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How do you talk to kids about Santa?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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What’s the best way to talk to kids about Santa Claus? While answers may vary, most would probably agree that it starts with the kids being yours and, second, not having that conversation while they’re waiting in line at the mall to get their picture taken with the jolly old holiday icon. Apparently nobody told that to pastor David Grisham, however, as he took it upon himself to inform a mall full of children in Amarillo, Texas, that not only was Santa not real, but that their parents were “bearing false witness against God” by perpetuating that lie.

Grisham, who the Daily Mail‘s Chris Pleasance notes vowed to pull a similar stunt outside of Santa’s grotto at Park Place Mall in Arlington, Texas, has a history of denouncing Santa Claus. Apparently, the pastor played a clip of Santa “being shot by a firing squad” on his radio show at one point, and seems to believe that Santa Claus and Christ are mutually exclusive.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this event, however, is that Grisham actually had some pretty important things to say. Christmas is about Christ and should celebrate his birth before anything else. Moreover, St. Nicholas—the fourth century bishop who shared his abundant inheritance with the poor and upon whom the fictional figure of Santa Claus is based—would have great trouble with the idea that the generosity of his namesake could be separated from that of his savior.

Yet, because Grisham chose to present his message in such a combative and inappropriate way, any good he may have said most likely got lost in the anger and frustration of parents who had to explain to their kids what the strange man at the mall was talking about. Essentially, the best possible outcome from that approach is that some of the parents in line who already know Christ would have gotten the chance to discuss him with others while trying to explain away what Grisham did. While such discussions may have been part of God’s redemption of the pastor’s mistaken actions, there are better ways to spark those conversations.

While few of us might be inclined to approach evangelism in the same combative manner as Grisham, all of us make a similar mistake from time to time when we forget that the message we share is inseparably linked to the manner in which we share it. When our actions don’t line up with those of Christ, then the degree to which our words do simply doesn’t matter.

In John 13, Jesus opens the final teaching before his arrest by telling the disciples “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35). Jesus needed his followers to know that the only way they could carry on his ministry was if they modeled his love as well as his teachings. Divorcing the two, in either direction, would cripple their ability to grow the kingdom and bring people into a loving relationship with God.

Far too many Christians, myself included, forget that truth from time to time. We either share the truth without love and in a manner that leads to condemnation rather than correction, or we forgo the truth because it seems unloving and judgmental to point out people’s sin. Those two errors are just different sides of the same sin, however, and both lead people further away from the Father. So this Christmas season, remember to make the baby of Bethlehem the focus rather than Santa Claus, gifts, or any of the other, often good, things that tend to take precedence. But, at the same time, do so with love and patience for those who may have never encountered that child before and genuinely don’t understand why Christmas should be about anything more than gifts and family.

God didn’t become man so that we might have one more thing to lecture people about. He did it so that we might have a genuine encounter with our much-needed savior and enter into a personal relationship with the God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Will people encounter that God through you today?