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Don’t Pressure Your Children to Become Christians

We’re all aware that many kids who grow up in church don’t stick with Christianity into adulthood. Many who claimed Christ as a child ditch it once they’re on their own. And many we thought were rock solid, eventually flounder. 

No doubt, there’s plenty of reasons for this tragic reality, but there’s one that we as parents can control — our parenting. 

I’m not saying if we strive for perfect parenting we’ll hit the jackpot, and I’m not saying if we mess up, we’ll ruin our kids. Not at all! God is ultimately in charge of salvation from beginning to end. 

What I am saying is: Sometimes parents can contribute to the problem of their children assuming they are Christians, while later finding out it was not real Christianity at all (because real Christians don’t ditch Christianity later in life). This might sound like a harsh conclusion, but it makes plenty of sense when you think about the nature of loving parents and their children who want to please them…

A Common Temptation, but a Dangerous Problem

Let’s be honest, as Christian parents there is nothing we want more than to see our kids saved. But that can lead to a particular type of temptation we might call wishful thinking. If we even sense our kids are interested in spiritual things, wouldn’t we feel better if we could get them to admit they need Jesus and then push them to trust in him? Wouldn’t we rest easier if they said some prayer about believing in Jesus? Of course we would! The problem is these childlike responses might not equate to genuine faith in Christ.

Furthermore, our temptation to be hasty is coupled with our kids’ desire to please us. Most children want to conform to the beliefs of their parents— at least when they are young. But again, whatever “belief” they claim won’t do much good if they’re simply conforming to the expectations of the people around them.

So in a sense you could say, we should not pressure our kids into becoming Christians. 

Of course, we should teach them all about Christianity and we should encourage them to pursue it. In fact, they should know there’s nothing we want more for them… but we also need to slow down and make sure our kids are really thinking for themselves. We need to help them process the facts. We need to give them time to count the cost (Luke 14:28-33). What it comes down to is, each child needs to individually walk through the portal of redemption. They need to have real repentance and faith (mere outward conformance will not do.)

So the question is, as we teach our kids about salvation, how do we not pressure them to do the one thing that we want them to do more than anything? Here’s my thoughts:

#1. Keep the Message Clear

With such an important topic, we must first ask the most important question: how does someone even become a Christian? If we don’t get this 100% right we can’t expect our kids to. 

Put as simply as possible: You need to first understand you have a problem with God because of your sin (meaning, you don’t live according to God’s standard). This sin separates you from God (which ultimately culminates in eternal separation). Then you need to see Jesus as the only solution to this problem. You embrace God’s solution by placing your full trust in Jesus who took care of the sin problem through his life, death, and resurrection. And that type of trust is, by nature, coupled with a repentance that alters your life direction. 

In summary, a person is saved when they understand the gospel (the good news), and they respond in repentance and faith. 

This message doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter how old our kids are. The gospel remains the same, and the required response isn’t altered. This is the standard we need to hold our kids to, and we can never dumb it down to something lesser. 

#2. Admit the Challenge 

When children are raised by Christian parents it can be hard to know when real salvation has occurred. Or more to the point: It’s easy to think our kids are saved when they actually aren’t (yet). 

I mentioned this predicament earlier, but think about it: what kid doesn’t want to avoid hell? And generally speaking, what kid doesn’t just believe whatever mom and dad say is true (I know there’s some exceptions!)? 

In general, we should expect kids to default to the belief system of their environment. Just like most Mormon families produce Mormons, and most Muslim families produce Muslims. But the problem with Christianity is, that’s not enough. You are not a real Christian just because you think it’s all true or fall in line with all the practices. It needs to be truth that transforms your life because God converts your heart. 

All that to say, sometimes we just won’t know if a kid truly gave their life to Christ until they are living independent of their childhood environment, or have their desire to follow Christ truly tested. Of course, the point is not to judge who’s saved and who’s not — rather, the point is: we should be realistic about how easy it is to claim Christianity before actually getting saved. Just knowing this will help us think more strategically about our parental evangelism.

#3. Strategically Evangelize

So if we are aware that our children could easily embrace Christianity without it being the real deal, what are we to do? Basically, we should teach the gospel, we should be very clear about the call to repentance and faith, but we should be careful about pushing for a response (all while praying fervently that they do respond to the gospel!)

No doubt, there is an urgency to the gospel, and there is a sense in which we want to beg our kids to follow Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). But we have to temper all that with the realization that we have a certain power of persuasiveness in their life (at least when they are young). We have to remember our children likely know we want nothing more than their salvation, so if we asked them to become a Christian, they’d surely “do it” for us. But again, though we can convince a child to claim Christianity, we can’t do the real soul work that salvation requires. So pushing a child may only lead to a false profession, which may keep them from seeing their spiritual state clearly. 

Bottom line, if God is going to do  the saving work in their heart, he’s going to do it, and he doesn’t need us to pressure them to make it happen.

So yes, have conversations about the gospel over and over and over again. Teach all kinds of biblical truth all the time. Make following Christ look attractive. Pray faithfully for God to open their eyes. Show them their sin, and remind them of their need for the Savior. Walk them through how to become a Christian. Tell them it’s an urgent matter of heaven or hell. But when it comes down to it, let them be proactive in saying “Now is the time, I want to get saved.” And even then, don’t have them parrot your words and prayers — encourage them to do business with God on their own, in their own words. If this is something really happening in their hearts and minds, they will know how to talk to God about it.

#4 Be Cautiously Optimistic

Lord willing that day will come when your prayers are answered and your child says, “God saved me!” When that day comes, it’s cause for great rejoicing…but possibly also a little cautious optimism. Let me explain. 

Potential salvation confusion is not just a problem for kids in Christian homes, it’s a widespread reality. In fact, Jesus taught a parable about this problem when he spoke of the 4 soils (Luke 8:4-15). Each soil represented some type of response to the gospel, but only one was a salvific kind. Therefore, it’s possible your child’s response to the gospel will be one of the other “soils.”

But even if your child doesn’t actually get saved when they thought they did, their desire to be so is still worthy of celebration. It’s a good thing, actually a great thing, if your child is simply wanting to be a Christian.  

I’ve heard many wise parents say, “Only time will tell.” And that is the truth. We can be excited with each step our kids take, and we can cheer them on with hope as they seek to move forward — while still fervently praying that God keeps working in their life, whether for salvation or sanctification. And if we ever find that their initial profession of faith didn’t last, we don’t need to be shocked, we just can keep praying and trusting and pointing them to Jesus. 

#5. Pray for Salvation and Pray for Wisdom

All in all, God is the one who is going to do this work in our kids lives. So ultimately prayer is our best weapon. We should pray God saves our kids once and for all. Pray they are the right type of soil. Pray he opens their eyes. Pray they are the real deal and never walk away. 

But also, we should pray for wisdom as parents. We are the parents God gave our kids to point them to him. And we want to do so with great wisdom. 

Some may say all this talk is over thinking the whole thing. But is it? Countless children have been taught the gospel and have claimed Christianity, and have since walked far far away from the faith. Sure we can’t control our children’s hearts, but we can be strategic, and we can be thoughtful, and we can be wise. 

So that’s what we ask for. God make us wise. Help us declare the gospel clearly and uphold your standards rightly. May we not be swayed by wishful thinking—show us our blindspots.Teach us how to urgently express the gospel without pressuring our children into false conversions. Save each and every one of our kids in your timing. And give us patience and wisdom until then.

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