Profile of the Evangelistic Home – Joel Beeke

Here is a transcript of an exceptional message given by Joel Beeke during the White Unto Harvest ConferenceThe message is titled: “Profile of the Evangelistic Home.”


There are numerous church growth books and manuals flooding the market, but surprisingly few of them address internal growth through the Holy Spirit as He sovereignly blesses the raising of children in biblical truth. Yet, historically, Reformed Christians have acknowledged that their most solid, genuine church growth has been through the conversion of youth reared in the church. Charles Spurgeon wrote to Edward Payson Hammond, author of The Conversion of Children, “My conviction is that our converts from among children are among the very best we have. I should judge them to have been more numerously genuine than any other class, more constant, and in the long run more solid.” Andrew Bonar concurred and also wrote to Hammond, saying, “In awakenings that have been given us, the cases of young people have been as entirely satisfactory as any cases we have had. If conversion be God’s work, in which the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to the soul, surely His work can take place in children as really as in the old.” 

In this chapter I will speak, first, to the need to evangelize our children; second, the content of their evangelization; third, some means of evangelizing our children; and fourth, one very special means of evangelizing them.

The Need to Evangelize our Children

By “evangelize” I mean presenting the Gospel of Christ the Savior as the one thing needful in the lives of desperate sinners, including our children, praying that by Spirit-worked faith and repentance they may be drawn to God through Him, grow in Him, and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of His church and in the extension of His kingdom in the world.

Today, many professing Christians are not adequately evangelizing their children. Some parents confuse their children by living inconsistent and impure lives, while  others mislead their children by prompting premature professions of faith through the altar call system or through “easy believism,” offering verbal assurance of salvation to their children without seeing biblical fruits of salvation. Or else, they err to the other extreme by treating their children like adults in this matter, expecting too much from them as if the conversion of a child must be exactly like the conversion of an adult. On the other hand, some parents neglect their children by ignoring their spiritual needs, by not stressing the importance of the scriptural doctrines of grace, and by underestimating the challenge of our wicked and tempting times, while others fail their children because they do not believe that God can convert them in their youth.

Thank God, however, that Christ still saves children. The children of Christians must be born again. Whatever your view of baptism, baptism is not sufficient for our children’s salvation, for  children, like adults, need the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3–7). Without the Spirit’s sovereign, saving work, all our efforts to train our children in the Lord will do no more than produce Pharisees on the one hand or rebels on the other. Thus, children must be directed to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice as the only way of salvation and taught the necessity of new, heartfelt obedience to God. We must also shepherd their hearts, teaching them daily by our words and example that they are called to holiness of heart and holiness of life. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).

The Content of the Evangelism of our Children

Your task is to teach your children the whole Gospel and counsel of God, as Paul said he did for the Ephesians (Acts 20:27). Fathers, you especially are to be as ministers in your own houses. Together with your wife, you are to serve as an instructing prophet, an interceding priest, and a guiding king. As a prophet, you must apply God’s truth to the minds and hearts of your children.

However, you may feel that this task overwhelms you. “Exactly how do I communicate these truths to my children?” you ask. Here are some specific doctrines you should stress with your children:

1. Teach them Who God is. Use the Scriptures to proclaim God’s glorious attributes to your children. Tell them God is holy and full of mercy to rebellious sinners, not a buddy who can adjust His attributes to our desires.

2. Teach them the seriousness of sin. Explain to them that we fell with Adam so that we have a bad nature through inward corruption and a bad record as lawbreakers against God.

3. Teach them what the Bible says about the penalty of sin. Teach them that sin is moral rebellion against God, and that those who persist in it will reap eternal condemnation in Hell.

4. Teach them they must be born again (John 3:3–5). Never encourage them to feel that being outwardly good is sufficient in God’s eyes. Set before them the basic marks of grace.

5. Teach them about the usefulness of the moral law. Explain the law’s civil use in public society, its gospel use to create a sense of need for Christ, and its didactic use to guide believers.

6. Teach them that the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Use the book of Romans and Isaiah 53 to teach that Christ is the substitute, surety, and Savior.

7. Teach them the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. Show them that to believe in the Son is to have eternal life, but not to believe in the Son is to remain under God’s wrath (John 3:36).

8. Teach them about Jesus Christ. Present the whole Christ to your child, God and Man, humiliated and exalted, Prophet, Priest, and King—the Christ Who is willing and able to save.

9. Teach them about sanctification and holiness. Talk to your children about the fruits of grace that are evident in the lives of children who are born again (Matt. 5:3–12; Gal. 5:22–23).

10. Teach them about the joy of Heaven. Focus on the blessedness of being with God, the holy angels, and all the redeemed, and of the believer finally becoming perfectly like Christ.

In all your teaching, be reverent and serious, yet natural. Let your children feel that what you speak is real. Show your love for their souls, and don’t be afraid to weep as you speak of the loveliness of Christ or warn them to flee from the wrath to come. Do not make a joke of the things of God, for Life is too serious, death too final, judgment too certain, and eternity too long to indulge in humor about the sacred truths of Scripture.

The Means of Evangelizing Our Children

Now, parents are primarily responsible for the evangelism of their children, and as God works through means, let me outline some means by which parents lead an evangelistic home.

