Taking Advantage

Backyard Bible Clubs. Youth Camp. Sports ministries. If you do any of these as evangelistic outreach, I’ve got a question for you: are you taking advantage of children?

Yeah, I know- you came to faith through VBS when you were six years old. If it “worked” for you, it can’t be that bad, right?

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that a group of Muslims come to visit your town. They’re prepared with snacks and games and crappy little crafts with Popsicle sticks. They blanket your neighborhood with fliers announcing: Games! Clowns! Snacks! Crafts! Fun!

Or say you don’t see the fliers, but you’re at the park with your kids. There you are, minding your own business, eating your Chick-fil-a picnic lunch, and said group of Muslims approach your kids with balloons and puppets and invite them to participate in their Backyard Koran Club. You look around and see veiled women hanging around the playground. Young peachfuzz-bearded men picking teams for a game of non-competitive Red-Rover. How would you feel?

My European friends have convinced me: children’s “ministries” are a dangerous thing.
The problem is that we put children in a position to be overwhelmingly influenced by us. We orchestrate situations full of “positive” peer pressure. We give gifts and Kool-Aid and ask them to give their hearts to Jesus. Is this fair? What are the long-term affects of child evangelism?

You might disagree, and quote Mark 10 (Where Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.”) I’m just not sure that meant “Dupe the little kids into saying the Sinner’s prayer.”

Remember youth camp? We take impressionable 13-17 yr. olds out of their familiar surroundings, and keep them in a controlled, “Christian” environment, where they are taught by super-cool counselors. They get no sleep, they eat trash, and every evening we coax an emotional response out of them through hours upon hours of pep-rallies (“We love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus, how ’bout you?!”), guilt-trip sermons (“Come, nail all your sins to this cross.”), and endless “Just As I Am” invitations. Is this fair? These are children! We don’t want cigarette and beer companies to advertise to them, but it’s okay if we do?

You might say, “Yeah, but we’re right! Don’t you want to see children come to faith?” Of course I do. But I want everyone who comes to faith to do so without coercion. I want a generation of born-again believers, not “I-said-the-prayer” cultural Christians. I want parents to know that we care about them and their children, whether or not they become Christians. I want parents to know what we’re teaching their children, and how, and why.

I believe the word should be taught to children. We should be telling Bible stories, sharing difficult truths, and praying with and for our children. But I think child evangelism, and it’s commonly practiced, is wrong.

I guess I probably won’t be invited to speak at any youth camps when I’m home on furlough next year…

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.