How Children’s Ministry Forms the People of God
What Does Jesus Say About Children?
Jesus’ helpers tried to send them away. ‘Jesus doesn’t have time for you!’ they said. ‘He’s too tired.’ But they were wrong. Jesus always had time for children. ‘Don’t ever send them away!’ Jesus said. ‘Bring the little ones to me.’ …You see, children loved Jesus, and they knew they didn’t need to do anything special for Jesus to love them. All they needed to do was run into his arms. And so that’s just what they did.
In this sweet excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones begins to answer the question we must start with when we discuss children’s ministry: “What does Jesus have to say about children?”
When the disciples try to hurry the children away so that Jesus can focus on his “more important work,” Jesus stops the disciples and welcomes the children in his arms. If Jesus “always has time for children,” we must ask, do we?
Many people today view children’s ministry as glorified childcare, a place to drop off your children while you socialize, or a place to volunteer in order to spend time with sweet and adorable children. Some even flippantly disregard children’s ministry by remarking that while we should strive to give children decent information, we should rely on adult ministry to fix all of the inaccuracies they absorb as children. This must not be the case, not only for the children’s sake, but for ours as well.
Children Are Image Bearers
We must take children seriously because first and foremost, they are image bearers. Running around our church hallways are a bunch of little children , who were uniquely created in the image of God. Every conversation we have with a child is a new opportunity to know God more deeply. How would children’s ministry change if we remembered that every child who enters our ministry is an image bearer of the God of the universe?
More than that, if these children know and love Jesus, then they are our brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity. C.S. Lewis famously writes,
It is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
We love and serve children because God created them in his image, and they are worthy of our care and our time.
Children Need Us to Teach Them
In Psalm 71 the psalmist writes,
With the mighty deeds of the Lord I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
Oh God, from my youth you have taught me,
And I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to my old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
Until I proclaim your might to another generation,
Your power to all those who come.
In this chapter, the psalmist asks to live long in order that he can tell the coming generation of all God has done. Similarly, we must have a similar desire for the little ones to know and trust in the good news of the gospel.
Children have malleable hearts. They are sponges of information. They are constantly amazing us with the amount of detail that they can remember and repeat. They are always listening, watching, and applying what they learn making us some of their biggest influences and role models. The responsibility of a role model is one that we should steward well.
We can steward and love their listening hearts well by teaching them faithfully. While we do not need to aim to teach them with the same theological density that comes from the pulpit, we should teach them with the same theological accuracy. Children listen and they remember.
Children Show Us Need
Children are more attuned to their needs than we are of our own. They rely on adults for their most basic needs. From the minute they are born, they are utterly helpless. While children’s ministry should be full of teaching and discussion, it is, on a basic level, fulfilling children’s needs like food, water, and safety while their parents are elsewhere. This may seem like a mundane aspect of the ministry, but our hearts need it. As Joseph Hart says in his hymn, Come Ye Sinners, “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.”
We need this “need.” We naturally want to prove our independence and self sufficiency, but Jesus works on our hearts in order to show us that we are insufficient and in utter need of Him. We are helpless without him. When we are near to children who are so aware of their own needs, we will be reminded of our own needs.
Children Show Us Wonder
A few years ago, I was teaching 3-year-old Sunday school on Heaven and this sweet little boy in my class said, “Miss Emily! Guess what? I’m going to Heaven someday!” Without missing a beat, the little boy’s best friend exclaimed, “No way! Me too!” They spent the next few minutes in complete excitement that they would get to “play together forever with Jesus.” I remember sitting there watching them thinking, “Wow, do we get this excited about Heaven?”
If we are being honest, we may not even thinking about Heaven everyday, much less get so excited we can barely stand it. We need children to be examples for us of what it looks like to be in awe of the good news of the gospel. We need to begin to recapture a childlike wonder for the beautiful truths that become mundane to us as life goes on. Children are vital gifts to us in this way. As we teach them the stories we have known for many years, we must watch their glittering eyes and pray that the Lord would restore in us a wonder we once had when we first believed.
Be Like Children
The Jesus Storybook Bible says it well:
Well, after all the laughter and games, Jesus turned to his helpers and said, ‘No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my kingdom.’
Children’s ministry has deep effects on our souls. Let us not only serve the children of our church well, but also watch them intently. They show us more about who God is, who we are, and how we can relate to Him. They are made in the image of God and show us need and wonder. Even in our pursuit of further biblical knowledge, may we never lose our child’s heart for God and for the gospel. May we continue to marvel at our own salvation and the promise of the new heavens and the new earth with a childlike wonder. Jesus loves the little children and so must we.