D.L. Moody was a great evangelist whose fire of faith blazed through Chicago more permanently than the Great Fire of 1871. Though he often spoke to crowds of ten to twenty thousand—immeasurably more than any of his contemporaries—he never lost wonder at the beauty of a child coming to know Jesus.
Once, early in his career, he was asked how a small revival meeting had gone the night before.
“We had two and a half conversions,” he replied.
“You mean two adults and one child?” probed the inquirer.
“No, two children and one adult,” he corrected. “The adult has only half his life left.”
Each night at our True Girl live events, we present the opportunity for girls under the age of twelve to respond to the gospel. We designed the presentation to allow mothers to guide the conversation from their seats in the audience, and then they have the honor of being a part of praying with their daughter if the time is right.
I’m often asked: is a child under the age of twelve ready to make a decision to follow Christ? Not every child is ready. And we should be careful not to force our children to make decisions that aren’t prompted by the Spirit speaking to their hearts. But many children are ready. Let’s look at a few of the myths that perpetuate our doubts and fears as we navigate the questions of salvation.
Myth: Young children are intellectually incapable of responding to the gospel.
Most people sitting in church pews today made a decision to follow Jesus when they were very young. I remember my salvation experience vividly, down to the crack in the cement beneath my feet and the scent of the pine trees on either side of me. I was four years old.
Just before second-century martyr Polycarp was burned at the stake for his faith, he said, “Eighty-six years I have served the Lord.” Seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry came to Christ when he was ten. Evangelist Stephen Olford came to Christ on his seventh birthday. Pioneering missionary to India Amy Carmichael was fifteen when she surrendered.
How old were you?
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Out of a church of 2700 members, I have never had to exclude one single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but the frequency of it.”1
Jesus endorsed child evangelism and cursed anyone who offended a child who believed in Him (Matt. 18:6). He provided this clear instruction: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).
If you believe that children cannot come to Jesus, you are disagreeing with the clear opinion of Christ Himself. In fact, the concept of becoming like children is a critical component to an adult’s ability to walk in salvation. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
Certainly children are limited in their ability to intellectually conceptualize some spiritual truths, but so are adults. No one fully understands the gospel at the moment they commence their walk with the Lord. This should not keep us from offering anyone God’s beautiful, unconditional love. Based on statistical data, the testimony of believing adults, and the instruction of Scripture, we can come to only one conclusion: young children are more capable of responding to the gospel than many adults who have not yet done so.
Myth: I shouldn’t impose my religious beliefs on my children.
Do you really think you should not impose your values and beliefs on your children? Advertisers do not wait to indoctrinate our children. Pornographers don’t wait. Sex educators do not wait. Humanists do not wait. Satan doesn’t wait. These purveyors of untruth intend to make lifelong customers of your children, peddling products and philosophies that will enslave them. Why should you wait to introduce truth that will set them free?
But truly, I think this myth is more about our own personal insecurities as carriers of the gospel than about our conviction about what we believe is right for our children. Many mothers wonder and wander through the question, should I be the one to introduce my children to Christ?
Maybe it’s a bit more pathetic and insecure: am I able to lead my child to Christ? Do I have what it takes?
Yes you do! Every Christian is charged with the task of sharing their faith. “[Jesus] told them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone’ (Mark 16:15 NLT).
This is your commission. And mine. It’s not the call of a professional pastor, theologian, or youth pastor. It’s the call of every believer. Everyone we meet needs to hear the good news—and that includes the children in your own home.
The Bible specifically instructs parents to evangelize and disciple their children. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul instructed fathers to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4 KJV). Starting in the Old Testament, the ongoing, daily work of a child’s spiritual growth was assigned to parents, not priests. Deuteronomy 6:7, for example, tells parents when to teach their children spiritual truths: “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” It seems to be a moment-by-moment discipleship that the professionals in church just can’t do.
Are you believing the lie that you can send your children off to a good children’s church service once a week or introduce them to a fantastic youth group and expect the children’s and youth pastors to do a better job of discipling them than you could do? I’m so grateful for the children’s pastors, youth pastors, AWANA leaders, and small-group mentors who’ve poured into my children’s lives with me, but they have our children for only one of the 168 hours a week. They cannot replace the discipleship of a parent in love with Jesus.
Here’s a solid promise I can make to you: God has given every believing parent a commission to share the gospel, and that includes sharing it with their own children. No one can communicate the gospel to your children with more impact than you can.
Myth: My child isn’t old enough.
Children mature at various paces and are ready for different things at different ages. And Scripture doesn’t give us an age at which people should surrender their lives to Christ. It just says this: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
If you believe there is an age when a child is capable to decide to follow Christ, you risk making it a works-based, me-centered faith. John Piper says we don’t actually make our own decision to follow Jesus. He says we’re not born neutral, so we can’t simply choose to believe in and follow God. Rather, we are born “so corrupt in our hearts, so bent toward sin, so in love with ourselves and our worldly pleasures [that] we cannot believe. . . . Blind people don’t decide to see. Jesus says, ‘See!’”2
It’s Christ’s work in people that calls them to salvation. It is has very little to do with our own readiness. Age certainly has very little to do with it.
So how do you know when your child is ready to enter into a relationship with Jesus?
Children transmit clues. Since these can be subtle, the close proximity of parents—not professionals—makes them the best sleuths to sniff out the trail of readiness. Children are ready to begin a dialogue about the gospel when they:
- Ask about Christ’s death on the cross.
- Express guilt or shame about their own sinful behavior.
- Worry about the future, including darkness, storms, death, or separation.
- Begin submitting more to authorities and letting go of rebellion.
- Tell you they have already prayed to receive Christ—alone or with a teacher or friend.
Here’s the solid truth: when your child asks to make Christ the Lord of their life, it’s time to help them do it!
Is your child ready to make a decision to follow Christ?Pray through it now and prepare yourself to see the answer spring forth!
1 Cited in David Shibley, “Why Child Evangelism Is Valid,” Child Evangelism Fellowship Singapore, September/October 1985, http://www.cef-singapore.com/childevan2.html.
2 Cited in Jeff Schapiro, “John Piper: Salvation Not ‘a Decision,’” CP Church & Ministry, January 5, 2012, http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-salvation-not-a-decision-66530/.