Helping Kids See the Gospel
by John UpChurch
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9
First, I want to blow up a common misconception. You’ve probably heard that Francis of Assisi, that saint of old, said something along the lines of: "Share the gospel. If necessary, use words." He did, but his story and evangelistic career don't end so abruptly in a manner that suggests we never speak our faith. When you study Francis's life, you find that he spoke the gospel… a lot. He preached on haystacks and street corners and pretty much anywhere people were. He preached to peasants and nobles, lepers and prisoners. So, it's safe to say that he believed in the concept that "faith comes by hearing."
But Francis did back up his preaching with some pretty amazing examples of the gospel. He demonstrated the sacrifice of Christ in ways that the people around him could see and touch. You could say that his life of poverty served as a parable for Christ giving up the riches of heaven (Philippians 2). Given the culture (which wasn’t too different), a rich man’s son choosing rags over raging parties does send a pretty potent message (it’d be like Paris Hilton choosing a monastery over Malibu Beach houses).
So, Francis and his famous quip and his demonstrations of the gospel have given me something to think about. Namely, as a father, how do I make what Christ did real to my girls? How can I show them what I teach with my words and through the Bible? Since I can’t exactly forsake all my possessions and provide for them at the same time, I’ve learned to think on a bit smaller scale.
The Exchange: I admit it. This seems kind of hokey. But I’ve found that simply exchanging something dirty for something clean (with a gospel explanation) has made quite the impact. For example, my oldest daughter hates for any two items on her plate to touch. Even a microscopic amount of mashed potatoes befouling her green beans is enough to make her queasy. So, instead of fighting about the silliness of it, I recently just traded one of my un-besmirched beans for hers. When I did so, I pointed out that this is similar to what Jesus did for us. He took our dirtiness of sin and gave us His cleanness (2 Corinthians 5:21). She studied the bean with squinty eyes and then ate it.
The Takeaway: This isn’t something I do often—just so we’re clear. But every once in a while, when my girls do something that deserves some “reflection time” in the “reflection chair,” I take away the punishment completely. That only works if I know they’re truly repentant about what they’ve done (and if they know it’s uncommon). I point out that they deserved punishment—according to our if/then Scripture chart—but they aren’t getting what they deserve (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
The Substitute: This isn’t one I’ve used just yet because I want them to be a little older. But my wife and I have planned something we hope will really drive home the point. When they mess up, I'm going to take the punishment they deserved. I'm going to lose the privilege they should have lost, to suffer the consequences of their failures. I want them to see that Jesus did just that for us (Isaiah 53).
Intersecting Faith & Life: No earthly example can truly capture what Jesus did—not Francis, not my dinner table exchanges. His sacrifice is just too ridiculously huge. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. Be intentional with your teachable moments. A tangible example of what you preach with your lips can reach people in ways that words alone cannot.