I hope you will visit my ministry website: http://ajourneyoffaith.net .
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Please Don't Simplify the Gospel
Last week, Elijah (age 7) and I were riding in the car, listening to a cd. Suddenly, I realized that he was singing along, word for word. And, this was not a children's song; this was Jeremy Camp.
Clear as day, from the back seat, I heard, "There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears."
Before he could continue I asked, "Do you know what that means?"
"Yes, that will be the day when Jesus comes back."
"When will that day be?"
I replied, "God hasn't told us when that day will be; but, on that day, Jesus will come back and He will take us all up to heaven ... every person that has given his life to Jesus."
"Have I done that?"
"Yes ... remember?"
"Oh ... I wrote my name in the Book of Life at church."
"Well ... it's not really writing your name in the book that matters."
We were almost home, so I didn't continue the discussion right then. But, this conversation brought up a concern I had had for many years. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, the Children's Pastor that we had for the past 7 years. However, I have often been concerned about the practice of explaining the gospel to children, and then having them come forward to physically write their names in a big, Book of Life. I always hoped that the children wouldn't think that by writing their name in a book, that they were some how earning their salvation. (I have also been concerned because I know that many children write their name over and over in the book, every time the gospel is presented. So, they obviously don't quite understand the full concept.)
* * * * *
About 4 days later, Elijah came into my room early one morning, to snuggle with me. After a few minutes he got very serious and asked,
"Are there two ways to get to heaven?"
"No. There is only one way. Why?"
"Well ... I thought there were two ways."
"And, what were those two ways?"
"I thought that you could either ask Jesus to forgive your sins, or you could sign the book of life."
I held him close, as I explained, "No. There is only one way to get to heaven. The only way to get to heaven is to ask Jesus to forgive your sins, and to live your life for Him."
He was crushed. His heart was heavy. While he didn't know this term, it was clear that he felt that he had been taught a false doctrine. He had believed what he had heard in children's ministry ... and now I was telling him that this was not true.
Quietly, Elijah told me that he couldn't remember the time that he had prayed with me and Papa, for Jesus to come into his life.
I asked if he would like to say the prayer again. "No." I asked if I could pray and he could repeat after me. "No." He was truly devastated by this new knowledge.
I held him close, and finally said, "Maybe we can talk to Papa about this after he gets home from work." "Okay."
* * * * *
That evening, after putting the other kids to bed, I told Papa that Elijah and I would like to talk to him. Elijah and I proceeded to both share about the conversations that we had had. We asked a few more questions, and Elijah did tell us that the new director of Children's Ministry had prayed a prayer for the children to repeat after her. This is good. But, somehow, he had still believed that it was the signature in the book, that bought him his salvation.
After awhile, I asked Elijah if he wanted Papa to pray, and he could repeat the prayer ... and, he agreed. This was followed by a very sweet prayer time with Papa and his youngest son.
While I am not at all upset with our Children's Ministry. They do a FANTASTIC job with the 500+ children that come through their doors. I am left wondering ... how can we (parents, volunteer helpers, children's pastors, etc...) do a better job of helping children to really understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Both Elijah (7) and Josiah (8) attend "big service" every week (along with all of our other children). They don't want to attend the Children's Program during the weekend services. They want to hear our Pastor's sermons, and "learn more about God", as they often tell me. While they are both still beginner readers, since they were each 5 they have followed along with the sermon outline, filling in the blanks (with words that they can't even read). But, they have each personally desired to be as involved in the service as they could possibly be. They want to learn. They want to grow.
I pray that the Lord will continue to open up the opportunities for these great discussions, and that we will always remember not to make things "too simple" for them. God can, and will, give these little ones much knowledge ... if we give them the opportunity to learn.
I encourage you ...
... don't expect your children NOT to listen.
... don't send them away to be with the little kids, if they want to be in "big service" with the adults. (At our church, there are very few young children that attend the main service. But, that doesn't stop us. We take a whole row of chairs, right up front, with our extra-large family. We LOVE worshipping and learning with our children.)
... do include your children of all ages in spiritual discussions. (Some of it they will understand, some of it they won't.)
... do continue these discussions (with family devotions) throughout the week, not just on Sunday.
... do NOT simplify the gospel so much, that it becomes a false doctrine. Even if that isn't your intention, try to think about how your children might perceive the words that you say and the actions that you encourage them to take.
The next day, Elijah drew us a picture, of Jesus on the cross. He wrote, "To Jesus. From Elijah." And, he taped the picture on the middle of my bedroom door. Then he asked,
"Can you leave that picture on your door forever?"
"Yes. So that you and dad will always know that I love God."