Raising Future Evangelists
About the Guest
Jen Wilkin says, as we raise our kids, the words we train them to use in our home can help them to share the gospel as kids and later as adults. She shares steps parents can use to train their children.
Raising Future Evangelists
Bob: Would you like to see people in your neighborhood/people who live on your street come to know Jesus? Then, Jen Wilkin has some advice for you.
Jen: Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic phrase that you can teach a child is this one: “Do you want to come over to my house?” Invitations to join the family of God often begin with invitations to join your family at the dinner table. Hospitality is so rare these days. If we raise hospitable children by modeling hospitality in our own home, then we develop a culture of invitation among our family.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 27th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. How can we, as parents, begin today to raise future evangelists? We’ll hear some thoughts on that today from Jen Wilkin. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Were you purposeful or intentional about equipping and training your kids to share their faith with their friends?
Dave: Bob, you know we were; because I think I'm the perfect parent. [Laughter] Isn’t that right, Ann? Wasn’t I the perfect dad?—something like that? [Laughter]
Ann: Kind of.
Dave: No; I will say this—obviously, I'm joking—but my wife—seriously, let me applaud her. She was very intentional—almost on a daily basis—setting goals, thinking about: “You know, what's the target? What’s the bull's eye we’re trying to hit as we, as parents, try to raise warriors for the kingdom of God/for Jesus?” We talked about that quite a bit: “How do we equip our sons,”— and now, our grandkids—“to have an impact on the world for Jesus Christ?”
Ann: Yes; I think that that was big for me because, for Dave and [me], our heart is evangelism. But we also know it's not something that you just teach; it's something that's caught.
Bob: Here’s the point—I think a lot of moms and dads are focused on their child's behavior—
Bob: —wanting their child to walk honorably before the Lord—nothing wrong with that; right?
Bob: But I don't know that we're modeling mission for our kids, and I don't know that we’re being intentional to instruct or to train them to be on mission. That's a part of God's assignment for us.
Ann: That’s a really good point. I think, as parents, sometimes, we're so fearful of the culture that we're always on the defensive: “Oh, I hope they don't do this,” instead of thinking, “Oh, I could see the impact you could make in your generation.”
Dave: And I do think job number one for a parent—and I'm not saying we did this perfectly—is: “What is the goal? What is the mission we’re trying to raise?” Then, you work back from that: “If that's what we're trying to hit, how do we have a strategy to get there?”
Bob: So what should job number one be?
Dave: Here's what we say—and I'm borrowing this from another pastor: “We’re trying to raise single-minded, Christ-centered, biblically-anchored world changers,”—“single-minded, Christ-centered, biblically-anchored world changers.” There’s a lot to that; but it, at least, gives you a goal to say, “Okay; that’s the target.”
Bob: We’re going to hear a portion of a message today from our friend, Jen Wilkin. She spoke, recently, at an event, where the topic assigned to her was “How Do You Raise Future Evangelists In Your Home?” She grabbed that assignment and talked about the challenges that can come with that and some of the things that are prerequisites to our kids being missional in how they live. Here's Jen Wilkin.
Jen: If all there were to training children in how to evangelize was to give them the Roman Road; or teach them John 3:16; or say, “Here's a tract; go and give this to your friends.” If there were a formula for evangelism, then certainly, we would have figured it out a long time ago; and we would all be operating out of it with great ease.
But how can we train children to be evangelists? I mean, you're probably wondering, “Well, how do I even know if my child is a believer in order to train them to be an evangelist?” That is actually a very fair question. But as with most parenting issues, what we do is—we start by looking, a few years ahead, and saying, “How do I want this to play out, down the road?” We certainly can't guarantee that our children will come to faith; but our responsibility, as parents, is not to do anything that's guaranteed. It's to be able to stand before the Lord and say that: “We did what we knew to do.”
So how, looking toward a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old, should we be raising children, who are younger than that, with an eye toward them being little evangelists at some point? Well, I want to suggest to you that it starts small; and it starts with giving your children words to practice. They’re words that get practiced most frequently in your home.
