Today, in my head, I've had the Bible story about some parents who brought their little children to be blessed by Jesus. The disciples tried to send them away, but somehow Jesus got wind of what was going on, and He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16 NIV)
In Mark, it even says that Jesus was indignant that the parents and children had been rebuked.
Jesus loves little children.
This is why it so saddens me that churches do not always seem to love little children. Children are the “problem.” They make noise, and messes. They are the hitch in every program. “Oh no,” we say. “What are we going to do about childcare?”
Nobody ever wants to serve in the nursery.
Nobody wants to teach Sunday school. And if they get their arm twisted, they say, “OK. But no preparation. I don’t want to do any preparation.”
I have seen Sunday school classes where the main portion of the lesson involved eating powdered doughnuts.
I have seen Vacation Bible Schools where there were not enough bodies to handle all the children that came, so they put the children under the charge of sulky teens who were mostly interested in flirting with each other and wouldn’t have dreamed of singing those stupid songs or participating in the motions.
I have heard people say, “It doesn’t matter. They are only kids. They won’t notice.”
But it isn’t all bad. I have also seen people who worked very hard to prepare lessons and communicate God’s message to little children.
I have seen retired women dedicate the latter half of their lives to ministering to little children, with love and wisdom.
I have seen teens carefully trained, rehearsed and tested before they were ever put into a class of children.
I have seen a church where the pastor himself ran an evening program for children and their parents to learn together through solid teaching and fun activities.
Children are important. They are important to God. Jesus said that anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Churches that focus on adults to the exclusion of children will not be healthy in the long term. Running lots of busy programs does not count as focusing on children. Children don’t need more prizes, candy and games. Just like big people, children need Jesus. They need Jesus, and love, and truth well handled.
Children’s programs should not exist so that parents can drop off their children at Sunday school and go out for breakfast. They should not exist so parents can have a date night in the middle of the week. They should not exist simply to clear the ruckus so the parents can concentrate on their exclusive adult Bible study.
We need to minister to children because Jesus loves children, because He told his followers to let the little children come to Him.
If we are administering the children’s programs, we need to make sure that we only use God-called, loving, prayerful, conscientious people to staff our ministries, even if it means a smaller ministry. If we are the staff itself, we need to remember the high calling we have and never abuse the role. We need to pray and plan, and plan and pray. We need to love the children, and feed them on the Bible, teaching them that God’s words are… “more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:10, NIV)
And one last thing: children’s ministries are not a chance to lecture children about good behavior and how they ought to have it. That might come up, but it must be a corollary. The central focus needs to be on God and His Son Jesus Christ. Children need to learn who God is, and what His attributes are, and about the miracle that He loves us; He loves His children. They need to hear the gospel, the deep sacrificial love that Jesus poured out for us, because without Him we were utterly helpless and lost.
If we spend more time thinking about and knowing Him, the behavior will follow. Conversely, teaching about good behavior does not lead children to God; in fact, depending on how it is done, it can hinder children from knowing God.
Jesus did not want the children to be hindered.