When Kate Benson was 3 years old, her father, Tim, told her something she just couldn't keep to herself. He told her that God loves her but that people have a sin problem that keeps us away from God. He told her that Jesus is the answer to that problem and that we must invite Jesus into our lives. Kate understood. She invited Jesus into her life and soon began visiting her neighbors to tell them how they could know Jesus, too. At the ripe old age of 5, Kate led a neighbor to Christ. She's now 15 and hasn't stopped telling people about Jesus since. "When I walk around school," says Kate, "I ask God to help me see the other kids through his eyes. It gives me such a yearning to pull them out of the place they're in."
Catherine Jackson, 16, of Texhoma, Oklahoma, takes the same approach. She says, "If people don't hear about Jesus from me, they may never hear at all. I try to be a living, walking Christ every day in every way. People at school know I'm a Christian. I want them to see the difference in me. If they ask what it is, they've opened the door for me to tell them about Jesus."
When our children are young, they feel comfortable telling their friends about church, Jesus, or heaven. But when our kids reach their teen years, they often become hesitant to stand apart from the crowd. Those feelings of self-consciousness can get in the way of a teenager living out and talking about her faith. Still, a number of teens, like Kate and Catherine, know that their generation is starving for something to trust in. They also know that the terrible events of the past several years—from school shootings to the terrorist attacks—have left their peers more open than ever to hearing the Good News of salvation. Still, most kids won't jump into the witnessing waters without a little help. Here are 10 ways parents can encourage their children to be faithful witnesses of God's great love:
- Live a mature Christian life in front of your child. Your child may not always listen to what you say, but you can bet he's watching what you do—how you treat others, how you handle difficult times, how you live out your faith. "I've found the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," says youth minister Mark Knight of Nashville, Tennessee. "Most teens who are active in sharing their faith have parents who are committed Christians, who model their faith in front of them daily, who pray regularly with their family and are committed to living out their Christian beliefs and sharing their faith with others."
- Encourage daily personal Bible study and family prayer time. Here's another place where children take their cue from us. If they see that we make time for Bible study and quiet time with the Lord each day, they're likely to make it a priority in their own lives as well. The Bible is our road map on our spiritual journey. Before your child walks the halls of her school, she needs to spend some time walking in God's Word. Don't let your schedules get so hectic that you're not spending time in prayer together as a family. This is often the time when discussions surface about the witnessing opportunities your child sees around her and how she can handle them.
- Keep them around other on-fire Christians. As your child grows older, he may find it easier to talk to someone other than you about spiritual matters, particularly someone closer to his own age. One of your jobs as his parent is to make sure there are solid Christian people—both peers and adults—in his life. Look at your close friends and associates. Are they the strong, grounded Christians you want your child going to for spiritual guidance and advice? If not, encourage him to talk to his youth pastor. Support and encourage that pastor in any way you can. Keep your child connected with friends from the youth group, even when that means you have to drive six 14-year-olds to a retreat or spend your Saturday decorating the fellowship hall for the youth group pancake breakfast.
- Share your own witnessing experiences. If it's important to you that your child share the Gospel at school, dance class, or the ball park, let her know that you told a co-worker or the cashier in the checkout line about the saving power of Jesus. She'll know you really mean it.
Natalie Dunnam of Castle Rock, Colorado, says, "My husband, Richard, and I love to sit at the dinner table and talk about how Christ is being glorified at work or how we've been able to share the Gospel with someone. I've also been able to go door-to-door witnessing with my daughter's youth group. She can't help but see the excitement I have after being able to share Christ with someone. Hopefully my excitement makes her eager to do the same."
- Remind your child that God uses each of us differently. Your child needs to know that though he may not feel comfortable knocking on a stranger's door or handing out tracts in front of WalMart like his friend does, he can be a witness to Christ's love every day by the life he leads and the way he treats those around him.
