Why I Don’t Lead Children in the Sinners Prayer

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Yesterday afternoon I sat on my front porch with a girl who attends Church regularly, and shared the Gospel using a flip chart of God’s Bridge to Eternal Life (one of my favorite tracts).  The last page has a picture of man’s side (in sin) and God’s side (saved) and after explaining the ONLY WAY to get to God’s side is believing in Jesus I asked her “Stephanie (not her real name) which side are you on right now?”  Slowly she reached out and pointed to mans side.

This actually didn’t surprise me since even though Stephanie knew all of the Bible answers, I had never heard her give a clear testimony of Salvation.  And the truth is five or six other children who regularly visit faced with the same question would tell me they were going to hell.  My response to that answer has changed quite a bit since coming to Barrouaillie a year ago.

When I began ministering to children a confession they were going to hell would lead to a clearer presentation of the Gospel, and encouragement to accept Christ. The Lord has since showed me this response leads to a prayer, but rarely genuine belief.

Last summer while washing bottles for VBS I had a conversation with Stephanie’s brother that went something like this:

  • Me:  Have you ever accepted Jesus as your Savior?
  • Him:  Yes I have
  • Me:  That’s great!  Could you tell me about it?
  • Him:  Well I prayed a prayer
  • Me:  What did you tell God in that prayer?
  • Him:  I don’t remember
  • Me:  Oh okay, so can you tell me anything about the day when you prayed that prayer?
  • Him:  (after telling me three separate stories about it) No I guess not

Now it is possible that this child is genuinely saved.  But the fact that he can’t tell me about the prayer or what led to it leads me to believe he’s one of the many children who “prayed a prayer” and believed it saved him when it hadn’t.

One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in children’s ministry is leading them in whats sometimes referred to as a “sinners prayer.”  This is where any children who want to accept Jesus are encouraged to pray after me, and then are told if they truly meant that they are saved.  While it IS POSSIBLE for children to be saved after doing this experience teaches us most haven’t accepted Christ.

There are a few reasons for this

  1. They pray because everyone else is doing it
  2. They are praying because they can tell I want them to do it
  3. Or their minds don’t fully comprehend what it means to believe in Jesus

So I’ve stopped leading children in the sinners prayer…

because my greatest fear is they will stand before God someday and their reason for entering Heaven is “I prayed a prayer with Mr. John” instead of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Instead of praying with them I tell the children “when you are ready to accept Jesus as your Savior you come see Mr. John.”  This helps ensure the Holy Spirit is the one who draws them, and Salvation is a choice THEY MAKE instead of one I force upon them.

It’s true that this makes Salvation difficult (a big step of commitment for the child) but in my personal opinion this brings greater glory to God.  I would rather have one boy or girl who seeks me out and asks to receive Jesus than ten or fifteen whose Salvation I have doubts about.

I’m not saying that isn’t frustrating because it definitely is.  There are many children in Barrouaillie who are VERY CLOSE to accepting Jesus, but don’t quite understand what it means to believe in Him yet.  One boy in particular will literally stretch out his arms as a symbol of Christ dying on the cross when I ask him what Jesus did for us, but when I ask what belief means he responds “telling God your sorry.”

It would be so easy for me to say that’s “close enough” and pray that someday the Lord would help him understand Salvation involves more than just repentance, but what if that doesn’t happen?  What if he spends eternity separated from Christ because I said “close enough?”

Yesterday I explained to Stephanie that someday God would convict her heart of sin, and show her need of Jesus, and on that day told her to come find me.  “Any day?” she asked looking up at me with large brown eyes, with all my heart I wanted to lead her to Christ right then and there, but because it had to be HER CHOICE all I did was smile and say “yes Stephanie any day.”

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