Q. Half the boys my 8-year-old son plays with have never been inside a church. Many could only guess at who Jesus is. How can I encourage my child to share what he believes with friends his age?
A. The elementary years are the perfect time to help children start sharing their faith with their peers. Between the ages of 7 and 10, children begin to develop their understanding that Jesus was a real person, not just someone they read about in Bible stories. This is also the age when children blossom socially, which means your son will have all kinds of opportunities for showing God's love to his friends.
Your son's friends are also at an age where they are particularly receptive to learning about and experiencing God; 47 percent of Christians say they came to faith in their elementary years. Because they are less self-centered than they were as preschoolers, elementary-aged children are better able to understand ideas like sacrifice and taking the blame for someone else even when they are innocent. That understanding helps them recognize the love of God at the heart of Jesus' death and resurrectionand to love God in return.
You'll want to avoid pushing your son into conversations or situations that are uncomfortable for him. Instead, try these ideas for helping your son find natural ways to let his love for Jesus flow into his friendships:
One family I know spends part of every evening meal talking about how each of them spied God during the day. One evening, their son Joel shared, "My friend asked to copy my homework, and I said no. She said, 'It's because you're a Christian, isn't it?' So I told her about Jesus. Isn't that neat?" Joel was at ease talking about God with his friend because he had lots of practice talking about God at home.
Have your child make a list of friends he'd like to pray for. Then pray for those friends regularly. Be sure to include prayers that your children's friends will come to know Jesus. Pray, too, that your child will have natural opportunities to share his faith.
Help your child start looking at the world through a Christian lens. This will help him model faith-filled decision-making when he's with his peers. My young friend Ryan was watching a cop show with his friend. Ryan kept saying, "That's not right. That's really wrong." His friend turned to him and asked, "How do you know what's right and what's wrong?" Ryan replied, "When you've been a Christian as long as I have, you just know."
When your son invites a friend to enter your Christian environment, go out of your way to make that child feel welcome. Years ago, one family realized something was wrong in the house next door. They told the neglected child who lived there that they would set a place for him at their table every night. How could he not love Jesus when Jesus' friends showed such love to him? That boy is now a pastor in Texas.
Celebrate not only conversions, but every positive step your child's friends make toward Jesus. When a friend doesn't swear because he knows your son doesn't, or when a buddy joins in your family prayers at dinner time, celebrate. These little steps tell your son his witness is working.
Remember, your child will never play with a friend Christ hasn't died for. Sharing God's love with every child who enters your lives will be a blessing for all of you.
Marlene LeFever is the Director of Church Relations at Cook Communication Ministries.
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