Here are some of the words that are good to practice, with an eye toward raising an evangelist; and the first are kind words. One of the ways that we can raise children, who might, one day, carry the good news of the gospel to someone else is to teach them to be kind in their words to others. One of the easiest ways that we did this, when the kids were little, was at birthday dinners. We would all sit around the table—some of you may do this same thing—and we would each go around and tell whoever the birthday girl or birthday boy was what it was that we loved about them. It couldn't just be one thing, and it couldn't be a joke. It needed to be just an honest, genuine statement of how we cared about you.
The kids still refer back to those dinners; they still remember those words that were spoken. Now, on any given birthday, even though they're old, it’s still something that they look forward to doing; and they think about what they're going to say before they come, because kind words require a lot of thought and a lot of crafting.
Another easy way you can teach children kind words and words of gratitude is to train them in the, almost, lost art of writing thank-you notes; but it's a wonderful way to catechize your child in the language of gratitude.
So words to practice at home: kind words; but here are some other words we can practice at home with the child that we hope will, one day, be an evangelist: words of reconciliation—training a child to say: “I'm sorry,” or “I forgive you.” Now, a lot people or parents that I run into, frequently, will say, “Well, I don't want my child to ask for forgiveness if he doesn't really feel it.”
Why is it important? Why is that the one category of words that, often, parents will say, “I don't know if I'm ready to get my child to do that yet,” because they think that if a child says, “I'm sorry,” before the child feels it inside, then, they’re training their child to what?—to lie; right?
But the thing is—we actually do this all the time. We understand, with other word patterns, that children actually learn by doing and that, sometimes, it's important to have them say the right thing before they can attach the right feelings to it. We don't wait for them to respect us to have them start calling us “Ma'am” or “Sir.” We don't wait for them to feel actual gratitude before we start teaching them “Thank you,” or “Please.”
We do them a service when we teach them the language of reconciliation when we’re giving them the mechanisms for restoring relationship, even before they know how important it is. So, even with very small children, we begin to teach them the words of forgiveness and the words of repentance.
Of course, the best way that they will learn the words of forgiveness and the words of repentance is by hearing them spoken by parents, who genuinely do mean them. Children do learn the words of forgiveness and repentance when they're spoken, regularly, in their home, not just by children, but by the parents, as well. They’ll be essential, as they grow into adulthood, in their understanding of what the gospel means and who receives the gospel—what grace is. Absolutely foundational—we should give children reconciling words to practice, at the earliest stage that we can.
We should give them kind words; and we should give them reconciling words; and here are the other kinds of words that are good to train a child in, when you want them to share the good news, someday—slow words. James says, “Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
How do we teach children in the art of either speaking slowly or even remaining silent, especially when there is conflict? Well, it means that, when you're in the moment of conflict—say a child has disobeyed or say a child is upset—you, as a parent, are going to model for them few words in that moment versus many words. Often, our response in the moment of conflict is to begin to lecture—we want to teach a lesson; we want to just work out all the details: “Why are you doing that?” “Why are you doing that?” “Did you see what happened when you did that?”
What do we do?—we start to keep words flowing out of our mouths through the whole thing; because then, we can navigate to the other side of it just by speaking more words at them. But what if we just spoke a few words—“Hey why don't you go calm down?— and then, we’ll talk,”—teach them what it is to be slow to speak.
So, give children kind words, and reconciling words, and slow words, and also give them eternal words. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We must give our children the words of Scripture—we must! The Scripture tells us that it's out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks.
When your children are small, they have a huge capacity for hiding God's Word in their hearts. We should help them to do so. When you get in the car and you want to play music—and you have a choice between playing just praise music that’s singing ideas about the Scripture or playing songs that are, actually, teaching the Scripture—be sure that you are making good time for the songs that are, actually, teaching the Scripture.
There was a Lifeway study that came out recently that was looking at why adult children, who grew up in the church, stayed in the church. There were these five factors that they looked at that seemed to be the determining factors on why these children didn't leave the church when they went into adulthood.
They were things that you would expect like: being a part of the youth group or going on a mission trip. But do you know what the number-one determining factor was of whether a child stayed in the church are not?—were they taught the Bible? Our children are capable of learning the Scriptures. When they hide God's Word in their heart, it will eventually come out; but it might also bind them to the family of God in a way that we can't foresee.
