One of our savvy readers posed the following questions:
“AWANA. How do you view their position on salvation? What is your approach in teaching children about salvation? How is the best way to evangelize children?”
AWANA: As to the first question about AWANA I have no first-hand experience in our church as we do not use the AWANA program. However, I have been a part of churches that use it successfully with great benefit to the parents and children involved. That being said, I know that many have voiced concern as to how the curriculum seems to encourage “bottom-line” style evangelism for children (i.e., working to seek a “decision”). However, any such program can be fine-tuned for a church’s needs and doctrinal persuasion. Programs like this will be as strong or weak as the leadership that oversees such ministries in each church. Some of our other contributors actually use the program so I’ll let them weigh-in on this one.
Approach to salvation: I grew up in what might be called a distinctively man-centered children’s ministry. I came through it in the late 70’s and into the 80’s and our church was one of the first mega-churches to “explore” children’s ministry possibilities. There were over 1,000 children in that ministry at its peek. I learned a ton of information including many gospel basics but week in and week out I was pressed with a heavy hand to make a decision for Jesus. What kid growing up in church would not raise his hand when asked if he loved Jesus? Looking back it is clear to me that the entire ministry was designed to do what parents should have been doing all along.
Now there are some (many of whom I count as friends) who have in my opinion over corrected this problem and have called for what they deem family-integrated churches which means the children are never separated from their parents for any ministry. When I started here at the church there were a few families that had been drinking from this cistern and they encouraged me to cancel all Sunday schools and even women’s Bible studies in an effort to unite church and home. Those families are long gone and now they each have “churches” in their homes which no one attends but their children (for now anyways). See here for an excellent interview about “family integrated churches.”
At our church we have tried to steer clear of these extremes by coming along side parents in their God-given roles. In fact we state that “The Children’s Ministry at Grace Community Church is designed to come along side the normal parental training and help further equip children to learn about God through teaching, games, crafts and various activities.” This all assumes that parents are the ones responsible to evangelize their children. So we encourage our parents to read to their children, to talk openly about Christ and to lead their child to see their greatest need. This takes patience, faithfulness, and boldness on the part of parents. We have SS and activities for children but it is all designed to help the parents and continually point the children to Christ without the pressure to report “decisions”. All of this means that we spend a lot of time (publicly and privately) encouraging our parents to fulfill their responsibility to evangelize their children. We also remind one another that some will plant, others will water but it is God who causes the growth.
On the practical side of things, my wife and I read with our children everyday. This helps us to lay a foundation of truth in their hearts. With our little ones (2.5 yrs and 10 mo.) we read to them from The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible. With our five year old we read from the classic The Child’s Story Bible which was written many years ago by Catherine Vos, the wife of Dutch-Reformed theologian Geerhardus Vos. We also try to show our kids that following Christ is not something we do merely at set times but is an all day everyday pursuit. So we find ourselves always talking about Jesus even at the most unexpected places and times. As a pastor I give out lots of copies of Dennis Gundersen’s excellent little book Your Child’s Profession of Faith and also Jim Eliff’s article on Childhood Conversion. I would also mention that I do not consider my unbelieving children as members of the New Covenant simply because they are under my household. We pray that they will repent and then be baptized and that their faith will grow as they live for the glory of Christ. What a great responsibility and an awesome privilege we have as parents. May God strengthen our steps and show His favor!