by David Reneau/ August 18, 2017
I’ve worked in children’s ministry for a long time, but there was a time when I had my doubts about whether or not I should pursue it as a profession. I was leading as interim elementary coordinator at my church while in Master’s Commission. I loved making the kids laugh and sing and was having a blast. However, after a few months the emotional high of performing on stage began to wane. The new children’s pastor came in, loved what I was doing, and requested that I stay on as a member of his team. I told him I would finish out the calendar year, but after that I would be done.
A month before my departure, the children’s pastor gave an altar call, and I led a child to Christ. I had prayed with other kids before, but this one was different. I had invested in this kid for years, and he came specifically to me, wanting to accept Christ for the first time. I was hooked.
Since that time I had led many kids to Christ, but some questions remained: What is “the age of accountability”? Why do some denominations baptize babies and others don’t? What are the best practices for leading children into a knowing and loving relationship with Jesus?
His extensive research on the history of children’s ministry as well as the methods of leading a child to Christ helped clarify many of my questions and made me rethink my evangelistic efforts on Sunday mornings and events like VBS.
Foundations is split into two parts. The first portion is a wealth of research and writings and the second portion is full of practical ideas, programs, and applications. He also includes several invaluable appendices that leaders can use to lead a child to Christ and to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, among other resources. I found the research and appendices to be especially helpful.
Instead of an altar call where kids are motivated by fear, anxiety, or guilt, Gruber advocates for a gentle approach. His philosophy could be summed up in, “Let the children come” (Matthew 19:14). In other words, give kids a plain and simple explanation of the gospel that they can understand, and then let them respond in their timing. He quotes Sam Doherty, who worked for Child Evangelism Fellowship for 50 years, in saying, “It is better to suggest to the children that if they want your help and counsel they come to you personally after the meeting is over. This allows them time to think about what they are doing and to come on their own initiative—rather than being influenced by others.” Gruber continues, “Doherty is building a decision time with the child that is constructed on more than the emotion of the moment. He builds relationship with the children, presents the good news to them in a creative, participatory manner, and gives the opportunity to come to Jesus without pressure.”
It is hard to think about not doing altar calls at egg hunts and VBS, where you could have hundreds of children responding. Numbers look good, but what about the child’s soul? By reading Foundations of Children’s Evangelism, my perspective has changed. I know my perceived large salvation numbers will go down, but that’s okay, because there will be far more authentic responses to the gospel message.
The principles in Foundations are timeless, and I would say any children’s leader would greatly benefit from learning and applying them to their ministry.