A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Jeremy, my nine year old son, when he told me, "Daddy, I'm nine years old. Next year I will be ten years old, which makes me a mini-teenager, which kind of makes me a mini-adult, which means you have to take me more seriously."
When he was finished with his surprising rant I couldn't help but laugh and think, "That just happened." But then I thought about what he said and realized that the kid had a point.
I remember when I was nine years old thinking deeply about the reality of heaven, hell, the cross, sin, judgment day and the like. Sure, I watched Scooby Do episodes, threw mud clots and made ramps to jump my bike off of like every other kid in the neighborhood, but the God stuff was always hovering close to my hyperactive little brain.
What was true of me and of Jeremy is probably true of that pre "mini teenager" you know. And we must start taking them seriously while the cement of their thinking is still wet. We must help them understand life in the context of the God of the Bible because once that cement hardens you'll need a jackhammer and wheelbarrow to break up and clean out the bad theology.
Too many times in too many churches kids aren't taken seriously. They are cute distractions that can only absorb the most basic of Bible stories. But, as the father of a nine and five year old I am constantly surprised how much kids think and talk about God, especially if you encourage them to do so.
I've had spontaneous conversations with my children about concepts like the Bible, the Trinity, salvation and pretty much every major area of systematic theology. But the conversations were very non-systematic. They were random, "But daddy what about...." kind of talks that just happened in the course of everyday life.
Although my ministry work is exclusively with teenagers and youth leaders, it would make my mission a whole lot easier if moms, dads and children's ministry leaders would fan the flames of this latent spirituality in the minds and hearts of K-5 kiddos. How can we do that more effectively?
First of all we can share the gospel with them until the light switch in their little souls turns on. And let's drop the "let Jesus into year heart" jargon. That term is never in the Bible and is way too abstract for the typical kid to really understand. Stick with the story of sin (what happened in the Garden of Eden) and salvation (what happened on Calvary.) Then follow it up with a simple call to trust in Jesus to save them from sin and its consequences.
Secondly, we can simply bring God up and see where it goes. Talk about spiritual stuff. You, like me, may be shocked at their eagerness to talk about these kinds of issues. Tie God into everyday stuff. On a beautiful day talk about God's creativity. If a lightning bolt drops close by talk about God's power and protection.
And, finally, consistently pray for them to have their spritual eyes opened. After all, soon they will be mini-teenagers which kind of makes them mini-adults...or so my boy reminds me.