There was a time when our view of evangelism was that of teaching what a Christian was and giving the children a chance to choose. We’d hold a tent meeting with the evangelist at the front and an altar call to all the children present to “accept Jesus as their Saviour”.
I’m not pouring scorn on that. I think every child should be given the chance to understand and answer God’s call to follow. All too often we fill them with amazing Bible stories and object lessons to live by, but then forget to tell them about salvation and that, by God’s grace, it is available to them too.
So where is our view of evangelism and children today? I would say that we have a much wider understanding.
The world doesn’t like the term ‘evangelism’, so we have changed the terminology. Again, I’m not knocking the loss of the word either. There are better ways to describe what we do in a way that shows clearly our desire to see children owning a resilient faith in Jesus.
Evangelism can be seen in many ways – we have replaced tent meetings with holiday clubs and camps, and the gospel is taught in a variety of ingenious ways, disguised with fun and laughter, all with a serious message behind it.
I think what we would all agree with now is that evangelism is not simply about asking children to put their hands up to make a decision to follow Jesus. We want to see disciples, not just momentary decisions.
I often comment that holiday clubs now rarely have unchurched children in them. Instead we are nurturing our own, with the occasional exception. But here’s the big question – does that holiday club cease to be evangelistic just because it is mainly churched kids attending? If evangelism is about sharing faith, the good news, the way to God – whatever terminology you like to use – then that holiday club is evangelistic.
I’ve pondered and learnt about evangelism with children over many years, and come to the conclusion that responding to God’s call is only the first step. I firmly believe that evangelism and discipleship should nurture a child through to a life-long faith that will survive, no matter what life throws at them. In other words, it is more than a moment in time.
The meaning of the word ‘evangelistic’ includes being zealous about something – anything. I want to see children zealous about their faith and how they live it out, so I would class encouraging families in how they build faith in their children to be evangelistic. I would also say that helping a Christian child to reach a defining moment in their faith is evangelistic. I would also say providing a meal in the holidays to a child who would normally have nothing is evangelistic.
Just think of the testimonies of children coming to faith.
For some it is a moment in time that they can recall because of a special event, for others it is like a glass being filled a few drops at a time through faithful teaching – they don’t know when they chose to believe, they just know they do.
Then there are those who “become a Christian” time and time again. This is often not because they didn’t understand the first time, but usually because they now understand at a different level.
For others it is two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back as they wrestle with questions and work with those who are willing to stand with them as they wrestle.
All different, all with different types of input, all valid and all evangelism. What I have noticed is, if the right mentoring is in place, it is the wrestler who often ends up owning and being more resilient in their faith – more so than the child who has responded to a challenge from the front to follow Jesus.
I see evangelism, nurture, mentoring and discipleship as all part of the same package. It is good news. It is pointing to a relationship with Jesus. It is talking simply about being sorry and doing those things that God loves us to do.
Evangelism doesn’t just give the milk of the gospel, it gives the meat too. But it cuts the meat up into bite-sized pieces which children can then digest and understand.
I’m an evangelist who believes my role is not just telling children about Jesus, but showing them how to grow into and own their faith in Jesus, for their whole lives.