By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—Ninety percent of conversions (from those who are not Christians and then become Christians) occur by the age of 24, Art Murphy told around 50 children’s ministry leaders on May 21.
Fifty percent of these conversions happen before the person is 12 years old!
“That means there is only about six years that this will happen, and it happens in one’s childhood,” he stressed. Murphy went on to say that statistics indicate that most conversions (16.7 percent) occur at the age of 12 than any other age.
Murphy, who served 17 years as children’s ministry pastor of First Church in Orlando, Fla., was the keynote speaker for a training event sponsored by the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Murphy has ministered to over 2,000 children, led a staff of 725 volunteers (starting with just 67) and saw more than 1,300 children came to Christ during his ministry in Orlando.
He currently serves as president of Arrow Ministries, which assists parents, churches and childhood educators in raising strong, happy, purposeful children, who honor the Lord with their lives.
Murphy shared that of those children around 7½ years old, most tend to make the decision again later, “if they are brave enough,” to receive Christ. In an informal survey, he asked his listeners how many had professed Christ at an early age, but later made an official decision later. Nearly 40 percent responded they had.
Though most churches treat four-year olds and fourth graders the same, Murphy noted that there are different stages in a child’s faith.
Using the Parable of the Sower, which Jesus taught to the disciples, he explained the four stages:
The first is the discovering phase, for children from birth to age five, when it is all about the child’s feelings and preparing the soil.
“It’s not about the sower—us, it’s about the soil. We have to remove the junk because soil only is fertile in one place,” shared Murphy, referencing Matt. 13. “Sometimes, as ministers, we are going to ministered to all the soils (the hard path, the plant that burns up quickly, the thorns that choke out the plant, or the good soil, which produces great fruit). “Our job as the farmer is to prepare the soil and remove the rocks.”
“In the preschool years, it’s all about the feelings. If you love children, they know it,” he said, pointing to how one can see how a baby feels by the way the baby moves his toes. Are they clenched? Or are they dancing?
Preschool children pay particular attention to the look in people’s eyes and the tones of their voices, he said.
The second phase is the discerning phase, for children ages 4-8, when it is all about gathering facts and planting seeds.
At this point, children are starting to sort out things and are asking questions, such as, what happens when you die? Where is heaven?
“Sometimes we’re the surrogate parents spiritually,” he shared, cautioning against being fearful about the questions, “These first questions are like kicks in the womb, not labor pains!”
These kids are naturally curious, and if they’re comfortable, they’ll tell you anything, he said.
The next phase is the deciding phase, for children ages 7-12, when it is all about the faith and protecting the growing seeds.
Murphy said that research indicates that kids aren’t ready to accept Christ when they first start asking questions, even though many excited parents automatically assume that they are.
“Let’s not think when they start asking that it’s already done,” he challenged. “God is in the rebirthing process, and we are assisting them.”
He noted that when children think they already know everything, they don’t go any further. They need to have faith in what they don’t know.
He also cautioned that this a critical time when spiritual warfare usually takes place. Some kids may take a turn for the worse, may make bad decisions or otherwise wrestle against the darkness right before they make a decision for Christ.
The final stage is the discipling stage, for children ages 10 and up, when it is all about being faithful and pruning away the things not of God.
“More habits and memory are done in the childhood years,” shared Murphy, pointing to how mathematical tables, grammar rules and scriptures are learned in this critical time while their brains are developing.
He urged his listeners to ensure they allow adequate time to disciple their children and to remove the stumbling blocks in their lives.
Murphy also shared ways to discern that a child is not ready to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. When a child puts away the “preschool trinity” (Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy), she may be quick to discount Jesus, too. Explain the difference between the real and the pretend, he said.
He also said that children may have a curiosity about Jesus, but they haven’t yet experienced a conviction of the truth. Kids may also believe that being good (or having good works) is what it takes to get to heaven. Gently teach the truth while waiting for God to move in their lives.
Murphy encouraged, “After a child’s first prayer to Jesus, other things later seal that process. Later, the light bulbs come on. Sometimes that happens six weeks to two years after the first prayer or the first question.”
He added, “It doesn’t matter how good you are or how good your presentation is, sometimes the Holy Spirit has not opened their eyes yet.” He suggested the children’s leaders ask the children if something they are teaching makes sense to them.
“If they say, ‘Not really,’ just reply, ‘It will one day,’” he smiled.
To learn more or to purchase books written by Murphy, visit online at www.arrowministries.com
or contact June Holland, BCM/D missionary for preschool/children, VBS and weekday education, at (800) 290-5290, ext. 233 or at [email protected].