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Chapter 3

COUNSELING CHILDREN



It has been estimated that about 50% of all Christians received Christ by the time they were 12 years old. This means that we must make the most of our years of contact with children before they reach their teenage years. So, how do we counsel children for salvation, for assurance of their salvation and for other problem issues?

1. LEADING CHILDREN TO CHRIST
The question is often asked, “When is a child ready to receive Jesus as their saviour?” A simple answer is impossible. The children’s worker must always be ready to relate God’s offer of salvation to all children as the Holy Spirit directs. We must never decide that children are too young or are unable to understand. While we should be careful of assuming that all children are ready to receive Jesus, the worker must continue to plant the seed and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide the child to conversion, and give wisdom in knowing when to lead the child in a genuine conversion experience.

We must avoid assuming that all the children in a group are Christians. Always keep in mind the fact that the children may not have received Jesus as their Saviour. Never address the group as if they are all Christians, as this will give children a false sense of security. Rather use words and phrases such as, “many of us love the Lord.”

Children are unable to understand abstract concepts or figurative words. A child will be confused with the phrase, “Ask Jesus into your heart.” Rather speak of them asking Jesus to be their special friend who will always be with them. We need to check the phrases we use to see whether they are understood by the children. Even a short word like “sin” needs to be explained, or substituted with a phrase like, “doing wrong.”

Children will respond to words or phrases which are taken from every day relationships. God as Father and Jesus as His Son; getting caught for doing wrong; being punished by parents; etc. will all be understood by children.

A. THINGS TO AVOID WHEN LEADING A CHILD TO JESUS

(1) Using Fear as a Motive
While it is true that those who do not receive Jesus as their saviour will spend eternity in Hell (Rev 20:15), this is not the best motivation for a child to respond. When the child gets over their fears they usually become very hard against the whole matter.

(2) Giving Group Invitations
When a group invitation is given it is too easy for children to respond, and it will often be for the wrong reason, ie. to get the workers approval, or because everyone else is doing it. If the holy Spirit is dealing with the child they will do what is difficult, ie. stay behind to talk after a meeting or approach workers individually.

(3) Giving Rewards for Response
Some people give children who receive Jesus a Bible or a book. When this is done in front of others, children may make a similar response just to get a prize for themselves.

(4) Steam-Rolling Children
The child must be taken along with the presentation, and not rushed through the 4 steps to salvation. Keep on checking that they understand and are following. Have them restate the message in their own words.

B. THINGS TO DO WHEN LEADING A CHILD TO JESUS

(1) Live Out the Message Being Presenting
Even the best Bible-centred message conveyed through children-centred methods will be ineffective the message of the gospel is lived out by the worker.

(2) Invite Children to do Something Unusual
This could be staying behind, or raising their hands while all the other eyes are closed.

(3) Ensure Children Have Come of Their Own Accord
To find out what the child has in mind ask, “Tim, why did you stay behind? What would you like to talk about?” This type of friendly questioning helps to show the child’s level of understanding and why they responded.

(4) Spend Sufficient Time with the Child
Do not worry if the child misses out on some other activity. Do not present the gospel in a rush, as the child will not fully understand the truth.

(5) Use the Bible, but Limit the Verses
Do not quote a stack of verses, as this will confuse the child. Rather us one or two key verses that the child can really understand and remember.

C. THINGS TO SAY WHEN LEADING A CHILD TO JESUS
There are a variety of approaches to use when leading a child to Jesus. The important truths and verses that need to be understood are:
(1) God loves people very, very much (Jn 3:16a)
(2) All people have done wrong (Rom 3:23)
(3) God loves people so much - he sent Jesus to die for them (Jn 3:16b)
(4) There are things that they must do:
* Believe/trust (John 1:12)
* Be sorry/ask forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
* Say thank you
* Think what it involves (John 14:15)
(5) They can be sure that they are a child of God (Rom 8:15,16)

Avoid saying to children, “Invite Jesus to come into your heart.” Rather use a concept like, “ask Jesus to become your friend.” Children also relate well to the concept, “belonging to Jesus,” because they have things that belong to them and they know what it means. Make sure that the phrases used are understood by the child.

D. HELPING CHILDREN UNDERSTAND FAITH
While the word faith is a foreign concept to children, it is possible to explain it’s meaning using the following three words:

(1) Faith is Believing
The child needs to believe that Jesus was God’s Son, who came to earth to die for the sin of people. They need to believe, ie. accept the gospel as fact not fantasy.

(2) Faith is Trusting
Salvation is coming to a point of trust in a person, ie. Jesus. In the same way that children trust that their mothers will feed them and be there for them, so they need to be sure that Jesus is real and wants to be their friend.

(3) Faith is Doing
They need to start a new way of life. James 2:14-17 speaks of faith that is shown in good deeds. We do not do good to earn points with God, but we do good as a response to what God has done in our lives. It is a way of saying, “Thank you!”

