Talking to her eight grandchildren about Jesus comes as naturally as breathing for Jenni Carter.
“I pray for them to have authentic relationships with Jesus,” added Carter, children’s ministry consultant for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “That is the foremost thing I want for them.”
So when her 5-year-old grandson was awed by a tree covered in white blooms, she saw a teaching opportunity.
“God gave us that beautiful tree,” she told him. “God has given us so many beautiful things.”
That, Carter said, is the kind of conversations all Christian parents and grandparents need to routinely have with their little ones to lay the groundwork for the moment in life when they are ready to give their hearts to Christ.
She shared her insights during a breakout session at one of a series of GBMB evangelism conferences that drew more than 1,000 pastors and ministry leaders.
Keeping ‘line of communications open’
“What that does is keep the line of communications open so it’s not going to be awkward when it comes time to talk about salvation,” Carter said. “These conversations should be happening very naturally, not forced, and should begin at a very young age.”
Thomas Hammond Jr., GBMB executive director, said the evangelism conferences are intended to inspire and prepare church members to share the gospel.
“I have heard all my life that evangelism is more caught than taught,” Hammond told participants at the first conference. “But when we have the skills to share our faith, we can do it in a way that is relevant and effective.”
Focusing on stages
The Barna Group, a research firm focusing on religious beliefs and behaviors among Americans, found that nearly half of all Americans who accept Christ as Savior do so before they’re 13.
“The primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years,” Barna says. “It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life — especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development.”
“Parents know when their babies are going to be strong enough to hold their heads up, when they’re going to start crawling, when they should walk, when their teeth are going to come in,” Carter told her breakout group. “They know all these things, but they may not know where their children should be spiritually.”
Children will go through recognizable stages in their spiritual development, she explained: the discovery stage when they’re asking lots of questions, the discerning stage when they’re determining how to react to what they have learned, the decision stage when they decide to give their hearts to Christ, and the discipling stage when they learn more about their faith.
Trusting the Holy Spirit
Carter said parents and grandparents should trust the Holy Spirit throughout the process.
“It is not our job as parents, grandparents and church leaders to convict a child of their sin,” she said. “That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is our job to present the plan of salvation, but we can’t act as the Holy Spirit toward them.”