We should give them eternal words, kind words, reconciling words, slow words, eternal words, prayerful words. We should give our children the language of prayer as potential future evangelists. We should train them to pray, and many of you have done this with your kids.
I remember when Matt was just a little guy—my oldest—and he would sit at the dinner table, waiting for me to bring him whatever little chopped up bits of whatever he was having for dinner. He’s in his high chair, and he’s banging his fist on it; and saying, “A-men, a-men, a-men!” What is that kid doing?—he had figured out that, after we prayed and said, “Amen,” that was when the food came. [Laughter] It wasn't long after that that he started sitting at the table, saying, “God-e-goo, God-e-goo, God-e-goo,” because “God is great, and God is good.”
Then, as our children got older, we wanted their focus to turn ever outward with regard to prayer. When it was the end of the day, and we all sat down, everyone would say: “I would love to have prayer for this…” We go around the family. Then, after everyone had said what they wanted prayer for—then, rather than just pray for the person next to you, because that's too easy—then you can kind of listen to what they said, when they're saying it, we would say: “Who’s going to pray for Dad?” “Who's going to pray for Claire?” Everybody would say: “I will,” “I will,”; so that they're listening—and listening for what other people need prayer for. It becomes, not just asking the Lord for what they want, but it becomes about celebration, and shared burdens, and shared desires, and needs of others.
We thought we were really killing it, man. We were like: “This prayer thing—this is great. We nailed that; check that off. A lot of other things might be going wrong, but we got the prayer-thing down. Let’s go teach on it at conferences.” [Laughter]
Then, these kids came and spent the night—they were my college roommate’s children; her husband had been deployed in the Middle East. It came time for bed, and everybody goes to bow their heads and pray. [Emotion in voice] Her sons started praying for children in Afghanistan, children all over the Middle East, and families in places that were torn by war.
I thought: “Okay. Okay; I see it.” We can give our children the language of prayer because, if they become future evangelists, they're going to need it. We can train them to pray for their friends, who don't know the Lord. We can train them to pray for the story that they saw on the news, or the child that they know at school.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we can give our children hospitable words. Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic phrase that you can teach a child is this one: “Do you want to come over to my house?” Invitations to join the family of God often begin with invitations to join your family at the dinner table.
Hospitality is so rare these days. If we raise hospitable children, by modeling hospitality in our own home, then we develop a culture of invitation among our family. Imagine how meaningful it is to a child that lives in a lonely home or disconnected home to come over on birthday night at our house and hear the family go around and speak blessing over the one whose birthday it is. It's like water on parched soil—you know, [the] loneliness epidemic—a home that is not lonely is a city on a hill. So many parents are not at home that many children are living very lonely lives. That means that we, as parents, should make it a priority to, not just be inviting other children into our homes to enjoy the absence of loneliness that they will find there.
As our kids got older, we made a general rule, that probably many of you have, that they couldn't be at someone else's house unless a parent was home. Because so few parents are home, it incented everyone to come to our house. And then, we tried to make our home somewhere that those kids would want to be. We wanted our kids to be excited to have their friends come to our house; because we knew that, together, we could share the message of the gospel with them.
What are the obstacles that parents come up with when they think about this? I can tell you some of mine. I could feel myself thinking: “If they all come over here, it's going to be messy. It's going to be noisy. I'm going to have to feed them snacks; I’m probably going to have to buy snacks that fun moms buy, and I'm not a fun mom. [Laughter] I’m going to have to be physically present the whole time, because I made a rule that said my own kid can’t go somewhere where a parent isn’t.”
And then, there’s that parenting insecurity of, “Oh, maybe our home isn’t nice enough for fun enough: ‘The So-and-so's have a pool,” “We don't even have a ping pong table.” Don't kid yourself—it's not about the pool or the ping pong table—it's about that ecosystem that you're building in your home, that speaks the gospel, even in the smallest things—that: “Here, people are loved,”—that: “Here, we are kind to one another,”—that: “Here, we reconcile,” and “We are slow in our speech,” and “We love eternal words,”—that the Scriptures come out of us in normal conversation because that's what our family looks like—that we’re prayerful: that we pray for one another; we might even be praying for you, little kid, when you're not here—that we’re hospitable.
