Evangelism Starts in the Home

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 1:1-7; 3:14-15

Today we continue the sermon series started last week on evangelism. It was a topic that was suggested in surveys from both churches, so I thought it was important to work with it. Evangelism is probably one of the most important things we can do, and everyone is called to evangelism.

That’s a scary thought for some people, many people, because they think of Billy Graham and TV evangelists and all these sort of things. But really, when you break down evangelism, it means good news.

It is telling or sharing the good news. And being evangelical, at its roots, is not a political ideology or particular doctrinal theology, but rather someone who shares that good news and that gospel. So it helps us to know what the Gospel is. You can always look at our web page, once the transcript is posted for last week, for the parts of the Gospel.

Today we’re talking about how evangelism begins at home, and we’re going to talk about evangelizing children. Why do you think those with a humanistic worldview are so intent on providing taxpayer-funded early childhood education, opposing vouchers for students who attend non-governmental schools, and generally “evangelizing” young people with unbiblical, evolutionary, environmental, and sexual ideology? This doesn’t occur everywhere, and it’s not meant to paint with a broad brush, but the fact is, at state and even federal levels, they are insisting on some of these things now, as early as first grade or even kindergarten, in some states.

The answer is simple as to why they do this. You change the children – you change the future. Christian churches and mission organizations will do the same, only with a biblical worldview.

And so we should put our resources and efforts on evangelism and discipleship for children. George Barna, in a book called Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, writes “A series of studies we conducted regarding the age at which people accept Christ as their Savior highlights the importance of having people invite Jesus into their hearts as their Savior when they are young.”

I will say I don’t particularly like that phrase “invite Jesus in your heart.” You can talk to me after the service if you want to find out why that’s irritating to me, because it’s a misquote of Scripture.

Barna says, “We discovered that the probability of someone embracing Jesus as his or her Savior was 32 percent for those between ages of 5 and 12, 4 percent for those in the 13 to 18 age range, and 6 percent for people 19 or older.” (There are those teenage rebellions.) “In other words, if people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior before they reach their teenage years, the chances of their doing so at all are slim.”

Damon DeLillo of International Network of Children’s Ministry said “What is rooted in the heart of a child is almost impossible to uproot in the life of an adult.”

Now, in our scripture today, in the passage in 2 Timothy, Paul praises the family of Timothy, with his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, saying that the faith was passed down, one from another. And later on, he speaks about continuing to live out what you have learned, there in the family. So he obviously believes in the importance of passing on the faith and the gospel.

Some may think, well, we’ve got this. I’m a Christian, I go to church, so my kids will surely be Christians. Unfortunately, simply being born of believers doesn’t guarantee salvation. Romans 2 tells us that. A child must be raised faithfully in the covenant, according to much of the Old Testament, and he must believe (John 3:18).

Only those who were born, not of the blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God, are children of God (that comes from John 1:10-13). It is not enough simply to be in the family of someone who is a Christian.

I spoke last week about one of the things I get frequently from families, when I’m counseling with them before a funeral. I ask about how the deceased’s faith was, how they communicated it with the family, if they’ve passed it down to the children. A lot of times, most of the time even, I get the words “well, their faith was very private, but we knew that they believed because of the way they lived.”

Witness, as I noted last week, is very important. But it’s different from sharing the gospel. It supports and buttresses your sharing of the Gospel and is necessary. But it is not the sharing the Gospel. It is not evangelism.

Now if there is no blank promise of salvation for the children of believers, is there no advantage to being born of Christian parents? Should I even care? Yes, there is great advantage. Like the Jews, Christian parents are entrusted with the oracles of God, and this is a tremendous advantage. We have been born again, not of perishable but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word God.

Think about it. What other children have a chance to hear the Word in the home, grow up in a church where they hear the preaching and teaching of the Word, week in and week out, and where their friends and teachers encourage them to believe and obey, where they learn the great hymns of the faith and soon have them in memory?