"The Lord gives me many opportunities to share him," says 16-year-old Aubrey Mannion of Lecanto, Florida. "Just doing something kind for someone and not expecting anything in return, trying to keep a smile on my face, being quick to forgive, eager to listen, not gossiping, just being a good friend—these are all ways others can see the difference Christ has made in my life." God made your child remarkably unique and will use him in wonderful, special ways. Assure him that he is sharing God's love whether it's with a shout from the rooftop or a gentle arm around the shoulder. What matters is that he is eager to serve God in whatever ways God calls him.
- Make your home a welcome and fun place for your child's friends to visit. Beverly Simmons of Covington, Louisiana, always has her eyes open for witnessing opportunities for herself and her 14-year-old son, Michael. "When Michael feels led to share Christ with someone at school, we make a point of inviting that child over. We make sure to block out some quiet time when the two of them can talk and Michael can tell him the Good News of our salvation."
Karen Pearson of Daytona Beach, Florida, and her husband use their 23-foot boat as a ministry tool. "We take kids skiing, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and picnicking. While they're with us, they can't help but observe our lifestyle and our values. They see us pray together. Then they pray with us. There's plenty of time to talk and share with them about Christ while we walk along the beach."
- Be sold out to your church. The Bible commands us not to give up meeting with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Heb. 10:25) and says that, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matt. 18:20). Obviously corporate worship is important to God. It should be important in the life of our families as well.
Discourage your older children from getting involved in extracurricular activities or part-time jobs that would keep them and their friends away from church. Instead invite their friends to come to church with you, especially when there's a youth-oriented activity going on. Let them see that church can be a fun place, a place to belong and be accepted for who they are. If it means a few more mouths around the table for Sunday lunch or turning your car into a Sunday and Wednesday night taxi service, it will be well worth the effort. Every time your child brings a friend to church is one more time that friend will hear the message of salvation.
- Volunteer with your church's youth group. Youth leaders work hard to provide exciting activities to which your child can invite his unchurched friends. Ask your youth leader what you can do to help, then jump in with both feet. Teach a discipleship class. Chaperone sleepovers. Counsel camp. Help with fundraisers. Serve snacks. These are all opportunities for you to help your child reach children who otherwise might never come to church. (If your child doesn't want you cramping his style, don't take it personally. Find something to do behind the scenes that will contribute while offering him the freedom he craves.)
- Pray them through times of rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but it's especially hard on older kids. If your child is down because she witnessed to a friend and he teased her, remind her that he did not reject her but the message of Jesus. After all, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18). As 15-year-old Jayme Shaltz of Alberta, Canada, puts it, "If people tear me down for telling them about Jesus, it brings me up because I know, if Satan is scared and worried about me, I'm doing my job of living for God." Remind your child that it's not her job to convert people. Jesus commanded us to proclaim the Good News of salvation. If we are faithful to proclaim that news, he is faithful to take care of the rest through his Holy Spirit.
- 10. Know when to step back and trust in the seeds you have sown. Kate Benson's father, Tim, who has served as both a youth and senior pastor for nearly 20 years, says, "It's hard to disciple your own teenager. Once they reach about 12 and think you're a complete idiot, you have to be more subtle. They need positive reinforcement from us more than ever and gain confidence from knowing how much we love them. If they have complete confidence in our love and the love the Lord has for them, they'll have the confidence to live bold Christian lives and be less likely to be sucked into peer pressure."
If you ask Kate Benson, she'll tell you, "Prayer is the most effective thing parents can do for their teenager. What my parents say I hear, but it's what the Holy Spirit tells me that I really listen to. It turns me off when my parents start to pry into my business, but I do want to know they are praying for me."
Sharing our faith is one of the most precious commands God gives us. He has entrusted us with the mission of bringing his love to the world. Yet that great commission can be daunting, especially for our children. So fill them with love, compassion, patience, and faith, then watch as God uses them to change their generation.
Mimi Greenwood Knight is a freelance writer. She and her family live in Louisiana.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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March/April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 5, Page 40