E. A MODEL COUNSELLING EXPERIENCE
(1) The talk is given, and some form of response called for
(2) A child responds, either by staying behind or raising a hand, etc.
(3) Approach the child and ask their name, if you don’t know it already
(4) Ask the child, by name, why they came forward or put up their hand
(5) Share the Gospel with them
(6) Pray with the Child if they are ready to receive Jesus as Saviour
Thank you - for loving me, dying for me, etc.
Sorry - for all the wrong things I have done, thought or said.
Please - forgive me and make me your child.
If they are not ready to receive Jesus, say, “Let’s talk again some time.”
(7) Assure the child that they are now a part of God’s family
(8) Write the child’s name and address down - give it to team leader
(9) Keep contact with the child, ie. by letter, visit, talking, etc.

2. FOLLOW UP COUNSELLING
“Counselling” children is far broader than the conversation experience in which the child is led to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It involves leading the child further and further into knowing and understanding what it means to allow Jesus to affect every part of their lives. They need to know how to handle each joy or problem that comes their way. A child will reveal the problems he or she is experiencing at school or home; or a lack of assurance if they feel secure with the worker and are sure that they can trust the worker. The need to develop a friendship- relationship with the child is essential for this to take place. The worker needs to be real with children, and not give pat answers or come across as being above difficulty, failure or doubts. Children will relate well to honesty from the workers.

Some of the Issues Encountered in Counselling Include:

A. ASSURANCE

(1) Being certain that I am saved means being sure that:
* God loves me and will never leave me
* He goes with me through every problem I face
* God forgives me when I fail to please Him
* He’s preparing a home for me in heaven

Danny is a part of the youth group. He heard the story of Noah who was saved by God in the Ark, and gave his life to Jesus who had saved him. He is still growing. Greg is also a part of the group, but he responds to every gospel invitation. Greg lacks assurance. He needs to know that he has eternal life! Why are Danny and Greg different?

(2) What causes uncertainty?

* An Unstable Home Situation
Children with a poor father-child relationship have greater difficulty difficulty trusting their Heavenly Father.

* Allowing Sin to Stay Unchallenged
When there has not been a great or significant change in life-style, which is usually the case with a “good” kid from a Christian Home, they doubt.

* Basing Assurance on Conduct
Children who decide that they are Christians according to how they behave will doubt that they are saved. Assurance needs to be based on God’s Word.

* Early Conversion Experiences
Children who give their lives to Jesus early (4 to 8yrs) often grow up and lack assurance. Possibly because they have forgotten their experience.

* Wrong Teaching Received
Often children are told that if they cannot remember their conversion then they are not saved, or they can lose their salvation if they are not good.

* Fear of Expressing Doubt
Children may be afraid that they will disappoint their parents if they express doubts. They will appear to have no doubts, but lack assurance inwardly.

(3) Helping a Child to Be Sure of Their Salvation
Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing God’s Word, so you will guide children to base their salvation on Bible facts as you:

* Explore Their Salvation Experience
To determine whether the child is saved or whether the doubting is God’s prompting, have them share their salvation experience. If they are saved, do not try to reconvert them, simply reassure them of their salvation. Explain that once we are a part of a family we are always a part of it. Point out that they are a part of the family of God forever. Pray for them for the assurance of their salvation.

* Show Condition-Promise Verses to the Child
(a) Acts 16:31: Condition - Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Promise - You will be saved. (b) John 1:12: Condition - Receive Him, Believe on His name; Promise - You become His child. Read the verse with the child and personalise it by placing their name in the verse. Ask the child, “Did you do this?” If they agree say, “What has God promised to do?”

* Encourage Children to Tell Others
Children need to be encouraged to tell family and friends about their new found faith, and given time in meetings to testify.

B. BROKEN HOMES
Children from a broken home need to be shown extra attention and given affection. They need to be reminded that God is their good, heavenly Father who loves them and never lets them down. Teach them to forgive their parent who has let them down, and encourage them to help the other parent who is left with the task of looking after the children. (See Chapter 10 for a fuller discussion of the subject)

C. ABUSE
If you have doubts about counselling a child who has been abused refer the situation to someone equipped to handle it. Your role of referring the child is vital, as they will open up to the leader or not, depending on how you handle the referral. Explain to the child that there is someone who is able to help them, and ask their permission to call the leader. If the child is hesitant, pray with them for God’s help in the situation and then report the matter a person suitably qualified to take action. (See Chapter 11 for a fuller discussion of the subject)

D. SIN
Children often come forward and express their sorrow at continual sinning. They need to be led in a prayer of confession and assured of the forgiveness that the lord gives (1 John 1:9). They should be encouraged to look to the Lord for the power they need for not doing the same wrong thing over and over again.





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