Golden-haired and adorned in her Sunday best, Angel was having a hard time living up to her name.
She squirmed in her pew seat, constantly turning around to peep and wave at the friendly faces behind her. She lost her shoes, 5 times. Then she climbed on her mommy’s lap, down again, up again—over and over again.
Finally, Mom had had enough. As the preacher droned on about how we can see God, Angel’s ears picked up on that interesting concept.
“See God? Me want to see God!! Mommy, me want to see God!” Angel loudly claimed.
Without missing a beat, Mom swooped up her unruly Angel, headed toward the back of the auditorium, and said, in a whisper all who were near (including this author) could easily hear, “God is in the nursery. Let’s go see Him now!”
While Angel’s mom was certainly not focused on witnessing to her child at that particular moment, she had the right idea all the same.
God is in the nursery. And He’s in the pre-K classroom, and the early elementary groups too.
When you have the amazing opportunity to share the gospel with kids in your care, keep these 6 pointers in mind.
1. Don’t underestimate them
When it comes time to share the gospel, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that very young children are too little to be presented with the weighty message of the good news.
Maybe we think the story of Jesus’ death is just too harsh. Or maybe we feel a little lost trying to explain how God could both send His Son to earth and die on a cross at the same time.
But we expect little ones to understand all kinds of heavy and important subjects.
We have no problem telling our little ones these things because we realize they only understand them at a basic level, which is all they need.
These things are important for our children to know, so we make a point of stating them, from the time they are old enough to understand “No” and “Obey” and “Stay with Dad.”
And we keep teaching them—over and over again.
The same should be true for times we share the gospel with kids. We know they will only understand it at a basic level, but that level is all they need right now.
From the time they are able to squeak out “Jesus loves me this I know,” we need to tell our children how they can know Jesus loves us so and what the Bible tells us about that.
And we need to keep teaching them—over and over again.
2. Don’t make it hard
When you share the gospel, keep it simple. Use a vocabulary your young child or the children in your ministry will understand.
Instead of saying, “Jesus paid our debt with His blood,” say “Jesus died on the cross so our sins could be taken away.”
Or instead of saying “Jesus conquered death and was resurrected on the third day,” try “Jesus died but came to life again on the third day. He showed everyone that God is stronger than death and that we can all live forever with God.”
In an effort to soften the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, we could actually make the event more confusing to children, or even unintentionally change the meaning.
We might say something like “Some bad leaders were mad at Jesus for saying that He was God’s Son and that He was a king. They put Jesus in jail and hurt Him until He died. But Jesus came to life again and lives forever in our hearts.”
While there is truth in this telling of the story, there is also a change in focus.
Instead of it being Jesus’ choice to die for us, this story makes it sound as though Jesus had no power or will. It also could sound to children like Jesus isn’t really alive as a person, but just as a thought or a feeling inside of us.
A better explanation might go like this: “Jesus taught people about God. He told them God was His Father and that God has a special kingdom for us. Some people didn’t believe Jesus, and they even wanted to kill Him! But to be part of God’s special kingdom, everyone must know Jesus. Jesus gave His life for us to show us how much He loves us, and how much He wants us all to live with Him in God’s kingdom. When we believe in Jesus, He helps us make good choices every day.”
3. Don’t make it weird
Let’s face it. The Christian imagery we use to share the gospel can sometimes be very odd, and even downright scary. Bleeding lambs, animal sacrifices, people nailed on crosses, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But just because all of that is in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean you have to focus on it.
When you share the gospel with kids, what you don’t want to do is lead them into a kind of mental panic room, where hellfire burns outside the walls, but inside they can be locked up and kept safe and clean, as long as they say the sinner’s prayer 3 times fast.
The gospel story should be about the good news of God’s love for us.
Do children need to know about hell and the consequences of sin? Yes, of course. But we should be very cautious not to manipulate their feelings.
If we force kids into a spiritual corner, we may indeed come away with a confession of some kind—but will it be a true confession of faith or will it rather be a concession made in fear?
4. Don’t be unprepared
Peter wrote to God’s elect and gave them this advice: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Before we walk into a Sunday school classroom or talk to our own children about the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we would do well to figure out exactly how we would explain why we have hope in Christ.
Peter also urges his listeners to do this with “gentleness and respect.” Those 2 qualities are especially important when speaking with children.
Be gentle with the words you use to share the gospel and be careful about the pictures you paint in their imaginative minds. But treat them with respect.
Get ready for their questions with the same care and time that you would take to get ready for a grown-up conversation about your faith. Study the gospel story well, so that you understand what happened when and why.
Of all the questions our little ones may ask, “why?” is certainly going to come up—many times! So be ready.
5. Don’t expect too much too soon
The understanding of the gospel message comes in stages for all of us.
I don’t know anyone who has had a complete and comprehensive understanding of sacrifice, atonement, grace, and salvation at the first moment they said yes to following Jesus.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I still don’t know anyone who has a complete understanding of those concepts.
Some mysteries are revealed to us, but some are puzzles we will keep working on and thinking on for the rest of our lives, or at least until we reach Heaven.
We should not expect the young minds among us to be able to grasp these concepts any more tightly than we grown people can.
So what do they need to understand when you share the gospel?
They need to know that God made us and loves us.
They need to know that God is perfectly good. And they need to know that humans are not perfectly good; everyone does wrong things—everyone sins.
Our sins separate us from living with God’s perfect goodness. But because God loves us so much and wants us to live with Him forever, He made a way for our sins to be wiped away. That way is Jesus.
Jesus died on a cross. He died for every person who has ever lived or will ever live. He suffered and died for us, so that we don’t have to suffer and die for our sins.
Jesus takes our sins away and gives us forgiveness. And that forgiveness lets us be able to live with God forever.
If we want to live with God forever, this is what we have to do: feel sorry for the wrong things we have done, thank Jesus for dying for us, and ask Him to forgive our sins.
Accepting the grace that is freely given to us is one step in the path of faith. It’s a big step, but it’s still just one step. We don’t have to have the whole path mapped out to be able to take that first step.
6. Don’t miss the moment
You never know when a child might come to understand what Jesus did for him.
It might be through the reading of a Bible storybook, watching an Easter play, or through singing a worship song.
Or it might be in looking at a nativity scene and realizing that baby in the manger was God’s special gift of love to the whole world.
Whenever that moment comes, don’t miss it. If a child comes to you and asks how she can know Jesus, stop what you are doing. Look the child in the eye and listen to her words.
Don’t be too busy to miss this important piece of God’s business.
Whenever you can, build into your lives opportunities for those moments to happen.
Read stories of Jesus’ life. Let kids play a part in acting out those stories. Sing songs of praise—lyrics about God’s forgiveness and love, and about what Jesus did for us. And allow time for children to ask questions.
I don’t know if little Angel ever did get to “see God” that day, but I know He was there, in the nursery.
And if we spend enough time around our little ones, and share the gospel over and over again, we’ll be sure to see Him in their hearts.
Looking for more ways to connect with the kids you teach? These kids’ Bible study tools will spark imaginations and bring the Bible to life.