Julia Ball is the wife to Andrew, mom to Levi and pastor to a group of amazing kids! She currently serves on staff as the Children’s & Families Pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Clarenville, NL, Canada. She’s passionate about seeing all generations – but especially kids and their families – grow to understand the Gospel more and love Jesus more deeply.
As long as I’ve been ministering to kids, the topic of eternity always makes me a little squeamish. Kids ask a lot of questions about death, what happens when we die, and the afterlife. Trying to answer in a way that is developmentally appropriate, biblically sound, and won’t have them going home exclaiming “Mom! Can you believe what Pastor Julia told me tonight!?” is a challenge.
Despite it being one of those difficult topics, it’s not one we can just steer away from. In fact, I believe it’s an important topic that we need to dive into with our kids. It sets the stage for allowing them to see this life in proper perspective, motivates them to live for Jesus & share their faith, and if explained properly, can develop a great theology of suffering, challenges & patience.
I’ll be honest – this isn’t an easy topic to tackle with adults, let alone with kids! Talking about heaven and eternal life naturally means we have to talk about death – something none of us like to talk about.
Beyond that, we have to address a very abstract concept that if we’re honest, we don’t know a whole lot about it. On the surface, this may seem like a recipe for disaster discussion. But it doesn’t have to be. I believe that with the right resources and approach, we can create a theology of eternity and the afterlife in our kids that is part of vibrant and healthy faith.
So where do we begin?
The first thing that kids need to know about eternity is that much [even most] of what we believe about eternity is modeled after Jesus. We believe that Jesus being raised from the dead, and then going back to heaven with God, is the model for what will happen to those who believe in Jesus. Paul elaborates on this in his famous resurrection passage in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to how the Message Paraphrase puts verses 20-23
“But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death.”
Jesus was the first (and so far, only) person to ever conquer death – and because of Him, we can do the same! As we trust in Jesus, we can trust that death isn’t the end for us!
That is the second important thing that kids need to know – death is not the end. While here on earth, death can seem so final and tragic – especially for children – they need to have hope that this is not the end. Yes, it’s the end of life as we know it. That is important for kids to know. The promise of eternal life and heaven won’t bring back a loved one who has died, it won’t make the hurt and sadness go away completely, and it won’t make life go back to how it was before.
What this belief does however, is allow us to have hope that this life isn’t all there is! When lives are cut short, believing in eternal life (read – FOREVER life) gives us a sense of hope even in great suffering.
There are lots of Bible passages you can dive into with your kids to elaborate on this. Here are just a few of my favourites:
- John 11:25 (Jesus’ exclamation about being the Resurrection & the Life)
- Philippians 3:20-21 (Our citizenship is in heaven!)
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (Paul’s explanation of what will happen to those who’ve died)
- Revelation 14:13 (A promise for those who die that trust Jesus)
Once you’ve established these two important facts, you can start talking about the real meat of this conversation – what does life after death look like? This will probably be the part of the conversation your kids are most interested in, but it’s not the most important part. What we’ve already outlined here – that Jesus is the example, or “firstfruits” of resurrection, and that death is not the end – is what will truly give your kids hope and a healthy perspective on this life in light of eternity. Understanding what life after death looks like is important, but it must be built on a strong foundation first.
In the next Theology Thursday post, we’ll unpack the question of what life after death looks like. In the meantime, here are some resources to start the conversation with your kids:
- “How to talk to Your Kids about Death & Heaven” – What’s in the Bible?
- “Helping Children Deal with Death” – Children’s Ministry Magazine
- “How to Talk to Children about Death” – Focus on the Family
- “Someone I Love Died” (I recommend this book all the time)
- “How to Explain the Resurrection to a Child” – Christie Thomas
An original version of this post appeared on www.ministrymom.ca.