All too often, ministry in the Church—especially to children—can focus almost exclusively on the transfer of information. Information is good; the doctrines of our Christian faith should be passed from one generation to the next. We see this commanded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. When children are baptized into the church their parents take vows promising to pray for and with their children as well as to teach them what it means to be a Christian. As a church, we make a vow to help the family to do this! Teaching children doctrine is essential, but this must always be rooted in the goal of increasing our love for God and neighbor.
We are blessed to live in a time where resources abound for teaching kids the Bible. But the greatest resource for teaching a child the things of God is not the latest storybook Bible, curriculum, or catechism...it is you, the adult in the life of the child. Whether you realize it or not, you are discipling your child and showing them what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells the church to “[b]e imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Our faith is usually more caught than taught. We can speak the best information available, we can memorize Scripture, we can expose our kids to every program the church has to offer, but they are looking to us, and our walk with Jesus, as they learn what it means to be a Christian.
How are we embodying the truth which we proclaim? Do your children see that your life is different because you are Christ’s Beloved? In what ways is it different? How are your family’s values, priorities, and practices different from that of your unbelieving neighbor? Equally as important…how are you loving your unbelieving neighbor? How are you sharing the love of God in Christ with them in both word and deed?
We need to model this love for neighbor to our children, as well as encourage them to love their unbelieving friends! Evangelism and love for neighbor is not a duty we pick up at age 18 when we go off to college, it is the call of every Christian from the earliest age. We must live in the tension of protecting our children from evil, but also encouraging them to love sinners as Jesus loves sinners. Children who are never allowed to have non-Christian friends will continue to struggle as adults as they seek to make non-Christian friends.
We are to be wise and discerning, yes, but we must also take risks at times in order to love our neighbors. Who lives on your street that you can invite over for dinner in the next two weeks? Who can you schedule a playdate with that has children who don’t belong to Christ? At the very least, you can begin to pray for non-Christians you know (both young and old) by name with your children. And you can use the opportunities available to you through things like our upcoming Easter Egg Hunt on April 15th where you can invite your neighbors to come, eat good food, enjoy conversation, and be exposed to relationships that are marked by Christ.
Why do we love our neighbors? Because God loves them and they are created in his image. Because we too were once far off from God and he came near to us in Jesus and showered us with his abundant love and mercy. As we think about sharing the good news of the gospel this upcoming Easter season, let us not forget about creating opportunities for our children to share life with and proclaim the gospel to those non-Christians who are our neighbors and who are desperately in need of the One who loves them.