I couldn’t help but think of that, our first hymn today, number 9, in the last verse. It was kind of deep, but it says:

Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit: three we name thee,
though in essence only one;
undivided God we claim thee.

That’s the Trinity, right there. So here in this hymn you see some basic theology, incredibly important theology, that’s included. So we want them to learn these great hymns of the faith.

The promise of salvation is to all who believe, and only to them. Far from unconditionally guaranteeing their salvation, the promises of Scripture, to believers, for their children, establish Christian parents’ responsibility to evangelize our children. I realize the age of this congregation, and I want to make two comments before I go on.

Number one, you can still evangelize your children, matter what age. They need to hear the Gospel. They need to respond to Christ. It’s not something like “well, I did my twenty, thirty, forty years, and, you know, I give up.” Never give up. God works miracles.

The second thing is many of you are grandparents, and you have another opportunity to share the Gospel, even if the parents do not. I know a lot of you babysit your grandchildren. It is the joy and a wonder, and you can spoil them rotten. But you can also share the Good News with them, so that they come to know it.

Eunice was apparently not married to a Christian man, and Paul makes it very clear that the faith was passed from Lois as well as Eunice to Timothy. He makes reference, elsewhere, to Timothy’s grandmother mentoring him.

So you have an opportunity, even as a grandparent, to share the Gospel. Living the Christian life doesn’t end until you die. Learning about God shouldn’t end until you see Him face to face and you know everything you need to know. Sharing the gospel and good news of salvation, like wise, should be a lifelong habit and practice.

God tells us to command our children to keep the way of the Lord, in Genesis – which includes faith in Jesus Christ. We must tell them the Gospel at every opportunity, before and after they ever profess their faith.

That means teaching them all the parts of the Gospel. Again, check last week’s transcript for information on that, including the tougher parts. And as we do this, we must be both creative and sensitive. Though obvious but often overlooked, children are not as mature as adults.

Every child is also different, each possessing different degrees of maturity and understanding. We must therefore be careful to clearly present the Gospel to them in such a way that they can understand and grasp hold of it.

I’m going to go through some simple ways in which we can do this as parents and even as grandparents.

First and foremost, in their younger years, involve them frequently, preferably daily, in family worship. Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be preaching. Keep it simple. Read a Bible portion, pray, and sing a hymn or a chorus from children’s Bible song.

How many of you remember the songs you learned in Sunday School as kids? I’m frequently asked, “Can we sing this song?” And I say, “Well, that’s not in the hymnal.” “But I sang it when I was in Sunday School.”

I do have one book that I have as a resource, that’s actually called the Sunday School Hymnal, from around 1920. By the way, if any of you happen to have at home your own copies of your Sunday School hymnbooks, I would love to see them.

So pray, read a bit of the Bible, and sing a hymn or a chorus.

Second, inculcate the habit of personal devotions. Again, keep it simple. Most of what I read said a chapter of the Bible, but I know that can be hard sometimes. But at least a passage of the Bible, and praying, are all they need to do, particularly as younger kids. If they want to keep a journal, prayer list, or write notes, that’s fine.

And encourage them, but pushing for it intimidates them. So don’t. Let them, as they talk to you, say, “I wish I could remember something,” and you say, “Well, I know of a good way you can do that.”

Make sure, too, that they’re not afraid to write in their Bibles. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, even though I read my Bible, it stayed kind of pristine. It was a holy book. You don’t want to mess the holy book up.

It’s not the book that’s holy. It’s the Word communicated to us through it authoritatively by the Holy Spirit. As I became an adult, I had my mother’s Bible as an inheritance (my son has my father’s Bible), and it’s a joy for me to see the notes that are written on the side. My mom also had a habit of taking Our Daily Bread devotionals and shoving them into the pages, so every time I open it up I spell them and then I have to figure out where they go.