1. Praying for Your Children. “A family without prayer is like a house without a roof, open and exposed to all the storms of Heaven,” said Thomas Brooks. Thus, we need to pray for and with our children. We must pray habitually in our daily devotions, we must pray spontaneously whenever we feel so moved, we must pray specifically for our children’s spiritual needs, and we must pray earnestly. Blessed are those children who can later say, “The prayers of my God-fearing father and mother kept me from much sin and led me to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Catechizing Your Children. Parental catechizing is almost a lost art today, to the great harm of families and churches. John J. Murray writes, “We believe it is to the discontinuance of this practice [of catechizing] that we can trace much of the doctrinal ignorance, confusion and instability so characteristic of modern Christianity.” At least once a week, sit down with your children for a half hour to memorize and discuss a sound Reformed catechism. You could use the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, or a catechism based on these catechisms, such as that of John Brown or Matthew Henry. Remember, though, that catechizing is not lecturing. Question, re-question, correct, explain, encourage, guide, and review with your catechists, while mixing your teaching with metaphors, similes, acrostics, parallelisms, and various mnemonics to make doctrine stick and come alive.

3. Conversing with Your Children. Spiritual conversation should be done in regular times of family worship and teaching, but also spontaneously through the process of everyday life (Deut. 6:7). Begin each day with Scripture and prayer together as a family. In an age when many families do not spend time at home, consider reserving at least one evening per week to help keep the family close to God and each other. When we walk with our children or ride somewhere with them in the car, we have wonderful opportunities to instruct them about God and the way to live. Bedtime in particular is a special time to talk with your children, read to them, be reconciled to each other, thank God for the day’s blessings, and pray for God’s forgiveness and grace.

4. Modeling Godliness for Your Children. If we would have godly children, they must see God’s character in our lives. “God cannot resist a parent’s prayer when it is sufficiently backed up with a parent’s sanctification,” wrote Alexander Whyte. Besides the Bible, our lives are the most important book our children will ever read, and children will instinctively feel whether we approach God with eager expectation or out of a mere sense of duty. They will see how we respond to affliction. They also watch our marriages and can sense whether we really enjoy being with them. They will learn how we honor authority behind closed doors, and they will test Christianity in us, asking such questions as, Is the Christian life worth living?

Prayer, catechism, conversations, and modeling are all major means by which God shapes the lives of the children of godly parents. Yet there is another means, and it is of such significance that I reserved it for last.

Evangelizing Our Children through Family Worship

Like Abraham, you must lovingly but firmly command your household to worship God (Gen. 18:19). Be determined, like Joshua, to serve and worship God daily in your family (Josh. 24:15). As head of the household, gather your family at least once a day for Scripture reading, biblical instruction, prayer, and singing.

Here are some helps on how to implement these four aspects of family worship:

Scripture-reading. Have a reading plan to cover the entire Bible with your family over a period of a year or two. Take into account special occasions, and allow for special readings for holidays, trips, etc. Involve the family so that everyone who can read does read sometimes, and provide a brief word of explanation when needed before, during, or after the reading.

Biblical instruction. When you teach, be pure in doctrine (Titus 2:7). Don’t abandon doctrinal precision when teaching even young children, but rather aim for simplicity and soundness by majoring on the basics. Teach your children the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed as a preparation for further instruction. Also, use books like J. C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Be plain in meaning. Encourage questions, and draw them out, asking your children questions appropriate to their varying ages. Be experiential and relevant in application, as well as affectionate in manner. Reach down into the world of your children using concrete, not abstract, concepts. Require your children’s full attention because God’s truths demand a hearing. You have matters of life and death and eternity to convey.

Prayer. Be plain without becoming shallow; be natural and yet solemn; be direct yet varied. Come before God with adoration and dependence as a family, invoking Him properly, making mention of His name, and referencing perhaps one or two of His attributes. Confess family sins and ask for forgiveness, plead for mercies, and intercede for family friends. Offer thanksgiving for mercies already received, and conclude by blessing God for what He is in Himself and for what He has done for your family, with a final plea for pardon for Christ’s sake.

Singing. Introduce your children to the songs of Zion. The Psalms speak to the heart of every believer and cover the whole range of Christian experience. In addition, sing songs that emphasize core truths of the Gospel, and that are rich for devotion, instruction, or admonition. Encourage habits of good singing such as good posture, proper use of the voice, and clear diction. Remind your children that they are singing portions of God’s Word which should be handled with reverence and care, and pray with them for grace in the heart so that they may sing to the Lord as He commands in His Word (Col. 3:16).

Richard Cecil said that family worship should be “short, savory, simple, tender, Heavenly.” Remember that God requires such family worship, the Lord Jesus is worthy of it, Scripture demands it, conscience approves it, and children profit from it.

Heed the advice of J. W. Alexander, who wrote, “Fly at once, with your household, to the throne of grace.” Beg the Lord to bless your feeble efforts and save your children, and plead with Him to take your children into His arms for all eternity.

Conclusion

John Paton served as a missionary over a century ago to a cannibalistic people in the islands of the south Pacific Ocean. Those islanders killed and ate the missionaries who had preceded Paton shortly after their arrival. But although Paton faced enormous difficulties and sorrows he persevered in the name of Christ. One earthly means by which God prepared him for his labors was his father in Scotland.

In later years Paton remembered how his father would daily go into a private room, “and we children got to understand . . . that prayers were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most High Place.” The Paton children could sometimes hear their father’s voice full of emotion, pleading for them before the throne of grace.

Paton also remembered of his father how, “when, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in family worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love Him as our divine Friend.” When John Paton left their rural home to study theology, his father walked several miles with him on the way to the train station. At their parting, his father prayed and wept, and Paton later wrote, while reflecting back on this experience, “I vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me.”

May God grant that you and I become evangelistic, praying, and loving parents like that!

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