My Son, the Jesus Freak

My eldest son (“Harry”) who is nearly 9 years old has been on a Jesus kick of late. He wants to know of everyone he meets, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” In the past two weeks, he has asked at least eight people this question (one newcomer to our church; three Little League coaches; three fellow baseball team members, one exterminator). This past year, he befriended a fellow 3rd grader who moved onto our block this summer, and it wasn’t long before Harry was asking theological questions: “Do you go to church? Do you believe in God? Do you know Jesus?”

I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about his directness on the topic of Jesus. On one hand, I’m so utterly thrilled that Harry is concerned about the spiritual welfare and destiny of all those he meets. I’m so glad that he does not feel any sense of hesitation to speak the name of Jesus. I wish I had the same sort of boldness in my own life!

At the same time, I don’t want for him to be alienating people by asking questions that might close doors to a relationship. I want for my kids to be salt and light in the world, but I also want for them to be building relationships with people and demonstrating the love of Christ to others, so that they earn the right to share about Jesus. Five minutes or five days or even five months after meeting someone may be way too soon to start probing into another person’s spiritual status.

I also fear that he is using the “Are you a Christian?” question as some sort of litmus test, and that if you answer in the affirmative, you have made it “in” some sort of private club in his mind. After all, how often do we do this ourselves as adults? We feel a sense of comfort if we are around those who express or demonstrate a faith journey congruent to our own. We start to build mental categories in which those who we label as “Christian” are those around whom we feel most comfortable and spend the most time with. This strikes me as the exact opposite of what being “missional” is all about.

So here is what I have told my son, and I would love to hear what others think about this approach:

“I’m so glad that you have a heart to ask people about their spiritual lives, and to see if they know Jesus. I hope you never lose that willingness to talk about Jesus! But for some people, the topic of Jesus is challenging, either because they do not know him, or because they do not yet believe what we believe, or because they have already chosen to reject him. So when you first meet someone, if you start the relationship by asking them if they are a Christian or if they know Jesus, they might put up a wall that makes it difficult for you to really get to know them.

Instead, I’d like for you to take the time to build a friendship or relationship with others, and let them see Jesus in you by how you act, speak, and treat them and others. Let them see that you have an eternal source of joy, hope, and peace inside you. Let them see what it means to act as a light in a world that can often be a dark place. Let them see you love and accept them wholeheartedly, as God loves them. And then when the time is right, you can share more about who Jesus is in your life, and what he means to you. In the end, it doesn’t matter if someone answers whether they are a Christian or not; only God can know for certain a person’s heart, and we are called to love others around us regardless of whether they are a Christ-follower or not.”

What would you add to this? Or would you take a different approach? I’m eager to hear your thoughts as always!

14 Comments on “My Son, the Jesus Freak

  1. I really like your approach with “Harry” on this topic. It’s such a unique situation to have with a child so young! It’s a great problem in comparison to what a lot of parents deal with. The issue of alienation is very legitimate, especially as you move from elementary to junior high and high school ages where kids are quickly called out for being “weird” for whatever reasons.

    How much of your perspective did Harry understand? Even at my age, which is a few times more than Harry’s, my own ability to consistently show Jesus to others through my actions, behavior, and words is challenging and difficult to live out. Your advice to your son sparks a reminder to the rest of us, too, that evangelism is more frequently about how we live vs. what “evangelism” questions we ask our friends.”

  2. You may very likely have an evangelist or theologian in training on your hands. Maybe you should go through the Bible with him to see what it says on evangelism together. And perhaps a book (you’ll have to really help) like Conspiracy of Kindness by Steve Sjogren (about going out and serving others, kind of in a random acts of kindness way). Get him involved with serving early too. Ours are only 4 and 3 and they’ve helped set up for church functions with us, and they have gone to serve with us in a local outreach. Teach kindness, empathy and service and he’ll understand eventually that being blunt may not always be the the best course (though there are times it is needed).

    I was about that age when I took sidewalk chalk and wrote Jesus is the Way, Jesus Rocks, Jesus Saves all over our driveway. My mom had a conniption as she didn’t want to offend the neighbors (she doesn’t believe in evangelism, but that’s a different topic). I think a lot of it is that children that age haven’t learned to be tactful. My 4 y.o. gave the lady at the bank what for before Easter when she asked if we were ready for the Easter Bunny. The Bugs felt the need to correct her quite loudly in the packed lobby that Easter isn’t about a bunny or candy, it is because Jesus rose from the dead. The poor woman wasn’t expecting that onslaught. Tact is a learned skill. He’ll learn it. Model it, role play it, talk about it.

  3. Helen,

    What a wonderful problem to have : )

    I think you’re handling it beautiful.

    I’m really commenting just to say I love that photo, and who wouldn’t love that boy?!

  4. I like the response by crissyanna. I would sugest teaching him what can we do to show people Jesus before telling them. Like telling him Jesus was kind so we can be kind to others and if we get a chance tell them Jesus makes me kind. Teach him atributes of Jesus and how we can model him to help others to want to know him. But I would be careful not to deny the Jesus in him and his desire to let whats in him out. Its so much going on with youth these days sometimes not being fully accepted is a good thing. I wish my son still had his excitment to talk about Jesus as he did when he was younger. You can steer it some but for the most part let him be. He looks like a bright guy that is gonna natrually stand out from the crowd. Dont worry about friends just make opportunities for him to make them he will make some. Not everyone makes lots of friends. My mother always told me one good friend is better than a bunch of friends and none thats really there when you need them the most. He will learn the more opportunities you give him dont worry. You are an awesome mom and he is an awesome kid we need more like you guys these days.

