Formation is a series of posts about ideas and truths God is using to shape us at Pulpit Rock.
Have you ever met a kid who didn’t love ice cream? When you’re a kid, isn’t that just the apex of treats?
Likewise, have you ever met a kid who didn’t at least wonder about the whole monster-under-the-bed thing and get at least a little scared or uneasy in the dark at night?
What we have with ice cream and monsters are two choices that, when presented as an either/or option, we could say with great confidence which option pretty much any kid on the planet would choose.
We know full well any kid in their right mind would choose ice cream over monsters. Ice cream sounds wonderful! Monsters sound scary. Duh.
So what’s the point?
Well let’s talk about presenting eternity to a kid. Do we use a similar either/or option: Heaven or Hell?
It’s the same scenario isn’t it?
One option sounds really, really good and one option sounds really, really scary. We know full well any kid in their right mind would choose Heaven over Hell. Duh.
What’s the big deal in presenting an eternity question like that to our kids? We want them to choose Heaven after all don’t we? Isn’t it our job to lead them to this decision?
As parents and as church leaders, I do think it’s our job to spiritually guide our young ones.
We rob them of the chance to make their faith their own when we offer them a seemingly manipulative choice between Heaven and Hell – especially if they’re really young and impressionable.
A tactic like that says more about the fear in our own hearts. Fear that our kids won’t choose what we want them to choose. (Can’t we just make this super important decision for them?) Actually, that is exactly what we are doing when we dilute the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus into a scary and fearful manipulation, because we know full well the choice that will be made.
As more mature and experienced adults, we know we would choose Heaven, but for us it’s not out of fear of Hell, is it?
For us, that choice comes out of an understanding of who God is and what Jesus did for us and how we realize our need for Him in our lives.
It does not come from us just trying to avoid something as scary as Hell.
And if we are honest, that decision isn’t really a one-time-deal either. It’s a decision made over and over as we move through life and see Christ revealed to us in deeper and more intimate ways. That decision is made when we first accept Jesus into our lives. That decision is made again when we have fallen down or away and He draws us back in and our hope in His grace is renewed. We fall back into step with him. And sometimes we fall away again. It’s a journey, with many steps and many decisions and much more depth than we ever had understanding of on day one of our journey.
It’s beautiful. It’s mysterious. It can be hard to explain. It sometimes seems impossible to see. It doesn’t always fit into a nice and tidy box.
It’s anything but simple.
But one thing IS made very simple and very clear. The beginning of this journey starts with the simplest of requests from our Savior. He says, “Follow me.”
Over and over in the Bible, Jesus says this to those he is calling to himself. He doesn’t describe Heaven and Hell in those moments and ask them to choose for fear of ending up eternally damned. He simply invites them to start the journey with him. Follow me.
Maybe you, like me, come from a camp who used this tactic. It’s an effective approach! This is how I was led to say that first prayer asking Jesus into my heart when I was young. (And this was the reason why I must have prayed that same prayer a hundred more times anytime talk of hell came up!) I was afraid I had done it wrong, or had missed something. And, gosh, Hell sounded so stinking scary.
The camp I come from was not maliciously trying to manipulate me. I understand that. Any parent who has led their child to that first prayer with some talk of Heaven and Hell sprinkled in there was not doing that either and should not fret.
God uses us even when we kind of fumble through things – isn’t that beautiful!?!
So this is where we have landed in Pulpit Rock’s Kids Ministry. We steer clear of presenting an either-or option of Heaven or Hell to our kids. That does not serve them well, nor does it serve the love and gospel of Jesus well.
Our walk with Jesus is a journey. We value greatly leading our kids to a place where they can see where that journey begins and what meaningful things it holds, so they can choose for themselves to take that first step.
Fear or shame or guilt have no place in that beautiful moment that Jesus is calling out to us saying, follow me.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Written by Suzy Bates