But they write notes. They highlight things. One of the members of our church here, Jim Zoetler, he’s not here now, but if you ever look at his Bible, he doesn’t just highlight it, it’s in multiple colors, to mean different things.

What it means when you do that is you’ve discovered something that’s important for you and it’s meaningful to you, and can remind you as you read this again. “Oh yeah!”

And you could teach that to the children and grandchildren. If they look in your Bible when you’re reading to them, and they say, “Why did you do that? Why do you color on the pages?” And you say, “Good question,” and you share.

Third, have your children every Lord’s Day in the worship of God, under the preaching of the Word, in the fellowship of the saints, partaking regularly of the Lord’s Supper, from their earliest ability to confess their faith to the elders. Here in the Presbyterian church we leave the giving of communion up to the parents, as to whether or not they think their kids are ready.

Sometimes the kids decide for themselves. Al, for instance, chose not to take Communion for a long time, even after he understood the Gospel, until he had the opportunity to publicly affirm it with a class, and then he felt comfortable doing so. We were fine with him taking it. It was his choice, and we honored that.

While personal family are important, the Bible does emphasize corporate worship. We need the help. It’s qualitatively different.

Fourth, give them age-appropriate opportunities to serve and be a witness and a disciple. A disciple is one who both learns and acts on that learning. It’s wonderful to learn, you become a great scholar that way. You become a disciple when you act on it.

Encourage them in this. Do it inside the church, through participation in aspects of worship. We always need candle lighters, and it can be a meaningful practice, as can be the end time, when they snuff candles and leave one of the tapers lit as they walk out, which represents carrying the light of the Gospel into the world.

They are speaking for you, the church, when they do that. They’re being a reminder and a sign. It’s a meaningful thing. It’s not just to keep the church from burning down.

So encourage them to act as a disciple inside the church, through acts of worship and fellowship, and outside the church, with both ministries like the food pantry or a soup kitchen or something, and public service. Teach them to serve, and to do it in the name of Christ.

Speaking of age-appropriate, before a child is invited to accept Jesus as his or her personal Savior, we must ascertain that he or she understands these fundamental ideas of our salvation. And yes, even though I said look up my sermon last week, I’m going to go through them now, because there are some facets or aspects I want to talk about directly with respect to children.

First is the concept of sin. The Gospel is good news. Actually the Gospel is great news, the best news we can have. But with that said, the Gospel can only be good news if there is bad news.

We have all sinned and deserve to be punished by a holy God. We’re often afraid to give children or youth such a downer, thinking it will drive them away from the church. But it is necessary for them to understand the grace and the love that God has in saving us. Not just when you’re lovable, but God loved you even when you weren’t lovable, and when you were enemies.

They need to know that sin displeases God and separates them from Him. Some context here is helpful. Jumping right into “Jesus died on the cross, now make Him the Lord of your life” is not really helpful, especially at younger ages. I do that a lot in these sermons, because I have very little time to work with you folks.

A brief explanation of the history of God’s work in human history is helpful, showing how God was consistent all through the Bible. An overview of God’s plan and work in history can be helpful. Of course, you have to know what that plan is, and be familiar with it yourself. That means you need to learn, and review.

Point to the Bible, not a feeling. I think that’s an important one in today’s world. Salvation is about the works of Jesus, not a feeling. Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins and succeeded in cleansing us. In His resurrection he gave us victory over sin and death. We are guaranteed to win ultimately, but not because we are Michael Jordans of the faith, but because of who Jesus is and what He has done.

We need to teach them that we must put our faith in Jesus. There is no other way. At presbytery meeting on Saturday, we were just talking in general about some things and comparing personalities, and we were going have an inquirer that we were going to be examining.

Some of the pastors, as we were around the table, were sharing some of their experiences. And one of them said that when they were examined, they were asked the question, “What do you do with Jesus saying ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by me’?”

And that person said she stepped up to the microphone and said, “I think I’m going to go with Jesus,” and then stepped back.

