For most, the statement that the gospel matters for toddlers lacks a sense of immediacy. This seems more suitable for older children and adults. However, this perspective reveals a common underlying problem. The problem is that information transfer is seen as the primary method of bringing people to Christ. In other words, you tell someone about Christ and hope they will respond. The person to whom you are speaking is the one who holds the cards. Your role is ultimately passive.
Biblically, the spread of the gospel is more appropriately tied to the imagery of search and rescue in a time of war. The setting is not one of communication of information in a time of peace. In Matthew 28 Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Then, he instructs his followers to make disciples of all the nations. Christ does not say to give information about the gospel, he simply says to make disciples. In the first chapter of Colossians Paul says that we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light. This passage describes rescuing people from imminent danger. These two passages call to mind the classic warfare waged between light and darkness. This is how we should consider Christ’s command to bring the gospel to all nations. The Scriptures do not paint a picture of asking someone’s permission to tell them about Jesus Christ. Rather, the picture is of someone committed to a mission of searching for and rescuing the lost. This mission defines life itself for those who undertake it.
What does this have to do with toddlers? Parents who view presenting the gospel as primarily information transfer will lack a sense of urgency. I do not mean that this parent is unconcerned about the spiritual condition of his child. He may be deeply concerned. However, seeing the presentation of the gospel as transfer of information means waiting for when the child is willing to engage in this transfer. The parent who sees the presentation of the gospel as one of search and rescue will have an immediate sense of urgency. Thus, even before the toddler can speak, he will be interacting with parents who sees the gospel as the most important reality of life. This child will hear his parents passionately talking to others about the gospel. He will hear his own actions explained in terms of his need of the gospel even before he can articulate a response. He will see and hear that his parents are driven by truths that transcend the temporal. This is the process outlined in Deuteronomy 6. The very thoughts of God, revealed in Scripture, are graven into the hearts of this toddler’s parents. These parents are gripped by God’s call to rescue the lost. This mission defines these parents. This is an immense blessing to our toddler. He is being raised by parents whose mission in life coincides with God’s purpose for each day. That purpose, at least in part, is to bring honor to his great name through the rescue of the lost.
Practically this toddler will hear often of the wonder of Jesus Christ. His parents will see his sin as an opportunity to present the gospel to him and not merely to correct his behavior. He will live in a home that is focused on the wonder of a God who forgives sins. This focus leads to joy. Joy comes from the reality that Jesus is our effective and loving high priest. Living for the gospel means living with joy.
So, when this toddler spills a cup of milk because he is still learning how to handle a cup, he is not scolded. His parents speak lovingly and reassuringly to him. They help him learn to handle the cup with more precision. He knows that he is more valuable than spilt milk. He is lovingly disciplined when he sins, but he is also lovingly embraced when he acts like a 2 year old. He is on the road to knowing what it means to be loved and being secure. The gospel matters to his parents. In time, Lord willing, the gospel will also matter to him.