My Son Is Not Ready to Become a Christian

Years ago, one of my sons participated in a church-sponsored sports league. Each week we taught herded energetic and confused kindergarten children. It was a fun time for all!

Each week, one of the coaches taught a prepared devotion. And towards the end of the season, there was an obligatory "altar call" of sorts. After he taught the lesson (and he always did a great job), the dad led the children in prayer, and explained that if they wanted to follow Jesus, they could pray silently with him. And when he was done, he asked the kids to keep their eyes closed and to raise their hands if they prayed the "sinner's prayer."

All the fathers (coaches) looked around during the eyes-closed moment (Jon Acuff says that this is OK). I saw 2 things -- one that didn't surprise me, and one that made me happy:
  1. Unsurprising: Most of the kids peeked to see which of their peers raised their hands.
  2. Pleasing: While a few of the children did raise their hands, I was happy that my son didn't.
You may be confused as to why I was happy that my son didn't respond to this "call to faith." Let me explain . . . .

He Wasn't Ready Then . . .

The discussion of how to know if your child is truly a follower of Jesus is a big one. It cannot be covered in one blog post, or ten. It's a conversation that I encourage parents to have in the context of gospel-centered community and with mentors.

If you want to read (and watch a short video) more about this, I encourage you to check out these posts on this blog:
  1. 10 Principles for Shepherding My Child Through Salvation and Baptism  
  2. Is My Son Ready for Baptism? 
  3. Is My Child a Christian? 
  4. How Do I Know If My Child Is a Christian?   
In short, the reason I was happy my son didn't raise his hand is because I was sure (at least, as sure as I could be) that he was not a follower of Jesus. Yes, he had been learning a lot about God, and was growing spiritually. But I didn't want him to make an in-the-moment decision. Had he done so then, I think he would have been doing it for the wrong reason.

Can you respond to an "altar call" (sorry, it's the best term I have) for the wrong reason? Absolutely! One could do so:
  1. To please a parent or other respected adult. (My son knows that I want him to be a Christ-follower.)
  2. To go along with what his friends are doing. (I do want my son to have godly friends and role models.)
  3. To feel good about himself. 
None of these reasons are inherently bad, but they aren't the reasons that we should follow Jesus. While I do want my children to be Christians, they need to own it for themselves. While them rejecting God is a terrible thing, it is just as dangerous for them to have a false assurance based on an emotional decision.

. . . And He's Not Ready Now

More important than a one-time decision is the big-picture conversation that I have with my kids about faith in Christ. We've had this conversations (broken up into many, many smaller parts) since they were little.

We've had several of these conversations over the past few months, and I want to share those not to embarrass him, but to share with you our thinking. Perhaps you can give me wisdom, and perhaps these stories will encourage and help you.

Once, as we dealt with a sin issue, we sat on his bed and talked and prayed. He prayed, "Jesus, I pray that you would come into my heart and change me." Wow! That's it! Surely that is the prayer I was looking for, right?!

We talked some more, and I asked him what he meant by that prayer. He answered, "I want to become a Christian." We dialogued about what that means, about it's a lifetime of commitment and faith and trust. He agreed to all that.

Then I asked, "Do you want to do that today, or another time?" I'm not sure if I did right or wrong by giving him this easy "out". But I wanted him to really want it. I wanted him to consider the weight of his decision, even as he considers the riches that God offers.

(He said that he would do it another time. Again, maybe I should have pushed him a little more, but I'd rather be patient. I believe that God will keep working in his life.)

And another time (as we dealt yet another time with a recurrent sin issue in his life), he came to me after bed time. This time he was very emotional and said that he had already prayed for Jesus to come into his heart. Since I don't use this language of accepting Jesus in your heart, I wondered what was really going on.

I asked a simple question, "What do you mean by that?" He couldn't articulate it, and even admitted that he didn't know what that means. To me, this confirmed that he was more feeling guilty over his sin, and was trying to manage his emotions.

Again, we have talked and as I explain truths to him, I wonder how I will know if he's ready, or if he's really a Christian. Here are some (non-exclusive) indicators:
  1. He will have an innate desire to be a follower of Jesus, and he will communicate this.
  2. He will be able to articulate what he means by believing in and following Jesus. 
  3. There will be works ("good fruit") that will be evident of an internal change.

When He's Ready, He's Ready

I want my children to follow Jesus. And I am hopeful in Christ that they will. I will not parent them in fear of "what if they don't?" I trust that our gracious God will continue to work in their hearts, as He continues to work in mine, to draw them close to Him. And I will continue to do my God-ordained role as a father to teach them and show them the riches of God's grace.

As I said before, I want my kids to own their faith, and not to say and do things to please me. Our kids need to know that following Jesus is a lifetime commitment and decision to honor Him, not a one-time emotional choice to make themselves or others feel good.

Related Links:
**image courtesy of elvissa via flickr

No comments :

Post a Comment