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Handle With Care?

Larry Shallenberger

The Solution:
Teach Children the Why and How of Inviting

Elementary-age children are capable of understanding why sharing their faith is important. They can comprehend that God made all people in his image and that he longs to have a friendship with them.

Use these ideas to teach children how to share their faith:

  • Infiltrate your ministry with the message that God wants to have a relationship with every person, and it's important for us to love everyone and help others understand that he loves us all.
  • Use the Wordless Book and the Gospel Flipper-Flapper, two excellent tools developed by Child Evangelism Fellowship (
  • Form pairs and use role-plays to help children become comfortable inviting friends to church. Brainstorm responses to common objections, such as "Church is boring" or "I don't believe in God."

Problem #2:

We Teach the Wrong Story

Ask children what it means to be a Christian, and you'll frequently hear answers such as reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and doing good things.

When I conducted baptism interviews, I used to be dismayed by such answers. A quick survey of moral-development theories by Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg reminded me that children naturally see right and wrong in terms of keeping rules and avoiding punishment. However, the whole point of Christianity is that we're unable to keep the rules, so we need a Savior. Once we become connected to God, our mission moves from rule-keeping to loving God and our neighbors.

Abstract concepts such as grace and love take longer for children to grasp. As a result, kids naturally fall back on concepts they understand, thereby reducing Christianity to an exercise in being virtuous. Such black-and-white thinking is what causes children to categorize everyone they meet as either good or bad, heroes or villains. To young minds, God loves the good people but hates the bad ones.

My wife, Amy, and I have been encouraging our middle son, Nate, to befriend and share his faith with a classmate named Alex, who struggles with learning and misbehaves so much he seems to have a standing appointment with the principal. His classmates have decided that Alex is bad news, and many just avoid him. Nate invited Alex to church, only to have Alex explain that he's a bad kid, so God doesn't like him. Church isn't a place for such kids, in Alex's mind.

We subtly reinforce this teaching by using curriculum that reduces Christianity to a moral code. In our attempts to make the Bible applicable, we disconnect Bible lessons from their broader context and attach morals such as "Be kind," "Be loving," or "Be industrious." There's nothing wrong with these virtues because part of God's plan involves restoring his people's moral character. But Scripture is driven by God's motivation: He's committed to the lost and broken people he made. He extends himself to the point of death out of his love for us all.

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