We need to be able to show that we must put our faith in Jesus and in no other thing. It’s about trusting Jesus with their lives and having a good relationship with Him, not just knowing Him. I know it is hard to trust. People disappoint. Friends disappoint with broken promises and things that hurt you. Parents do the same. Authority figures like teachers and even pastors fail you at times. Even grandparents can disappoint.

But faith is about trusting even when you’re not sure. And Jesus will never disappoint in the end. He is perfect.

You also need to tell them it is more than about just being Jesus’ friend. I remember I went through the “Jesus and me, we’re bros” phase, and I remember when Al was young, the Sunday School of the church that we were going to at that time taught that Jesus will be their “forever Friend.” It was even incorporated into the baptismal liturgy of that church for the youth.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that is part of the story. Jesus does become someone we can turn to in times of trouble, a constant help in planning our lives, and someone we can share our deepest thoughts and concerns with.

Those are attributes of a good friend. But Jesus is much more than that. To reduce Jesus to just a forever friend ignores his power and glory.

Most children are not scared by the concept the power and glory. That gives them security, because they know that God can handle it and that they are safe in His hands. They need to give allegiance to Him.

Sixth, it doesn’t end at the profession of faith. The decision to follow Christ is a special moment, and there is no denying that. Make it special. In my family, the boys have “rebirthdays” as well as birthdays, and we celebrate twice a year, for each one. (They kind of like that, I think.)

Remember, though, that a profession of faith is only the beginning of a child’s (or an adult’s) spiritual journey. It marks the beginning of a lifetime of learning, discipleship, and building a relationship with their Lord and Savior.

Don’t think that your work is done once they make a profession of faith, or they are up here and here and they make an affirmation of faith and become members of the church. Ensure that a system is in place and it will continue to disciple them and lead them in their spiritual journey, as was described earlier.

If a child is not able to grasp these fundamental points, it’s best not to ask the child for any decision. Don’t push. The most important thing for now is to reassure the child that God loves him or her forever, and remind them of the Good News.

Then when you think that they have a firm hold of it, ask them. Because as Paul says, “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and you shall be saved.” It’s wonderful to believe, but you have to do something about it.

Two more things to help as you work through this and figure out how to reach them with the good news. Number one, keep it short. I know that sounds strange coming from me.

Let’s face it, though. Kids don’t have the longest attention span in the world (nor do many adults, for that matter). Don’t sacrifice the depth of the gospel by trying to cram it into thirty seconds. There’s a video you can look at on YouTube that talks about the Gospel in one minute or less with somebody who could speed-talk – it was impressive. But you don’t have to do that.

On the other hand, be concise. Get to the point. When you’re sharing the gospel with anyone, it’s probably not the right time for a discussion of the Church Fathers’ view of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (important as it is to ultimately teach it, and as much as I love to dialog about it).

Number two, encourage questions. Sharing the gospel should be more of a conversation than a lecture. Clarify what they don’t understand, and if they ask a question that you aren’t sure of the answer to, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Any time anybody says, “Pastor, I’ve got a question for you,” I say, “I got an answer even if it’s ‘I don’t know.’” And if it is, I’ll look it up.

After you say “I don’t know,” then look for the answer with them. They see that their question is important to you, and the search for the answer also. And they learn by absorption how to do it, rather than simply, like a vending machine, pop in my question and then three days later the answer comes back.

I think that’s why kids are so addicted to Google. When I was substitute teaching, I said, “You need to learn these things. You need to memorize them.” And I actually had somebody say, “Why? I can just look it upon the internet.” You know what? It may not always have that. And it internalizes it when you memorize it and you learn it.

The search will strengthen the faith of both of you, and your relationship with them. And in the end, evangelism is all about relationships. You can evangelize your children through family worship, teaching on personal devotions, faithful participation in corporate worship, and giving them opportunities to live out that faith through service.

Take heart. The promise “believe, confess, and you will be saved” is to you and your children. And ultimately God’s plan will prevail.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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