“I’m always worried I didn’t do it right. Like, I’m scared I messed up the words when I prayed. It was like five years ago.”

These are the words of an eleven-year-old girl nervously detailing to her mother her uncertainty about being a Christian. Then she bravely musters some internal confidence. “I know Jesus is my best friend because I’ve asked him like twelve times.” Almost immediately the confidence begins to crumble. “But I’m still scared I won’t go to heaven.”

These aren’t exactly the stories we like to hear. Not only was I the children’s pastor to this young lady, I was also her dad. My parent brain sympathized with her struggle. My pastor brain immediately began problem-solving.

These words served as the tipping point for a long-simmering ministry problem I had never been able to resolve. How do we talk to kids about salvation, about being Christian, without sacrificing depth or age-appropriate understanding?

The traditional methods—the ABCs of salvation, salvation beads, and pictures of stickmen walking over canyons—all seemed to have shortcomings. They relied too much on metaphor, were difficult to remember, or communicated an intellectual study rather than a relational covenant.

I brought up the challenge to some trusted colleagues and seasoned children’s pastors with whom I was serving. It was a conversation we’d had before, and I was doubly motivated now that our long-time concern had manifested itself around my own kitchen table. We needed a new way to talk to kids about salvation.

After weeks of prayer, conversation, study, and practice we finally came up with new language by which to talk to the kids at our church about salvation, to explain what it means to be Christian, and to introduce them to Jesus. I should warn you, it’s not super creative. It doesn’t rhyme or make an acronym. It’s not three easy steps. Actually, there aren’t any steps. It’s just three simple words.

Savior. King. Friend.

That’s it. That’s the language we adopted when talking to kids about salvation. I used it in children’s church. We used it for VBS. I used it when speaking at camp. I used it around the kitchen table with my daughters.

Jesus actually is our loving Savior. He really is our all-powerful King. And he’s our real-life, perfect Friend.

I really don’t even need to explain the words to you. That’s the beauty of it. These aren’t metaphors. Jesus actually is our loving Savior. He really is our all-powerful King. And he’s our real-life, perfect Friend. For kids, breaking the gospel message down into smaller, concrete statements makes our communication so much more clear.

Jesus loves us as our Savior. He loves us as our King. He loves us as our Friend. In response, we love him as our Savior. He is our King. He is our Friend.

This language keeps the message focused on our relationship with Jesus, his love for us, and our love for him. Each word captures a different aspect of that Christian relationship. As our Savior, Jesus forgives us and gives new life. As our King, we give him our worship and obedience. As our Friend, he listens to us and is always by our side. These three words capture God’s love for us and our love for God.

When we use the language of Savior, King, and Friend, we keep the focus on our ongoing relationship with Jesus. It helps kids grasp how God feels about us each day and how we respond to him. There’s less chance of kids getting lost in a theological matrix or sweating bullets trying to say just the right words in a prayer of salvation.

Savior, King, and Friend language doesn’t discount moments of decision; it just gives kids new language for those moments while also allowing room for kids who can’t recall a time when they weren’t Christian. They can have confidence in their salvation because they know Jesus is currently their Savior, King, and Friend.

This language also provides talking points for discipleship and growth. If we just view God as our King, neglecting him as Savior and Friend, then he becomes the classic, overbearing authority figure barking out unfair instructions for us to follow. If he’s just a Friend, then we risk viewing his voice as only one of many in our lives and someone to call on only when a need arises. And if we view him only as Savior, then what need do we have for him after we’re forgiven? We need God as all three (Trinity alert)!

So how can we incorporate this language with kids? Here are few more examples:

A Christian is one who loves Jesus as her Savior, her King, and her Friend.

Would you like to have a relationship with Jesus? Just follow Jesus your Savior, King, and Friend. Love him the way he loves you. Let’s pray about it together.

If you ever have doubts about whether you are really a Christian, just ask yourself, “Do I follow Jesus as my Savior, King, and Friend?”

Need another idea for using this language in your home or ministry? The Foundry Publishing recently created a book called My Relationship with Jesus that incorporates Savior, King, and Friend language throughout. It’s a short devotional book designed to disciple kids who recently made a decision for Christ, are considering becoming Christian, or Christian kids who just want to understand their own faith a little better.

Adopting this language into your salvation messages and conversations has many more advantages we haven’t even covered, but I’m sure your mind is already beginning to overflow with the potential possibilities. One last thing: You won’t ever forget Savior, King, and Friend. After just one blog post, it’s already in your head. Imagine the potential stickiness this language will have with your kids. Imagine asking your kids what it means to be a Christian and hearing them respond with confidence: I know exactly what it means to be a Christian. It means Jesus is my Savior, King, and Friend. That’s what he is for me. I’m a Christian!