Families that want to form future evangelists can certainly teach them the Roman Road; but by all means, they should build around them the words of life, at every stage of development, so that speaking the gospel is just another normal day in a life that’s been lived out, experiencing it.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening a portion of a message from Jen Wilkin, talking about how we raise future evangelists. The audio of that message is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com if you'd like to hear the entire message. There is also a video—we’ve got a link to the video when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. This was presented as a part of the Gospel Coalition National Conference, back in April. It was a great conference that they held in Indianapolis. Again, there's a link to the video on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I do think her point—at the end of the day, your kids are either going to see you living life on mission or not. And if you're trying to rally them to be something that's not true about your life, that's just—that's not going to work.
Ann: I remember sharing, with our kids, times that I had talked to other people about Jesus. I, also, remember having other kids come to our house and praying for them—praying for them to know God—what that looks like—never talking negatively about other people but trying to speak positive.
I love how practical Jen is. She gives a real practical discussion and tips on how to do this in our homes.
Dave: I would say one of the biggest things you can do, as a parent, to help train up evangelists or train up warriors for the kingdom of God is—you live it. You know, we think about: “What Bible studies?” “What devotionals?” “What things we do with them, and pray with them,”—and we did all that—but at the end of the day, I think they're just really watching, and they're going to catch it or not. It's really up to us: “Are we living the life we're asking our sons and daughters to live?”
Bob: Well, I hope that what our listeners have heard today will just encourage them to be thinking, intentionally, about, “How do we point our kids to live lives on mission?” Again, you can hear the entire message from Jen Wilkin when you go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; there's a link to the video if you want to watch it, or you can download the entire audio if you'd like. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
As you think about intentional hospitality, there's a book we'd recommend to you, written by Rosaria Butterfield, called The Gospel Comes with A House Key. There's information about Rosaria's book on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, as well. Again, check out the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information about these resources.
Let me also just mention the Art of Parenting® video series that Dave and Ann Wilson are a part of, along with other contributors—eight sessions for parents to go through, with other parents, as a way to build a foundation, not just for how to raise kids who live life on mission—although, that's one of the topics that is addressed in the series—but issues like: character development in your child, how to help your child cultivate healthy relationships with other kids, how to help your child understand and embrace his or her identity and what that means.
All of these are subjects that get addressed in the Art of Parenting video series. You could decide, this summer, spend the next eight weeks getting together with a group of four or five other couples, who have kids your age. Let the kids play together while you watch an Art of Parenting video series. You could be done by the time summer’s over. Again, get more information about the Art of Parenting when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, listening to Jen today talk about, not just raising kids, who are well-behaved, or kids, who are ready for adult life—those are important things—but raising kids, who understand why they're here and what their mission is. It’s good for us to be reminded, “Oh yes, the job is bigger than just behavior.”
David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife® is here with us. This is something you're pretty intentional about—trying to raise your kids with a missional mindset.
David: It is, but I think it always starts with my own soul. I can be really intentional; but if I'm not experiencing Jesus myself and that coming out in an authentic way, then I think it sometimes gets a little off and comes out sideways. It's kind of a life mantra for me that God did some deep work in my heart, in some of my first years of ministry; because ministry was becoming duty, and I was just doing it because it's just what I was doing.
When I started getting honest with that, God really used several passages:
2 Corinthians 5, Psalm 61, and a few others to really get into my heart: “David I don't want you just be a believer of Me, I want you to be a lover of Me. I’m the lover of your soul. I want all of who you are, because lovers show and tell of the things that they love.”
As we think to parent our kids with a bigger picture and to represent the kingdom, may we do that intentionally. May it always start out of an overflow of us experiencing, and showing, and telling of the things that we are currently experiencing and loving as we love Jesus.
Bob: Yes; our kids are going take their cues from what they see than even from what they hear from us. That’s a good reminder. Thank you, David.
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We hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow when we’re going to consider the implications of Psalm 23 for ourselves and for our families. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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