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  Children's Ministry Today    

Today's Featured Article

Understanding Your Child's Spiritual Development  (Part 1 of 3)
                  Paul Heidebrecht


As Christian parents, we want our children to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and to have a personal relationship with Him. But we cannot give our adult faith directly to our small children, because they are not yet ready for it. Spiritual development--like physical, emotional, and intellectual development--is a gradual process with definite stages.

We can most effectively guide our children to Jesus if we understand how the stages of spiritual development work.


This is the age of beginnings. Spiritual learning begins here, before your child can walk, talk, or even sit up. If she is to be emotionally healthy, your child must know first of all that you love her. The feeling of being loved will also provide the foundation for her understanding of the biblical truth that God loves her.

As an infant, your child can learn what it means to trust. If she can trust her parents for her basic needs, she will someday also be able to trust God for her spiritual needs. Your ability to show your child gentleness, love, patience, and firmness may determine how she responds to God later in life.

Ages 2-3.

Your child believes most of what he hears, and he will certainly be open to spiritual truths. Because you converse with him in words, you can introduce some simple but significant spiritual truths.

He cannot understand symbols such as the "lost sheep" or the "bread of life." Nor can he understand spiritual concepts such as man's sinful nature, the Trinity, or that Jesus is both God and man. However, he will understand such concepts as love, trust, forgiveness, and the consequences of sinful actions-if they are related to everyday experiences with which he is familiar.

Your child can know that God is the Creator and that He is all-powerful, perfect, and our provider. He can know that God is a real person who loves and cares about him, even when he is bad. Your child can begin to say his own prayers when he is about three years old. He can begin to express his own love for God the Father and Jesus.

Your child can identify with Jesus as a real person and as Someone who wants to be his best friend. He can know that Jesus is loving and caring and that He came to earth a very long time ago as a baby, grew up as a boy, and became a man. He can know that Jesus died on the cross, though he will not understand all the implications, and he can know that Jesus took our punishment for the bad things we do. He will not understand death very well, however.

Your child can learn that the Bible is God's Book and that it teaches us how to obey Him. It also teaches us all we know about God and Jesus. He can understand and enjoy certain stories from the Bible if they are told on his level. Get your child into the Bible. Bible storybooks are a good start. Show him a picture and build the story (on his level) around it, using your own words.

Pray with your child. Encourage him to pray. Have two kinds of prayer times-­established times, such as at bedtime, and spontaneous times. Teach your child that praying is a natural and enjoyable way to talk to God. Prayer pleases God, because He wants us to talk to Him. There will be times when your child is tired and cranky and may not want to pray with you. It is better not to force him to knuckle under but to be an example and to pray yourself. Remember, your child is a great imitator.

Ages 4-5

Your child at four and five can think of God in a personal way. She understands that God is perfect and the Creator. She senses God's greatness and wonder. She can associate God with things that are good, true, and beautiful. It cannot be emphasized enough, however, that much of your child's concept of God the Father is related to her relationship with you. Can she trust you? Can she depend on your love and discipline? Do you show love to her in spite of her short­comings? If you can say yes to these questions, then you have profoundly helped your child develop a better sense of who God is.

Your child can deal with Jesus as a personal friend. She can understand that Jesus is God's Son, but she will not understand the concept of the Trinity.

At this age, she is gaining a deeper understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Her conscience is emerging. She can know her wrong actions are sin in God's eyes. She can feel sorry for her sin and confess it. If you have expressed genuine forgiveness of her wrongdoings, she can better experience God's forgiveness. She needs to understand that God loves her even when she is bad.

Your child at age four or five can become a Christian in the true sense of the word, but let her grow into this in her own time. Too many parents have pushed their children into a decision for Christ when the children were neither ready intellectually nor spiritually. A child will often come to the Lord gradually without being able to identify a specific moment of decision.

The Bible can and should become an interesting and important book for your child. The Living Bible is easy to read, and your son or daughter will be able to understand much of the narrative. A picture Bible storybook is also excellent. Cultivate a time each day for Bible reading with your child. This will do much toward developing her love for the Word.

Your child can worship in a very real sense. She is naturally fascinated by new things she discovers each day. When her fascination and wonder are directed toward an appreciation of God and His greatness, worship becomes very natural and real for her. She may not understand God's invisibility, but she believes she can talk to Him. Singing and praising God is natural for your child. She loves rhythms and action songs. Sing along with her-she'll be delighted.

Part 1  -  Part 2  -  Part 3
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