I am constantly amazed at my son Noah. He is only 2 years old but already he can count to 20 and with a little help can even count to 10 is Spanish. He knows the alphabet, his colors and shapes, he knows animals and he has an amazing memory. When I read him his children’s books at night he will often finish the sentences because he’s heard the story already and when we sing songs together he can finish the line if I stop singing. He is really doing well for being only two years old. Of course, I am probably just like any proud father who believes his child is advanced beyond his peers. But truth be told, I think that dads like me are impressed with our children not because the child is necessarily advanced for their age but because we just underestimate how intelligent our children really are.
Jeff Foxworthy’s television show Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader has proven to be a big hit over the last couple of years. The show’s success probably has to do more with displaying how foolish grownups can look than being a stage for how bright the children are. Unfortunately, I believe that many parents do not understand how smart their young child really is and how much potential they have for understanding and doing hard complex things. This seems to be a late development in the evolution of our society. Did you know that John Hancock entered Harvard University when he was 13 years old, that Samuel Adams completed his master’s degree before he turned 21 and that Thomas Jefferson frequently studied 15 hours a day during his time at the College of William and Mary? There truly has been a fundamental shift in how we raise and educate our children.
By misunderstanding a child’s ability to learn and understand hard and complex ideas a parent can potentially stunt their child’s intellectual and cognitive growth. I think this can happen in a couple different ways. The first way a parent can bring a child’s development to a crawl is by speaking and teaching the child below his or her current stage of development. The second, which is really just the flip side of the first, is done by not challenging the child beyond their current stage of development.
So right about now you may be asking, “What does this have to do with leading a child to Christ?” Well I will tell you. I believe that we do a serious disservice to our youth and blaspheme the Lord by contextualizing and dumbing down the Gospel for our children. Children can handle much bigger ideas and concepts than you think. They can understand their depravity, their need for salvation and that God’s wrath was satisfied through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. They need to understand Heaven and Hell, faith and repentance. Serious harm can and has been done by offering a pseudo-gospel to children. Unfortunately, today our Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible School programs have become the breeding ground for false converts. Our kids are being fed an impotent gospel that, in reality, is no gospel at all.
Another issue, which does not relate to our underestimation of our children’s ability to understand and reason, is the problem of leading a child in the decision for salvation. Children can be manipulated very easily and it does not take much effort to persuade them in any one direction. So parents and teachers we must be very careful not to be overzealous and usurp the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is His job to convict a person of sin and the work of the Father to draw them to Jesus. Children are prone to make false professions simply to please their overzealous parents or teachers. Let us not make this grave error of pressuring our children to make a decision; the result of which can have damnable consequences. Leading a child, or any person for that matter, in a decision for salvation can give a false sense of security. A person’s faith should not be put in the raising of their hand, the signing of the card, the baptism, or the sincerity of their decision; it should be in Christ alone. If the child is genuinely converted then they have become a new creation in Christ and will henceforth bear fruit in keeping with their repentance. Also be wise in your language. Avoid evangelical jargon such as “ask Jesus into your heart” or “plead the blood”. These terms are not only confusing but they are often unscriptural.
In closing let me just add that while I am not a trained psychologist, and my advice should not be treated as if I were, it would appear to me that what I have shared is grounded deeply within truth and logic. Your children are smarter than you think and you should treat them that way. Treat them as fools and that is what they will become. Train up a child in the way that they should go and when they get older they will not depart from it. Find the balance of using age appropriate language when sharing the Gospel with your child without compromising on those areas that are hard and that sting. And finally, don’t fret. Remember salvation is of the Lord and He is sovereign over your child’s election. Now let the truth of that knowledge guide you as you as you disciple your little ones and point them to the cross of Jesus Christ.
 The Rebelution