In fifth grade, I received evangelism training through my church. It went something like this: Memorize a series of verses (the famed “Romans Road” of evangelizing), identify an unbelieving friend, ask her to get together, share the gospel, and invite her to place faith in Christ.
My Sunday school teacher spent the summer helping us learn the words we would need to know, and in late August, she drove two of us to pick up a classmate and test our skills. I remember nervously sipping a milkshake next to our target unbeliever, terrified I wouldn’t get the formula right or remember the Sinner’s Prayer. I don’t remember whether the evening ended in conversion, so I’m guessing it did not.
I’m not here to knock my well-intentioned teacher nor critique the various memory tools or verbal formulas for evangelism. God certainly uses these means. But my husband and I chose a less formulaic approach to train our children to be invitational, relational, and convictional in the speech they used to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
It may seem counterintuitive to train children in gospel words even before they themselves have professed faith. But when we focus less on apologetics and more on Christian speech, these patterns can and should be taught as soon as they start to talk.
First, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in kind words. Children in Christian homes should be taught to forgo sarcastic, bullying, and teasing speech for gracious, encouraging, and affirming speech. When we model and reward kind speech inside our homes, our children are likely to use it outside of them. Kind language is in short supply in our culture, and children who learn to stem the tide of vitriol are likely to find themselves shining like stars in a crooked generation.
Second, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in reconciling words. They should ask for and extend forgiveness at an early age. “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are used grudgingly by unbelievers but liberally by believers. As children learn the power of these words, they build language skills that will shape their understanding of the gospel.
Third, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in slow words so that they might become “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Social media and other digital communication seek to indoctrinate our children into a culture of quick speech, deaf ears, and mercurial anger. A key linguistic skill for believers is the ability to hold their tongue and offer measured words at the right moment. Parents who coach and model when to speak and when to be silent prepare their children for future conversations of well-timed and well-chosen words of life.
Fourth, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in eternal words. Children in Christian homes should be those in whom the Word of Christ dwells richly, because their parents have given them the skill and the gift of Scripture memory, Bible literacy, and saturation and maturation in the life-giving Word. We cannot impart words of life to others if we do not possess them ourselves. By training our kids in the discipline of loving the Bible, we prepare them to invite others into their faith.
Fifth, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in hospitable words. Invitations to join the family of God often begin with invitations to join the dinner table. Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic phrase you can teach a child is: “Do you want to come over to my house?” Our homes are one of the greatest“evangelistic tools” we can give our kids, who will encounter the lonely and the left-out daily. The home offers the ideal setting for them to learn to share, with parental support nearby.
Whether we teach our children the Sinner’s Prayer, the Romans Road, or the Four Spiritual Laws, let us train them with the building blocks of all evangelistic speech: words that are kind, reconciling, slow, eternal, and hospitable. They are the kinds of words that Jesus employed with regularity. May Christian parents and their children be found with them on their lips.
Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of None Like Him and In His Image.