Niki Hodson, Children’s Ministry
BA (English & Drama) UCT, BA Hons (Psychology) (Cornerstone)
It can be difficult for children to know how to respond when their faith is challenged. Think about it – what do we as adults do when someone challenges our faith? How competent are we in this kind of situation? And if we are competent, how do we model this to children?
What does the Bible say?
If we look at Scripture, there are instructions on what to do when challenged about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready for when someone asks us about “the hope that you have”. Luke 12:12 tells us not to worry when we are publicly challenged about our faith, because the Spirit will “teach you what to say”. Colossians 4:5-6 advises us to “make the most of every opportunity” and to be ready to give the “right response” at any time. Collectively, these verses tell us to:
- Expect challenges yet not shy away from them
- Be prepared for challenges
- Trust for the Spirit’s help when faced with challenges
If we hold to these truths, we have a very good foundation with which to begin. This leads into my aim of this article – to propose a practical method of showing children how to respond to these kinds of challenges.
Motives are important!
The first thing to think about when a child’s faith is challenged is the motive of the challenger. A child needs to understand that their response should differ depending on whether or not the motives are truly theological. For example, if a bully is saying nasty things to a child about their beliefs, this is probably not a true challenge to their faith. It is likely motivated by dislike or emotional turmoil. In this case, it is better for the child to react compassionately and where necessary ask an adult for help. This can then become a lesson about loving one’s enemy instead. But, if the challenge appears to be genuine, then they can move onto the next step in the process.
What was actually said?
The next step is to ask the child exactly what was said to them. This is because in order to respond to a challenge, we need to hear and understand the other person’s viewpoint first. We need to demonstrate to children that it is best to listen first and ask questions. They do not need to respond immediately. In most cases, the challenging is coming from someone they see on a regular basis, and there will be opportunities to respond in the future. You can role-play this with your children, as you pretend to be the person with different beliefs and they can practice listening and asking you questions. This step is important because when you listen to someone without judgement, they will begin to trust you. This means that when you do make a response, the other person will be more willing to listen!
What do they believe?
Once you have taught a child to listen and ask questions, they will be better able to accurately recall what the challenger has said. Then you can teach them to do some research on what they have heard. If it is a young child, they can come to you and ask about what has been said. If they are an older child, you can encourage them to do some research on their own. For example, if the challenger believes in reincarnation, the child can look up what this means. Sometimes you will have to go and do some research yourself in order to help your child understand. This is perfectly okay – the more you model it yourself, the better!
Always give the Gospel
This last step gets to the heart of the matter. It is important to show children that the ultimate goal of responding to a challenge is NOT to defend their faith. Rather, the goal is to share the story of Jesus. They can do this by finding points of commonality or contrast to the other child’s beliefs as starting points to introduce Jesus. Hopefully by being a good listener to the other child they will have won a hearing and a gospel opportunity will take place. You can also remind them of the scriptural truths mentioned above (Peter 3:15, Luke 12:12, Colossians 4:5-6), and that it is the gospel story that has the power to save (Romans 1:16).
Be a model!
A last point is that children learn best when they see the trusted adults in their lives doing what they are learning. Let them hear your stories of responding to challenges to the faith. Show them how you have applied the process as mentioned above. Teach them that challenges will come, but that God has equipped them through the Holy Spirit and they need not be afraid. Show them that they can come to you for help and together you can figure out a way to share the gospel. “For we are not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation, for everyone who believes” (Roman 1:16).
First published in SU Mag