How we can confidently call kids to respond to the gospel

September 17, 2020

Paul tells us that when the good news changes us, we are sent out with God’s power to tell the gospel to others. It’s the impulse of the Spirit at work in us. We are sent out as ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5:18–20, Paul writes:

“[God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting humanity’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Many evangelicals these days want to embody this identity as Christ’s ambassadors. We make passionate appeals to lost friends and family to come, see, and believe the good news. We fully resonate with Paul’s missionary impulse. Fully, that is, until it comes to children.

Are we overly cautious with children and the gospel? 

If my observations are normative, many young evangelicals tend to be more anxious and tentative about calling kids to believe. There are of course reasons for this. Children are, after all, easier to manipulate. Some of us grew up in churches where we were encouraged to pray and ask Jesus into our heart before the gospel was fully explained. We now want our own kids to follow Christ because they love him and understand his cross—not merely to escape hell and enter heaven. We want them to assure their hearts with the gospel—not their knowledge, emotional experiences, prayers, or obedience. 

But I wonder if we’re overly cautious. One week, the elementary classroom at the church where I served was studying the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. For three long weeks, we were entrenched in Old Testament details. Our children’s ministry team complained about the lessons. And if I’m honest, I struggled as their leader to grasp why teaching the sacrificial system to seven-to-10-year-olds was beneficial. 

Then, when we taught that the old method of gaining access to God and receiving forgiveness for sins was to sacrifice a lamb, one girl, we’ll call her Sarah, said, “I wish we could still do that.” Goodness. We were shocked. Why would a nine-year-old want to kill a lamb? Why would Sarah think this was necessary to gain access to God? Did I need to make a quick curriculum change? Had we not taught the gospel well enough? 

Sarah’s teachers talked with her after class, and they got her parents involved as well. It turned out she really wanted to be forgiven for some harsh words she’d spoken to her younger brother earlier that week. When confronted with the truth that her sins required a blood sacrifice, Sarah was overwhelmed. The concreteness of the sacrificial system made her guilt very vivid. She wanted to kill a lamb and be done with it.

Calling kids to Christ

That morning in children’s ministry was an opportunity for our kids’ teachers and Sarah’s parents to share the gospel with her and call her to respond.  But how? How can we confidently encourage kids to respond to the gospel’s call while avoiding manipulative techniques and remaining sensitive to their level of development? Here are five suggestions. 

1. Boldly teach kids about their sin.

You’ve probably seen that children’s program where the wooly mammoth, vampire, monsters, aliens, and overgrown canary have all invaded a side street in Manhattan. In his brilliance, Jim Henson took some of our greatest fears and made them cute and educational. The child-friendly terrors that live together on Sesame Street should remind us of the hidden reality of childhood. 

Children are glorious and beautiful gifts from God, and yet within each child—behind the cuteness—there’s a fallen heart that’s twisted from the moment of conception. Every child is a sinner. It can be difficult for us to shoot straight with kids about this, but even they need to be faced with the reality of their brokenness. The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, said it well:

“Do not flatter the child with delusive rubbish about his nature being good and needing to be developed. Tell him he must be born again. Don’t bolster him up with the fancy of his own innocence, but show him his sin. Mention the childish sins to which he is prone, and pray the Holy Spirit to work conviction in his heart and conscience.”

Yes, children need comfort, care, and a healing touch. But they also need honest correction, because it’s only when kids see the terror of their own sin that they’ll see their need for redemption. We need to hear Spurgeon’s warning, “Do not hesitate to tell the child his ruin; he will not else desire the remedy.”

2. Focus on what Jesus has done to save rather than what your child should do.

In traditional children’s ministry, there is often an emphasis on the ABCs: (A) Admit you are a sinner; (B) Believe in Jesus; and (C) Confess faith in him. There is nothing wrong with this (see Rom. 10:9–10) so long as we make clear that salvation is not about what we do but about what Christ has done. If we only talk to kids about what they should do, we run the risk of confusing or discouraging them. 

