1. The Discovering Stage: Birth to approximately Five years old
Key Terms: first impressions, positive feelings, foundation building, sensory motor experiences
Our Role: cultivator (preparing the soil for seeds that will be planted later) (60)
In the first stage of life, a child is storing huge amounts of information into their being every day. They are naturally inquisitive and have immense desire to discover the world around them. They are figuring out life and all that pertains to it. They discover through their senses and emotions. As they formulate impressions of life, the effects will give them early impression of who God is (60). Their impression of God is directly related to their relationship with whoever is caring for them, especially their parents. The happy (or sad) feelings they get will open up the door of opportunity later on to receive the gospel when they can understand it completely (61). Deuteronomy 6:7 gives us the phrase “as we walk along the road.” This describes the most effective method of teaching stage one children because they experience life and learn much from their encounters. The daily experiences (planned and unplanned) mean a great deal to these little souls and they observe everything that is going on. Although they do not fully understand God’s grace and redemptive plan yet, they are in the process of learning and their cognitive facilities are starting to become aware of what life is all about. Help your preschooler discover the things of God in a fun, expressive way using all their senses. Begin to teach them the truths of the Bible in a way they can relate to and understand. It will provide everlasting benefits!
2. The Discerning Stage: approximately Four to Eight years old
Key Terms: gathering facts, exploring the Bible, curiosity, asking questions
Our Role: planter (planting seeds through teaching, modeling, observing, answering) (62)
This stage is best described as a time of questioning (62). In the first part of this stage they will simply accept what they experience as a part of life without really thinking about it, but as they grow and progress they began to ask questions such as “Why did God do that?” or “How did God do that?” We need to foster their curiosity and give biblical answers to the multitude of questions they pose to us. As parents our worst mistake can be to avoid these questions and put them off. Please don’t ignore any question, even if it is a difficult one or one that may seem insignificant. Work with your children to find the answers and give them a reason for the hope that is in you and calling out to them in their young lives.
3. The Deciding Stage: approximately Seven to Twelve years old
Key Terms: Conviction, struggle, faith, transformation
Our Role: caretaker (providing food for the new plant that it may grow) (63)
During this stage of faith development a child typically asks himself/herself “How does this affect me (63)?” “Does what the pastor (or teacher or parent) said apply to me?” “How does he know what I was thinking?” “Do I need to make a decision with my life concerning Christ?” “Am I going to follow Christ with my life?” “Do I have to make this decision public?” “If I decide to become a Christian, do I have to get baptized?” “My friends got baptized. Should I get baptized?” Kids begin to sort through all these questions and the information available to them to make their decisions (63). They begin to either accept or reject Christ Jesus in a very personal way. Children do feel this internal struggle in a real sense in this stage, which results in personal unrest, fear, and a real spiritual battle because there are opposing forces vying for control of them. Sometimes this struggle is not all that apparent in your child’s life, but it exists none the less. Encourage the child at this stage to trust God and let them know that you are there to help them too (64). Psalm 56:3 and Philippians 4:13 are great verses to teach your children if they are in this deciding stage and need the comfort of Christ Jesus. In the deciding stage the child moves from being curious to being convicted (64). If they are raised in a Christian home the norm is for them to want to be a Christian and this is your great opportunity to lead them to faith in Christ Jesus through taking the time and being concerned for their spiritual well-being. If your child has made a profession of faith earlier, you as a parent will see the transformation from curiosity to conviction in a powerful way as they begin to really discern the decision that they have made. It is a joyful struggle that needs care giving on your part.
