Kids Becoming Christian

Spiritual Formation

by Brent Colby/ April 7, 2016

Every weekend, children’s pastors around the world lead a simple prayer of salvation. We call it the sinners prayer, and I’m sure that you have prayed it too. It can be broken down into three simple phases: the confession of sin, belief in Jesus, and a commitment to Jesus-following. Admit, believe, confess, and done! You are now a Christian. But what does it mean for kids to become “Jesus followers”? Does it really begin with a simple decision? And where do we go from there?

Let’s rewind a bit: What is Christian formation? I’m talking about the process where each of us become a close follower of Jesus. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ (John 16:13-14), and that we can accept His sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16). This enables everyone to have a right relationship with God (Romans 10:13-15), but our journey as Christ followers does not stop there (Philippians 2:12-13). We are obedient in observing water baptism (Matthew 28:19) and Communion (1 Corinthians 11:26), while the Holy Spirit empowers us to tell others about Jesus (Acts 1:8).

Even after these things we are subject to a continual refinement of self (Romans 6). The truth is that we never stop growing closer to Jesus. Even the guys who wrote parts of the Bible admitted that they had room to grow (Romans 7:15)! This whole process from sinner to saint is the process of Christian formation. It is not just a spiritual transition, it is a constant transformation of the whole self.

So there is more to this thing than just leading kids to Christ. But what else should children’s pastors be concerned with? Discovering how kids grow closer to Christ should be a focus of every children’s ministry leader. Unlike adults, children are in a constant state of development. They are growing physically—including the form and function of their brain. They are growing socially—determining how they relate to family and friends. And they are growing psychologically—developing a deeper understanding of themselves and how they feel.

Academics like Erikson, Piaget, and Fowler observe a wide variety of developmental stages that people experience early in life. Understand this: kids experience more developmental stages by the end of elementary school than they will for the rest of their lives. Each of these stages presents new opportunities for kids to learn and grow in your ministry.  

Let me suggest a few ideas for your children’s ministry.  As kids become Christian we need to be aware of the opportunities that each stage of life offers us as pastors and teachers.

Early Childhood (0-5 years)

Our goal in teaching young children should be to help them become grounded in the story and nature of God. Ideas like “God’s creation is wonderful” and “God made you and loves you” are extremely important in the phase. This is sometimes called a pre-faith phase of life and we have the opportunity to establish a baseline of who God is and what the Bible says about Him.

Elementary (6-10 years)

Elementary-age kids need to discover a relationship with Jesus by interacting with God’s story. It is critical for children at this age to see how the Bible has meaning for them individually and that God wants to interact with each of them. Providing opportunities for elementary-aged kids to respond to what you are teaching is critical. They also need to learn how to experience God in their daily lives. These kids are more than ready to accept Jesus’ forgiveness of their sins and can also be ready for Communion and baptism.

Middle School (11-14)

This is an important and exciting phase where kids must be able to express an authentic relationship with Jesus through compassion. They must express it personally, and not just witness it passively, because they experience a strong drive to create their own identity. And they should express it through compassion because it places the focus on their relationship with others, which is an extremely important drive. We need to show the importance of sharing our faith with others and that Christianity is the result of an authentic faith.

This is just a quick run-through of some of the highlights of kids becoming Christian. There are some excellent books out there that you should check out if any of these ideas stand out to you. Every children’s’ pastor should develop their own framework for Christian formation that supersedes any curriculum, church model, or service schedule. We need to have a plan for the cultivation of children in our church. And that plan must begin with you.

Further Reading

Reggie Joiner, It’s Just a Phase

Ivy Beckwith, Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus

James Estep and Jonathan Kim, Christian Formation

James Fowler, Stages of Faith

M. Robert Mulholland Jr., Invitation to a Journey