I was loading whites into the washing machine when four-year old Charis came up behind me. She watched for half a minute, and then she said,
“Mommy, you taught us to love God?”
I don’t know where the question came from. Her question gripped me because I had just read a post from a mom on Facebook who asked how to communicate the gospel to her 2-1/2 year old. “I don’t think he’s old enough to understand,” she lamented.
I seized the opportunity Charis gave me to share with her.
I told her, “Yes, I have taught you to love God. Why did I do that?”
“Because God protects us?” she asked.
“Yes, God protects us. Why do we love Him?”
“Mmmm,” she waited.
“We love God because He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19
She smiled and flitted away.
Kids are all so different. Some will sit and converse for long periods, learning big chunks at once. Others are like butterflies. They land for some nectar and then flit off to chew on it. That’s my Charis. She flits and flies about, but she’s always listening, always noticing, always digesting something she’s seen or heard.
Teaching littles the gospel is a day by day process of living your faith out loud, modeling God’s love, and taking advantage of every opportunity to use scripture to point to God as our Maker, Savior, and Friend.
Some ways to help your babies, birth to age 3, develop a biblical worldview:
- Love them, and teach them that God loves them too. In fact, I have always told my children that God loves them even more than Mommy and Daddy do. As they understand our love for them, and they feel great love for us, they understand when we tell them about God and His love for them.
- Pray for them, with them. We pray for our children, that they will have hearts after God, that they will love Him with all of their hearts, and that they will develop Godly character. They hear this and they begin to understand this.
- Teach them to pray with you. By a year and a half, our babies know that the food on the table will not be eaten until we have prayed. They fold their hands and sit quietly, and they often shout an amen before digging in.
- Include them in family devotions. Also, consider keeping them with you in church services when possible. I sometimes have to move to the back with babies, or take them for a walk, but we always come back to our seat. They learn to sit quietly, and to listen, even if they color or play with a small toy. We discuss sermons with the older children later.
- There are so many ways to teach babies about God. Everyday activities with family whose worldview is centered on Christ will fill their minds and hearts with good ideas and sound doctrine.
At 2-1/2, my kids were still developing their language. They were not able to comprehend the need for a Savior because they didn’t have a strong understanding of right and wrong. They were still learning what they were and were not allowed to do, and they were aware that there could be consequences for disobedience. Examples of appropriate consequences would be losing the thing they were treating poorly, a short time out (1-minute), helping to clean their mess, or being required to apologize for hurting a sibling.
- Many children this age are ready for a basic children’s Bible with short stories. I prefer American Bible Society’s Read and Learn Bible. It has definitions for older children, the illustrations are more life-like than some other options, and the text is accurate. Ours is a little worn.
- Devotional books that are age appropriate (like this one for girls ages 2-5) (and boys ages 2-5) because the short stories explain right and wrong choices, alongside scripture, to help children learn life application skills. Remember, you can “tweak” stories to make them more appropriate for your own children, and the most growth comes from the conversations you have at the end of each devo.
- Our family has enjoyed Veggie Tales movies. The vegetable characters are fun and memorable, and every story is a spin off of a biblical account. Again, lots of room for conversation.
- Susie Poole has a series of illustrated children’s books that have taken scripture my older children have memorized and used it to show practical application to young children. For example, Always Near Me is based on Psalm 139. My littles ask to read them over and over, and my tweens like them so much that they voluntarily read them out loud.
- Music! Christian children’s cd’s are wonderful to have and play. We also listen to our local Christian station, The Pulse, and my teens play instruments and worship together often. My Melody currently goes around singing, “Jesus, Jesus!” (Tremble, by Mosaic MSC)
By 4-6, children’s minds are far more mature, and ours have been immersed in a Christian culture. They can have a firm understanding of what is expected of them, and they also have an understanding of right and wrong that is well established and growing. They are learning that right and wrong are defined by God and what the Bible tells us, and not just what Mommy and Daddy say. They have seen thankfulness modeled and they are learning to practice it themselves, and because of this they understand that all good things and answered prayers come from God.
At 4-1/2, our daughter Lilly had spent a good six months asking questions and listening to me discuss the gospel with her sister who was 16 months older. She had quietly mulled over it for weeks when she insisted that I help her pray to “become a Christian right now!” We had to pull off the road and park so she could pray! When she prayed and committed to following Jesus, she knew exactly what she was doing, even though her understanding of what that means has grown. At 17, she is still fully committed.
Charis asked to pray to commit to Jesus this summer. She understood the Trinity, what sin is and our need for forgiveness, and she understood that Jesus paid the penalty for her forgiveness so she can be God’s friend and daughter. Her understanding is not as deep as her sister Lilly’s was, but it is growing every day. She may recommit someday. That is okay.
All of our children have had a good understanding of the gospel by the age of 6 or 7. It didn’t happen through one conversation, and it wasn’t a quick process. It was a continual construction project, building their knowledge and understanding one interaction at a time, one day at a time.
Some resources to use with children 4+
- Children who have learned the basics of reading can read from the Read and Learn Bible for reading practice with Mom and Dad, and they can develop critical thinking through discussion.
- For family devotions, parents can read from an adult version of the Bible, but stop every few sentences to define words and explain to their children what they are reading. Ask them if they can tell you what you just read–they may surprise you!
- Movies we enjoy:
♥ Veggie Tales
♥ Torchlighters-Heroes of the Faith is an animated collection of missionary biographies that is available for free through Amazon Prime.
♥ Voice of the Martyrs Witness Trilogy is an animated series that takes you from the birth of Christ to the birth of the Church in Acts. The entire series is available in a boxed set from CBD, and part of the set is available to view through Amazon Prime.
♥ Lion of Judah is an animated movie that shows children how Jesus was the lamb that gave His life for us, removing the need to sacrifice real, fluffy lambs. The story is endearing, and even my 4 year old understands the concept. Coupled with parental discussions, it is a useful tool. This is available through Amazon Prime.
♥ The Star is an animated story of Jesus’s birth, starring a barnyard of animals. Paired with discussion, it can be an enjoyable family movie.
- The book, The Lamb, is a beautifully illustrated devotional that explains sin and forgiveness from creation to Christ’s resurrection. It is divided into daily segments with scripture, questions and answers, and review. I have used this book with my children when I felt they needed deeper theological explanations, and I have even given copies to adult friends who need to understand the gospel. It is worth the price, and is also available in Kindle format, though I think the hard copy is more memorable. I got a Kindle copy for $1.99 when it was on sale, so it is worth watching.
- Another God and Me devotional book for girls, ages 6-9; and for boys. These are available for older tweens also.
There are so many other good resources to share with your children, but ultimately it is about spending time together, including God in your conversations, and modeling what you teach. I would love it if you would share some of your favorites resources or devotional traditions in the comments for others who are looking for helps. We are coming into the season of gift giving. It’s a good time to put together wish lists for family who want to buy gifts for our children. God bless you as you love, teach, and disciple your children.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children … You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deut 6:6-9 (ESV)
Feature image by nappy @ pexels