Josh listened intently in Sunday School. His teacher spoke convincingly about every person’s need for Christ. She encouraged Josh and his classmates to thank God for what He had done in their lives, and she challenged them to reach out to other kids who didn’t know Jesus.
As Josh sat there, he thought about the kids at school and in his neighborhood. He wasn’t sure if some of them were Christians, but he knew that at least a couple of them weren’t. Josh left class both grateful and nervous. He understood and agreed with everything his teacher had said. He knew that God wanted to use him to reach other kids. He wanted to be obedient. But he didn’t know what to do. How was he supposed to go about “reaching out” to other kids?
The next day at school, he saw Bryce at recess. Bryce wasn’t playing with anyone at the moment, so Josh went up to him. As he approached Bryce, Josh said to himself, “I’ve got to reach out. I’ve got to reach out. I’ve got to…Hey, Bryce!”
“Uh…what are you doing,” Josh stammered.
“Nothin’ really,” Bryce replied.
Josh froze. What came next? He had started the conversation, but he wasn’t sure what to do now.
Staring for a few moments at Josh, Bryce asked, “Was there something you wanted to say?”
Searching for something…anything to say, Josh began to get flustered. He could hear the ticking of an imaginary stopwatch booming in his ears.
Eventually he responded, “No, just…’Hey.’ Okay, see ya’.” And Josh scuttled away.
Discouraged by the attempt, Josh thought to himself, “I’m no good at this. That’s the last time I ever try that.”
Steps for Improvement
Ever felt like Josh? I sure have–and not just when I was an awkward kid. I have experienced this more times than I can count as an awkward adult. The thing that helps me to keep getting back on the horse is a little preparation. Kids need that too.
As a pastor, teacher, and even more importantly, as a parent, I want to help kids learn to reach out to those God has placed in their lives. It’s important that we teach kids not just about the need for outreach but also some techniques for going about it.
Step 1: Set Your Expectations
We need to begin our preparation with the baseline understanding that outreach is not an event. Some people place significant emphasis on “the conversation.” They obsess over how to get from “Hi, my name is…” to “Would you like to trust Jesus right now?” (That’s a lot of pressure for one discussion to bear.)
Instead of viewing outreach as something that happens as part of a single life-changing conversation, we ought to view it as something that takes place in the context of an ongoing, life-changing relationship. That’s how Jesus ministered to His disciples and how they, in turn, ministered to theirs.
While there are some notable exceptions found in Scripture, I think we ought to help kids view outreach-through-relationships as their standard M.O.
Step 2: Ask Questions
A relationship begins with getting to know someone. Thinking through some simple questions to help get conversations going can really help kids as they begin a relationship with someone. Here’s a list of some sample questions to ask...
- Hi, I’m __________. What’s your name?
- Where do you go to school?
- What grade are you in?
- What’s your favorite subject?
- Do you have any brothers or sisters? How old are they?
- Have you done anything fun this week/weekend/summer, etc.?
- What kinds of things do you like to do (read, play video games, etc.)?
- What’s your favorite sport? What’s your favorite team? Your favorite player?
- Do you play any sports? How long have you been playing? What position?
- What’s your favorite food? Do you have a favorite restaurant?
- What’s your favorite movie? Have you seen __________?
- Would you like to play __________ with me/us?
Not every question will make inroads with every child, but most enjoy talking about themselves. So, if you just keep asking questions, that will typically get a conversation going. And if you can really get a conversation going, a meaningful relationship is just a around the corner.
Step 3: Role Play
Some kids will find it helpful to practice asking some of these questions. Think about the different kinds of situations in which a child will find himself. Then, choose one and let the child ask you questions as if you were the person he was trying to reach.
I’ve done this in some of our Children’s Ministries classes to demonstrate how to relate to visitors. I’ve also done it at home with my son to help him in reaching out to the other kids in his Sunday School class. Kids really seem to enjoy it.
Step 4: Emphasize the Goal
It can be easy for a child (as well as any adult) to view a relationship as something that exists for his enjoyment. We need to remind kids of the goal for our relationships–the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Bringing glory to God will likely look different with different people. If a child is reaching out to a Christian, bringing glory to God will involve encouraging that individual to grow in his relationship with the Lord. Conversely, if a child is beginning a relationship with someone who isn’t yet a follower of Christ, the best way he can glorify God is by lovingly, patiently, and respectfully encouraging his new friend to trust Christ as His Savior.
Now, some might argue, “That’s pretty craven…teaching kids that they ought to view every relationship in terms of some religious goal. Telling someone that they need to change their beliefs isn’t loving at all. The loving thing would be to accept them as they are–regardless of what they believe.”
From a humanistic perspective, I can certainly understand that point of view. The problem here is that the humanistic perspective isn’t the most important one to consider. God has given us His perspective on the matter in the pages of Scripture.
God has told us that man’s greatest need isn’t food, water, or even air. His greatest need is forgiveness. And God has graciously offered forgiveness to any who will acknowledge his sin and embrace Christ as his Savior. In light of that perspective, the most loving thing we can do for another person is to encourage, persuade, and yes, even urge them to act on God’s offer. That brings glory to God, and we need to remind kids of this goal.
Teaching kids to use relationships in reaching out to others will do a couple of things for them…
- It will help them develop concern for others. Instead of viewing people as trophies to be won, kids will learn to view others as souls for whom Jesus died who deserve our time and personal investment.
- It will ward off discouragement. Event-minded outreach places emphasis on an immediate response to the presentation of the message. If someone doesn’t respond, we tend to view the event as a failure and discouragement can easily follow.
Relationally-minded outreach sees another person’s accpetance of Christ as only part of the relationship. So, if that person doesn’t respond to this conversation, that’s okay. Maybe God will lead them to respond when you get together a week from next Thursday. That will help kids to keep developing the relationship.
- It will encourage prayer. The more time kids spend with someone, the more dear that person will become to them, and the more they will come to understand that salvation truly is the work of the Holy Spirit. That should motivate them to faithfully pray for the people in their lives.
What ideas do you have for helping kids reach out to others?