To work with a boy in leading him to a decision for Christ is a very different matter from working at him. It is well to bear in mind at all times that the boy himself knows the difference almost intuitively. To work with a boy is to enter into his own way of doing things, and into his own boyhood thinking. To work at him is to ignore everything but that which you presume is his need, and to take no account of the ways peculiar to himself by which he is to arrive at a knowledge of his real need. “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,”-and you cannot sail dead into the wind.
In order to win a boy to Christ you must know what signiﬁcant phase of the character of Jesus will appeal most strongly to the boy with whom you are dealing. For a boy is not likely to adopt the grown-up error of looking at Christ through the smoked glass of argument. His vision so far as it goes will be clear, and positive, and quick. It will be a matter of no small moment to choose what phase or phases of the character of Jesus shall be brought to his view most vividly in your effort. A crown of thorns, brought from the East, was shown from the platform of a city mission school by the superintendent. Very little was said to aid in this visible demonstration of a means used in the humiliation of Jesus, but after the school session the roughest youngster in the room made his way alone to the desk.
“Say, may I look at that?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered the superintendent, “and you may take it in your hands.”
The boy rested the crown of thorns lightly on one hand and touched it here and there with the other. His mischief-breeding eyes were serious. He looked up earnestly at the superintendent, and lifted the crown to the platform table.
“Did He wear one like that?” asked the boy.
“Yes, very much like that, I think.”
“Well, if He wore a thing like that I don’t wonder He had pain!”
And the rough little boy of the streets made no mischief as he went through the crowd and out of the school that day. Here was a phase of the life of Jesus that appealed to him- a waif who was known to be brutally handled at home. And it was always through the little fellow’s knowledge of suffering that his teacher could appeal to him for Christ.
With the sophisticated intercourse of grown-folks a boy has no patience. He is direct and simple in his conversation with his companions, and he is glad when grown-folks thus deal with him. A Christian worker of experience in other lines of work attempted to talk with a bright boy concerning that boy’s relation to Christ, and to indicate how, when that relation is what it ought to be, a boy may be a veritable messenger of the gospel. He drew a somewhat impressionistic word-picture of the gain that would come to a boy through a deﬁnite union with one church or another, and talked reassuringly of the safeguards of church life. He did not start with anything the boy especially understood, or desired for himself as meeting a deep and conscious need of his growing nature. And as he went on to describe how one boy might, from that vantage ground, appeal to another, the boy began to shake his head dubiously. After a few moments of dull and pointless and unboylike appeal the misguided worker stopped for breath, having made the effort he set out to make. “Hm,” said the boy, “you’d never get ‘em that way. You’d drive ‘em off!”
On the other hand, a boy can be reached, and reached effectively, by quite another method. Christ Himself, and not the church, is the sure appeal, and the phase of Christ’s character that will best do the work must be determined and used. In this lies directness and simplicity. Mr. George H. Archibald tells the story of a boy whom he reached by a method which may seem roundabout, but which was really the shortest distance between two points. He found himself alone one evening with the athletic young son of a man in whose house Mr. Archibald was a guest. They were seated in a cozy corner of an upper hall, and Mr. Archibald felt that his opportunity had come. But how should he begin?
“Carroll,” said he, “how did the hockey go to-day?”
“Great game!” cried Carroll, enthusiastically. “We beat them, and a close ﬁght it was, too!”
And then the boy rapidly told the story of the day’s game to his genuinely interested listener.
“Did they play fair?” asked Mr. Archibald.
Carroll hesitated. “Not all, I think,” answered the boy.
“It is a great game. I am very fond of it,” continued Mr. Archibald. “It is interesting to see what games the boys play in different parts of the world. They are very different in hot countries and in Oriental countries, and yet some of them are like ours.” He told the eager boy about some of the boyhood sports of the days when Jesus was a boy. Carroll listened closely.
“Do you think Jesus played hockey?” he inquired.
“If He did,” came the answer, “I believe He must have played very well. Do you think He always played fair?”
“Yes,” said the boy with emphasis, “I do. Of course He did.”
And now Mr. Archibald thought he might draw nearer. “Carroll, do you always play fair?” he asked, smilingly.
The boy looked down, and then said very slowly, “I’m afraid I don’t. Today I tripped another fellow with my stick, and it wasn’t really an accident.”
“Carroll, would Jesus have done that?”
“No, I don’t believe He would.”
“Nor do I. And when we love Him we are not likely to want to do such things. Do you love Him?”
Here the door of that boy’s soul swung wide so that the new spirit entered in as these two, the boy and the man, talked together-not one to the other, or at the other, but together-of the Boy and Man Christ Jesus.
It is not safe to take it for granted that a boy brought up in a Christian home has ever had the Saviour deﬁnitely presented to his view. A sad thing in family life is the seeming inability of many parents to bring their children to a decision for Christ. Their parental care is what Dr. Bushnell calls the “ostrich nurture,” for as that heedless bird leaves its eggs in the sand, there to be nurtured only by the tender care of the sand itself, so such parents seem to deal with their children, making no personal and vital provision for brooding over the lives of their young. This is a possibility that must be taken into account in winning a boy to Christ. A thousand opportunities are lost because this possibility is not always recognized.
Two young men grew into a close friendship from boyhood. One was considerably older than the other, and had something to do with shaping the life course of the younger. But no word had ever been spoken by the senior partner in this friendship to the younger as to a personal confession of Christ. Indeed, why should he have spoken? Was not his friend a son of parents noted in Christian work? Was he not a faithful attendant upon divine service? He was in the way of life as a matter of course. How easily one can be mistaken in such an assumption! There came a day when the conviction grew in the mind of the youth, who was now a man, that his boy friend needed a special word from him. The impulse was sudden. They met after the morning service in the church, and while the congregation was slowly passing out they talked as they stood near one of the recessed windows.
“Tom,” said his friend, “I just wanted to say a word to you. We have been close friends in many ways, and yet I’ve never spoken with you about your relation to Christ. I cannot keep still about it any longer; yet I suppose you have often gone over the matter and know your own mind.”
“Frank, I’m glad you have spoken to me. Honestly, I’ve never given this real thought. I will now, and I’ll let you know.”
That was the end of the conversation. When the two met a few days later, Tom had made a public profession of his faith in Christ.
God is with us in these things if we only try, and He gives us many an opportunity that we fail to see, just because we do not study as we might the signs of need and the ways of meeting the needs in boy life.
Chapter 1: Working With Boys
Chapter 2: Winning Boys To Christ
Chapter 3: Teaching Boys to Win Other Boys to Christ