Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already. - C.S. Lewis
Student ministry was good for my husband and I in so many ways. There were, and still are, incredible rewards of watching kids grow in their love and understanding of the Lord, following after Him to their secular jobs, or their Christian jobs, or for some, even off to the ministry or mission - field. We had direct access into speaking into the lives of kids. I got to witness my husband teach and plead to God for souls of students walking through our doors each week. We were able to see the ins and outs of what ministry looked like. (Whether that's good or bad, you decide.)
We saw it from different perspectives, too. We viewed it on the front lines as a student pastor / wife. We had the outside perspective when we traveled on the road and went in and out of churches. I saw it on the front lines over 8 weeks of youth camps when I served on staff.
If there is one thing we learned for sure it was this: Not all kids (teenagers, adults or elderly) who think they are saved really are. To add to that, we often found that these were the ones who seemed furthest from the reach of the Gospel.
I laugh as I write that because it's untrue and true at the same time. God, of course can call to Himself anyone and everyone at any time that He so chooses, and my perspective is incredibly, horribly foggy. In fact, I may very well be blind in reference to knowing what God plans to do in or with someone's life. That even goes for my own. My saying that those who think they are saved seem furthest from reach comes from the fact that a key part of salvation is the realization that one is in need of a Savior.
We had a lot of kids walk through student ministry, or we watched a lot of kids walk through other student ministries or in and out of camp meetings, who knew they weren't Christians but they recognized their need for something. Hubs and I would often comment that these such individuals were, "Right there..." (picture us squeezing our fingers just as close to touching as possible... thiiiiis close.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have two types of kids:
Type 1: The do good / be good / talk good = must be good kid. Typically they've grown up in a Christian home, they've made good choices, they do good works, and sometimes they may serve well at church, but ask them their salvation experience and the air gets foggy.
Type 2: Here's the kid with the 'salvation' experience story. (Not to stereotype, because this is by all means not always true, but the story probably takes place at revival or student camp or somewhere of the like. VBS as a young kid may also be a key player.) Sadly, the salvation experience was a long time ago, and the lifestyle change has been minimal to non-existent. This kid says he's a Christian in one turn and lives like the world in the next. He / she also isn't the one to be declaring the Gospel much outside of a church setting.
These kids were often the kids that kept me up at night. They were the ones in which my heart pled to the Lord, "Please remove the scales from their eyes." I begged God for that critical first step of recognizing their fallenness. These were the ones that I felt God would so quickly save if they had any realization that they needed saving!
And I've carried that into my life with own kids.
Frankly - I prefer not to have child 1 or 2 listed above. If I'm choosing, I want a child saved at 5 (B is nearing 5.5...) who lives like Jesus and loves like Jesus all the days of his / her life, but if I had to choose 1 or 2 above... I'd rather my kid not be confused about their salvation, and it's the ultimate reason that we DO NOT tell our kids that Jesus lives in their hearts. He doesn't.
In their current state they are sinners. They are fallen. They are void of the Holy Spirit. It sounds harsh. I get that. In fact, my eyes tear up a little bit typing it. I long for the day that they come to know the Lord, follow Him, and His Holy Spirit indwells them guides them throughout their lives, but that is not now.
We've seen it happen, we jumble the lines until they are complete jargon to kids. We tell kids, in love and with good intentions, that Jesus lives in their heart, and then, be it weeks, months, or years later, they hear us say, "Come, invite Jesus into your heart and be saved," and the natural response is, "Well, been there done that."
Where do we come up with this lingo anyway? I could soapbox here, but I won't.
So as we have it, we are that family. We are the family who cringes when someone tells our kids (or any kids, for that matter) that Jesus lives in their hearts apart from a salvation experience. I am the one that will go as far as to immediately correct this for my own kids by reiterating to them that Jesus does send His Holy Spirit to live within us after He saves us, but that it only happens if we are saved.
B, just the other day, said something that familiarly echoed Paul's words, but there was a stark difference. He said, "I really want to do the right thing, but sometimes I don't even know what the right thing is." Paul, of course, knew the right thing because the Holy Spirit dwelled within him. B does not have that full advantage right now, so I took the opportunity to gently explain to him that when Jesus saves us and gives us the Holy Spirit, the right thing is much easier for us to see. I then explained, for now, that we can read the Bible to see what God says and listen to Godly counsel, mostly from mom and dad, at this point.
Laced in good intentions, I fear we've tried to protect our kids from the gritty truths of salvation. For salvation to happen there has to be a need for salvation... the need being that we are all sinners, that sin separates us from God (and not just in the large empty chasm realm... God requires sin be punished. Hell is often left out of this conversation.), and that someone had to pay the price for such punishment. I'm a firm believer that until you can really recognize sin for what it is and what it's consequences really are in your life, why would you have any need or desire to deeply love and follow someone you've never seen, met or experienced?! And if we keep putting the "Jesus lives in your heart" sticker all over the foundational faith of our children, will they ever realize a God that's just and angry over their sin, and the deep love of Jesus (God Himself) who paid the ultimate price to take that sin away? I fear not.
Ultimately - God will save whom He will at the proper time in the correct context. My goal for my own children is to be age appropriate in relating to them their need for a Savior and to create an environment of truth that would pave a clearer path towards a faith response, if God so wills.
My prayer is that my words would be theologically sound, age appropriate and would lead my children to The Truth. I'm realizing that speaking so may require me to unlearn many 'Christian' sayings I've accumulated over the years.