4. The Discipling Stage: approximately Ten years and up
Key Terms: establishing habits, consistency, maturity, growing deeper, doctrine
Our Role: pruner (shaping, encouraging, the growing plant) (64)
We begin discipling our children well before they accept Christ in the previous stages, but once they accept the Savior the intensity picks way up and should be taken very seriously both from you the parent and the child (64). The Christian life does not stop with a decision for salvation; it is only the beginning of a life walk with Christ Jesus. Children will not grow as they should unless we are intentional to help them memorize the Scriptures, read the Word of God, daily prayer, witnessing to others, inviting friends to church, giving of themselves, and other acts of kindness (65). Give your child the tools that they will need to cultivate a growing fellowship with the Lord and make it exciting and challenging for them to do this. Help them explore their spiritual giftedness and help them learn the Lord’s purposes and plans for their lives. Things should be kept positive, but don’t forget to rebuke and admonish your new little Christian in love when they make mistakes, and they will; you can count on that. The discipline you them shows that you care and is an example of how the Lord corrects us all (Hebrews 12:5-11). One important thing to remember is that you cannot teach a child to live the Christian life if you are not living it too (65). Be the model and example they deserve and the Lord desires. This is not to say that you will have to be perfect, none of us are that. Cultivate open discussions with your child in this stage as they mature and develop. Ask forgiveness of God and from others you may have wronged and sinned against. As you model a humble spirit, the child will see the grace and compassion of the Father in Heaven and realize that mistakes can and have been atoned for through the blood of the Lamb. Open lines of communication also help to release your child from covering up more important things as they grow into their adolescent and teen years. Parents need to know what is going on in their child’s life, and this begins to take shape in this stage as we do the work of pruning. Make these times regular and a priority in your life.
Question: How do we prepare children for salvation?
1. Parents and teachers should start early teaching their children about God. Spiritual training should begin before a child is two years old at least.
2. Parents and teachers should not wait until their children seek to know about God. Otherwise, this may never happen in their natural, sin-natured state.
3. Parents and teachers should be positive and encouraging when their children express the desire to accept Christ. They may not understand completely yet, but encourage them to seek.
4. Parents and teachers should not mistake a child’s curiosity with their conviction. Sometimes new parents will mistake false labor for real labor in the “new birth” process concerning salvation.
5. There will usually be some sort of “kick in the womb” long before the spiritual labor of the “new birth” will actually begin. Look for clues that your child may be getting the Lord’s call on their life for salvation.
6. Parents and teachers should not abandon a child as he begins making his decision to become a Christian. Their decision is not completely up to them. They need our wisdom, encouragement, evaluation, and direction at such a young age. Come alongside them and help them know Christ.
7. Parents and teachers should not cease guiding a child once he decides to accept Christ. It is only the beginning of a spiritual journey that will one day end in Heaven.
8. Parents and teachers should give a child’s decision some time to bear fruit. They should watch to see if the child begins to show outward signs of an inward conversion experience. Do reviews and check-ups to make sure they are convinced of their decision and are a “new creature” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
9. Parents and teachers should pray earnestly for their children. There is no substitute for this.
10. Parents and teachers should pray for themselves, asking the Holy Spirit to lead them and give them wisdom in working with the children (66&67).
Statistics tell us that a majority of children making a decision for Christ under the age of seven and a half tend to have doubts about their decision at a young age and strongly consider making another decision just to make sure later in life at some point (68). This happens for several reasons:
1. They don’t remember much about the first experience. They base it too much on what their parents remember.
2. They were not mature enough to see the whole picture. They felt they couldn’t have understood so properly at a young age and feel like that may have diminished their decision.
3. They tend to have more doubts and need more assurance than those who accept Christ at an older age. Satan loves it when this happens since he is the author of confusion and tries to defeat Christians with this lie (68).
These problems can be avoided however in most cases if enough individual time is given to the child in order to help him understand and grow into Christian maturity (69). As we cultivate our relationships with our children, God’s Spirit can take over and bring salvation to them as soon as they ready and able to make a convicted decision to turn away from their sin and depravity to faith in the Christ who died for their sins and rose from the grave!
Art Murphy, The Faith of a Child: A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for your Child, Chicago: Moody Press, 2000.