  5. You know it could be as simple as he heard an alter call at church and it touched his heart and he is imitating what he experienced or looks up to someone like you and trying to do the same. Its been my experience that boys tend to learn behavior through modeling those they respect or look up to.

  6. You know I have a seven year old daughter who does this very same thing. I often pray with my daughters that they will always be bold for the Lord. I guess when I pray bold, I mean no matter the cost. Of course a mother never wants her child to be alienated and of course we should teach all of the things you have, but I never want to squash that unabashed love or boldness for Christ either.

    Are our kids ever too young to understand there may be a price for following & preaching? This is a hard one.

  7. She doesn’t believe in evangelsim, but that is another issue. Maybe not.

    Maybe mom’s lack of comfort with what the boy is doing really is a result of being influenced by a virulently secular culture. I have a very hard time imagining just going up to someone and asking if they know Jesus, but I have friends who do it successfully very often. I have been trained in secularism, pluralism, and lots of men’s philosophy. They have many souls to their credit. I’d rather be them.

    Secondly, everyone can see that it is a child who is speaking. Artlessness is authenticity at seven! Maybe mom’s nuances really are not developmentally appropriate for son.

    Rejoice! Your boy has got it! He understands the gospel and he cares! Be careful not to stomp down the wonderful seeds that are planted in this wonderful strong man to be.”

  8. Let him speak- not all 9 year olds are like this, not even in my country where we are free to talk about Jesus, worship in schools, in the workplace etc. It’s his gift.

    I don’t think we’d be too worried if he was approaching others asking whether they liked the latest Playstation game. Fact is, being a Christian already causes some separation from the world even though we’re in it- bible calls us a peculiar people.

    I find that kids bring others to church (and hopefully onwards to Christ) far more easily than adults. Out of the mouth of babes…..

  9. You know, I didn’t even think of the alienation issue in a larger social sense…I suppose that is one good thing about the homeschooling experience, you don’t have as many opportunities to feel that way! I was, though, thinking that the friendships would only go so far if he made others feel uncomfortable in some way. I am not quite sure how much he understands of what I have said, but I do think it is a careful balance because neither do I want to squelch his desire to talk about Jesus with others! Thanks so much for your comment. =)

  10. Don’t you just love the honesty and open faith of children?? =) In some ways, we can certainly learn from them as they haven’t built up the barriers to expressing their faith that we have usually built in ourselves over time by the time we are adult. Thanks so much for the reminder that tact is a learned skill; I am certainly still learning it myself. =) You know one funny fact about the word “evangelism”? It isn’t in the Bible. I tried to find it a few years ago when writing about this topic. Nowhere to be found! It’s a word that the church has developed over time to explain the processes and programs of leading people to Christ. In biblical times, they just did this so naturally that the word was unnecessary! =) But I do like your idea about bringing more Scripture in the conversation, and I’ll also check out the book you mentioned! Blessings!”

  11. LOL! Yes, that was one of his wackier photos. Seemed to fit the post’s title. =)

    And yes, thanks for that good reminder, that it’s not a bad problem to have at all! Mostly I worry about how I’m handling it! =)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Interesting ideas, Shantel! I’m not quite sure where he’s picked it up; we talk a great deal about Jesus, certainly, in our house, and how being a Christian is supposed to make a difference in how we live. He is probably getting to an age in which he is not just blindly accepting his faith but also questioning it and trying to understand why everyone isn’t a Christian. It seems like a totally normal process to be going through, but as he is my eldest, it’s a mystery to me how to respond so that I help him develop more tact (as Chrissyanna mentions above) but not snuffing the fire I’m so glad he has as you mention! I really appreciate your input, thank so much for the comment!

  13. Sharon, you make some very good points. I am completely aware that my uncertainty may entirely be due to different cultural influences in my own life; and while I know that a child my son’s age is not going to understand how to speak in a nuanced way, at the same time I want to help him understand that there are ways to talk about Jesus without alienating his audience. So I want to walk the careful balance between encouraging this wonderful streak of wanting to tell people about Jesus, as well as with the sensitivity to the feelings and experiences of others. I believe that both proclamation and the demonstration of the Gospel are important, and that’s something I want my son to learn, and to embrace both sides of what it means to evangelize. I appreciate your input!

  14. I’m glad to hear other kids are like my son! And you know, if I had a choice, I would want my kids to learn at a young age that there is a cost to discipleship. For so many Christians, the Christian life feels like a watered-down, cheap-grace version of what we’re being called to do. I think if children understand even when they are young that following Jesus is not the easy way, that is a good truth to imprint on them. I think I am worried less about my son feeling alienated from others, and more that he will unknowingly build walls between himself and others that could have been fruitful relationships. But at the same time, I don’t want him to ever lose the courage and boldness! Like so many aspects of the Christian life, it feels almost like a paradox of sorts! Thanks for your comment–glad to know there are other “housewives in Naperville” who are asking the same sorts of questions! =)”

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