I hear all kinds of reasons: they’re too young; they don’t know what they are doing; we are giving them a false sense of spiritual security; they were manipulated; they end up re-doing it later anyway; there is no sinner’s prayer anywhere in the Bible; and the most passionate objections are to asking children to invite Jesus into their heart.
In truth, I agree with many of the concerns raised by those who no longer invite kids to pray to receive Christ. It gets awkward because to defend leading kids to Jesus does not equal disagreeing with those valid concerns. But I fear at times we are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
When it comes to “inviting Jesus into our heart,” the Bible talks about the heart over 600 times. Romans 10:10 is one of the verses that forms the basis for both the expression of inviting Jesus into the heart, and for a sinner’s prayer,
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” – Romans 10:10
Recently a children’s pastor said to me that he was concerned about being on vacation and having some “overzealous church worker” lead his child to Christ. I have no worries about over zealous soul winners (though some bother me with their tone or style) – I’m more concerned with under zealous children’s workers who may never actually invite children to a point of decision. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that getting kids to simply pray a sinner’s prayer is disastrous – IF they have not understood nor truly had a change in their heart – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to do it right or stop reaching children for Christ because we are afraid they might not really be sincere.
Countless people have been led to Christ this way for centuries – so why should the few who did it poorly or weren’t sincerely sincere cancel out the millions for whom it was genuine and meaningful? (Myself included at age 4!)
We can argue the semantics of “asking Jesus into the heart” – I personally don’t use that phrase, and prefer “inviting Jesus to be their Savior and Lord,” as children can be very literal, but the phrase isn’t really the issue. The heart is the issue, and the decision of the heart must be expressed somehow, and while perhaps not ideal, it is still a valid reflection of what has happened.
In addition, while I’ll grant an out loud prayer may not be required to save the soul, prayer is how we express our decisions and how we confess Jesus as Lord. As a side note, did you know ‘confess’ literally means, ‘to say it,’ not to ask for forgiveness as many think? When we confess our sins we are saying them. I John 1:9 was written to Christians who don’t need to ask for forgiveness; they already have it. It is the ‘saying it’ (admitting) that leads to purifying us from all unrighteousness. Likewise, “Confessing Jesus as Lord,” is a verbal acknowledgement that he is now Lord (boss) of your life.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
I have no issue with those who don’t use “Jesus in my heart” or who claimed to be saved without ever praying a sinners prayer – I realize that they have made a heart commitment and perhaps prayed silently – but likewise, those in that category need not knock or discredit the millions who have asked Jesus into their heart and prayed a sinner’s prayer. It was, after all, the profession of faith by the thief on the cross to which Jesus replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43) There is plenty of biblical support for a prayer of salvation and for the use of the word heart.
I appreciate folk’s sensitivity to trite conversions, but like many things, a valid concern isn’t a reason to pendulum swing all the way to saying we shouldn’t do it at all. I think that conclusion is tragic – much better to seek to do it correctly.
The danger if we never share the Gospel or invite kids to follow Jesus is that we can end up never giving kids an opportunity to respond to what we are teaching. It would be like dating and never getting married. At some point, we need to say, “I do.” Children can end up thinking that just going to church and “being good” is enough to be a Christian. Nothing could be farther from the Truth. Which is worse – a kid praying and not really meaning it but growing in that understanding over time, or a kid never praying and assuming he is saved because he went to church and is trying to be good?
Jesus always invited… (Matt. 16:24) and throughout history evangelists have taken people to the point of decision, and it’s changed countless lives. I’m not worried about whether a kid fully understands it – all that is needed is that first step of faith. Jesus repeatedly tells adults they need to “come as children” with simple faith, (Matt. 19:14)
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:15
On top of that, God promises that he will carry to completion what has been started. (Phil. 1:6) Even John’s disciples had responded to an incomplete Gospel – accepting what they heard at the time from John, completely missing that Jesus had come and died and returned to heaven! When Paul met them, some 20 years later, they didn’t get saved then, they just got educated on what they had missed. (Acts 19) These disciples of John needed their initial faith to be brought up to speed, but it was still their initial faith that saved them, even though they were missing key elements. Kids obviously will learn much more about their faith as they grow, learn and mature – but that added knowledge doesn’t void their initial faith.
That is why I say, “Invite them often, invite them well.” And God is faithful to begin, maintain, and eventually complete their spiritual journey, even if we didn’t do everything “exactly” right at the beginning.
A journey has to have a beginning. We must invite children to begin their journey of faith and it saddens me to see so many children’s ministries moving away from our primary purpose of children’s ministry – to lead children to Jesus.
I see a lot of great stuff going on in churches – engaging environments, the Bible being taught creatively, attention to special needs, safer churches, and church becoming more fun for kids than it ever was. But if we aren’t leading kids to Jesus – we are missing our primary call as children’s workers.
I fear Jesus may be indignant with some who have all the best intentions, and are doing so many wonderful things, but aren’t bringing kids to Jesus. The disciples made that mistake too.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. – Mark 10:14