At SU Scotland we are passionate about helping children and young people explore the Bible and respond to the significance of Jesus. Here, Wendy Strachan, Children's Ministry Coordinator with SU International, explores what it means to respond, particularly for children, and helps us understand what an "appropriate response" might look like.

Responding -to -the -Good -News

Jesus invited people to follow him in ways that respected each person and the choices they made. Partnering with God in encouraging children and young people to respond thoughtfully to God's good news takes courage and integrity - and the willingness to be surprised by the journey.

Appropriate responses to the gospel require appropriate presentations of the gospel

This might seem like an obvious thing to say but it is such an important starting place. When we present the good news about Jesus, we must do it in a way that is appropriate. If we ask inappropriate questions, we will get inappropriate answers!

We are inviting children to respond to a person not to a doctrine

We present the gospel as an invitation to follow Jesus, an invitation to belong, to believe and to become like Jesus.

This is the Jesus who understands who I am, who wants to be my friend, who died to make that possible, who took my place; Jesus, who understands fear and bullying and abuse and evil, invites me to be on his side, but doesn't pretend it's easy.

The "non-negotiables" in presenting the gospel are Jesus' love and forgiveness and a brand new start.

Now if this is the good news, then what does it mean to respond appropriately?

The parable of the Sower and the Seed helps us to understand that different people have different levels of 'preparation' for the gospel - and that's true of children.

We can help by making every effort to communicate the gospel in contemporary language and in ways appropriate to the context. We can encourage children to follow Christ in ways that are appropriate to their age, culture and background, taking special account of their home and family situation and level of maturity. (Scripture Union's Aims, Beliefs and Working Principles).

Every person is different. Encourage response - don't decide what it must be

It is dangerous pride for me to think that I can decide if and when a child should respond - this is the work of the Holy Spirit. So we invite people (young or old) to respond to what he is doing in their lives and guard against calling for superficial responses.

Every time a child receives information or has an experience of God, he or she is making a response. My responsibility, as I work alongside, is not to decide whether or not a response has been made but to discover what kind of response it is.

I need to remember that it is not about winning a child over to my point of view. Rather, I'm presenting, as faithfully as I can, the good news. And I'm sharing my experience of Jesus.

Questions and conversations

Presenting the gospel should be part of a conversation. An appropriate response is more likely when we - and the young person - are free to be ourselves. As we chat to children, spend time with them and listen to them we can find ourselves in a position to ask and answer questions. Those questions might arise from real life, the movies, football or natural disasters. Whatever the starting point, we can present stories which show Jesus as the answer.

Good news conversations…

  • avoid jargon and assumptions
  • are about listening
  • invite children into a relationship (adopted into the family, becoming a friend of God) - with all the uncertainties of what that relationship may hold
  • make clear that there is a choice to be made - and where possible, frame it as a story rather than a sermon
  • allow for responses which are "no" or "not yet"
Appropriate responses may not be the ones you had ever imagined

Let God do what God does - and be amazed at the privilege of partnership.

You are inviting the young person into a relationship - an adventure - a journey. It is a relationship of the child becoming more like Jesus.

Response which leads to action

We emphasise that faith should always lead to action and to growth in Christian character and service.

Following Jesus is not a one-off response but a lifetime of responding - a long obedience in the same direction. Followers of Jesus are his representatives. They look at the world differently. They live out different values. They take risks for the sake of the gospel. Appropriate responses grow up with the child. Are we inviting young people to love justice, to do mercy and to walk humbly with their God?

This article is adapted from a workshop presented by Wendy Strachan at the SU Scotland Team Leaders' Conference held at Lendrick Muir in January 2012, and appears in the Summer 2012 edition of our @SU Magazine.