On childhood conversions: measured responses

When a pygmy anarchist makes a claim to salvation the knee-jerk response tends to move in one of two directions…

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The foremost desire of all Christian parents must be the salvation of their children. So it’s more than a little ironic that a paedo-profession of saving faith will often produce more hand wringing than hand raising. How do we navigate the murky and mystical waters of childhood conversion?

Nothing I write on this topic is from the vantage point of proven expertise [You should preface all of your posts with this disclaimer. -Shive]. My wife and I are still frantically trying to figure out this parenting thing which, as Christians, includes the goal of leading our children to Christ. Two of our kids profess (and give evidence of) saving faith and we’re actively waiting on the other four. But I think I’ve thought about this enough to arrive at some informed opinions since our personal experience is also supplemented by an inordinate number of nieces and nephews, friends with similar parenting experiences, and dabbling in our children’s ministry at church.

A few qualifications are in order. First, most of what I share is drawn from personal experience. That is, I’m not offering a definitive guide to child evangelism as much as contributing to “the conversation.” Second, while I can’t find a minimum age requirement for salvation, for a number of reasons I think early elementary is the floor for childhood conversions. Third, I’m all but assuming that, like me, many Christian parents devote so much time and effort to leading their little reprobates to living water that they’re caught flat-footed when the parched beggars actually begin to drink.

So what do you do when your little mini-me announces that he “asked Jesus into my heart.”?

Offer encouragement but leave room for discernment. When a pygmy anarchist makes a claim to salvation the knee-jerk response tends to move in one of two directions: (1) naive acceptance — “if the kid said it, it’s gotta be true!”Incidentally, childhood professions are one of only two scenarios in which a doctrinaire Southern Baptist becomes a practitioner of name-it-and-claim-it theology* (2) jaded skepticism — “Until the kid can pronounce and explain propitiation he has in no way entered into the kingdom of heaven!

But both of these responses need to be tempered by Scripture. On the one hand, not everyone who claims (or appears!) to be alive is actually alive (Mk 4:17-19, contra #1). On the other hand, the bar for entering the kingdom has been set very low (Rom 10:9-10, contra #2)–low enough for a child to clear. Even the wisest parent isn’t omniscient so we ought to be wary of assuming too much one way or the other.

Exactly how we spiritually encourage our children even as we attempt to discern the genuineness of their claims will vary depending on the family and the individual child. However, I think we can make some general statements that would be applicable and relevant across the board. I’ll consider these in a future post.

In the meantime, feel free to share any comments or questions on this topic that you’d like to see addressed.


*The other scenario occurs when the eligible bachelor assures the gorgeous Christian girl that he too is a Christian in the absence of any bona fides

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

2 thoughts on “On childhood conversions: measured responses”

  1. When thinking about childhood conversions, I tend to think about how Christ used children as the example of the attitude we must have when receiving the Kingdom of God (Mk 10:13-16). To me that means trusting, dependent, and vulnerable (among other things) instead of skeptical, cynical, and guarded. Hard to say a childlike faith in God isn’t genuine when it can often be stronger than mine, but I do see both sides.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree–a child’s faith can be genuine. But it’s worth considering that kids often speak better than they know, especially when they repeat religious lingo they pick up from their parents and/or teachers. It’s like the preschooler who can recite a Bible verse but doesn’t have a clue what the verse actually means. The challenge for the Christian parent is trying to discern if what junior says is actually coming from the heart.

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