with this simple message.  It was not to hard to understand, and having child-like faith, he trusted me, even though tears streamed down his face.  My son wasn’t worried that I would lie to him.  He knew that daddy meant what daddy said.  He had no trouble believing me.  I didn’t tell him to let daddy come into his heart so that he would know that I was true to my word.  I told him that I would be back; and to believe me.  He did.

That is the same child-like faith that God desires in all people, children or adults.  If they believed that God had Jesus die for them to take away their sins and they could live forever, “no problem”.  That is not rocket science.  Children have faith and trust unlike most adults do. And their faith and trust, to a degree, is broader and deeper that adults, which is often more cynical or skeptical. 

When I told my daughter I would be at her music program, she had complete trust and confidence that I would be there.  She accepted it as fact.   She never questioned me when I told her something when she way young.  She believed what I said because I followed up with what I had promised her.  I did not tell her to just let daddy come into her heart, but believe with her heart that I would be there.  My daughter had a complete and full trust in knowing that daddy would do what he said he would do.  That is exactly what God desires in us and in children.  Sometimes, its just easier for children because of their nature.  Small wonder that Jesus emphasizes that unless you become as little children (that is, having a complete and full trust), then “…you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven“(Matt. 18:3). 

I use part of each chapter of John Mac Arthur’s book to begin our lesson in Sunday School.  It presents the Gospel from a child’s point of view and from their own, particular perspective, not mine.  When I worked for Head Start as a Regional Educational Manager, I got down on my knees and “walked” around the room to get the same perspective that the children would get. This allowed me to see if shelves were too high to access books, toys or a manipulative.  I especially looked for heavier items on top shelves to prevent a child from pulling it down onto themselves and causing injury.  I checked electrical cords and outlets. I looked for carpet threads that could be pulled out and swallowed.  My first concern was for the child, not the convenience of the teacher.

Children are concrete thinkers and do not, typically, think in the abstract. Instead of trying to tell children what they can do, tell them that it is more about believing in Jesus Christ.  It is not trying to tell Jesus to come into their heart, or to have Him live within them.  It is about believing in Him as their Lord and Savior.  It is about believing that Jesus died for them so that they could live for eternity with Him in heaven.  It is not about letting Him come into their heart, but about believing that Jesus Is Who He said He Is.  The Son of God that died for them, and that they believe in Jesus, they can trust Him more than any human in the world. He will never leave them no matter what they do, just like He does for adults.  Believing in Jesus and having trust and assurance that He will do what He said He will do.  Jesus doesn’t come into their heart, He is with them. They can believe in Him, and believe what He says, and that He will be with them forever.

Incidentally, this method works with children as well as with adults.  The Gospel is so simple that even a young child can understand, so it is small wonder that Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

This blog is an excerpt from Chapter One of “Teaching Children the Gospel, How to Raise Godly Children”.

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