When a child becomes aware of their sin, they may become introspective and worry, “Did I do enough? How can Jesus live in my heart when I still get so angry?” What Jesus has done for us is the most important thing—so much more important than what we do. He saves us. We do not save ourselves. We must teach kids to look outside of themselves to the love and forgiveness that comes because of what Christ has already done for them (Gal. 2:20). As puritan Octavius Winslow wrote, “One simple believing sight of Christ will produce more light and peace and joy than a lifetime of looking within ourselves for evidences and signs of grace.” 

For this reason, I prefer a gospel tract like Billy Graham’s Steps to Peace With God or my own Are You Close to God? to the ABC method. Resources like these emphasize the work Christ has done for us more than our response. They help us clarify when a child has an understanding of the objective facts of the gospel and when they may be trusting their own prayers or works to save.

3. Call your kids to respond. Call them to decide.

We must be clear that the call to respond is not the gospel. But we also must be clear that a response is necessary. The Scripture calls all people to respond to God. It calls all people to pray, trust, and obey him. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church addresses the children of the church directly and calls them to obey their parents in the Lord (6:1). So, you don’t have to wait until you know that a child is saved in order to call them to respond or make a decision to follow Christ. We must teach kids with response as a goal, all the while recognizing that the children we lead will have differing levels of responsiveness.

Christian educators, Larry Richards and Gary Bredfeldt, outline five basic levels of learning in children:1Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt, Creative Bible Teaching, Revised edition, (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 120–127.

This outline reminds us that children typically learn the language of faith before their faith is fully realized. Our job is not to get a two-year-old to the realization level after one gospel conversation. You just need to encourage the children in your care to take the next step.

4. Don’t pressure your children for commitments, because the pressure is off.

Trust that God is already at work in our kids’ hearts. Our responsibility is to faithfully teach the gospel to them and leave the results to the Lord. Sometimes we’re tempted to pressure children, because we feel that getting them saved is our responsibility. It is not. Salvation is God’s work. Give children an opportunity to respond, but trust God to work in the hearts of his children to bring them to himself through faith, in his time and in his ways.

5. Finally, when you do encounter responsiveness, don’t be afraid to give gospel assurances.

Children should be taught that Jesus alone saves, and they should be assured that they can bank on him. You read that right. We should feel free to assure children that Jesus saves. We should freely invite children to come to Jesus because his redemption work is done. As the apostle wrote, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting humanity’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:18). Our Lutheran friends call this the doctrine of objective justification:  the biblical truth that salvation has been accomplished, and it can be freely offered to all. 

Once I was asked by a children’s minister, “Do you think it’s okay for children who may not yet be believers to memorize, recite, and sing Bible passages that were intended for believers?” He was talking about the kind of passages that give personal assurance. He was thinking of Scriptures that say things like, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25–26), or “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1), or “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 42:11), or “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). My response to this question was, “Yes! Absolutely yes! A thousand times yes!”

Leading a child to memorize these assurances is not the same as giving a false assurance, because these are the very words of Christ. To trust these words is to trust Christ himself. What should we do if we hear children assuring themselves with one of these passages? We must say to them, “Keep on believing. Keep on believing!”


As the team talked to Sarah after class that day, they explained that Jesus has already paid the sacrifice she longed for. He has done it once and for all. They clarified the truth of the good news, and they pleaded with Sarah to believe it. She didn’t receive Christ’s comfort for several more years. But they called her to respond in faith that day, and I’m glad they did. Because Christ hasn’t only made us his ambassadors to adults. We also bear the gospel to the next generation. We must go and call the whole world—even children—to respond in faith to him. And we can make this appeal with confidence, knowing that God is also at work. He is making his appeal to kids through us.

Jared Kennedy

Jared is the husband of Megan and father to Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. After serving fifteen years on staff at local churches, Jared now works as an editor for The Gospel Coalition, coaches children's ministers through Gospel-Centered Family, serves on the Theological Advisory Council for Harbor Network, and teaches as an adjunct instructor … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24