In the book of Mark, Jesus has an encounter with children. In fact, this is one of the few times Jesus actually becomes angry in his ministry. Mark wrote,
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’.”
This verse gives us a great basis for children and their importance in the Kingdom. We really aren’t sure why the disciples were so apprehensive to not let the children approach Jesus. In the beginning section of verse 13, we see that there were several families bringing their children to Jesus for a customary blessing from him. Jesus’ disciples had a hard time letting these parents bring their children. It is almost like they didn’t want Jesus to be bothered. But Jesus was not bothered by the children. Instead, he was bothered by the disciple’s actions. Literally, the word for indignant means he was angry. Jesus’ actions here imply that children are just as important to him as their parents or anyone else in the Kingdom. Children matter to the King and to the Kingdom.
I am a bit skeptical about certain clichés that we use in our church lingo. But this one has a substantial amount of truth to it –
“Our youth are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.”
I would agree with this statement but would also add something to it. Our young people are a part of the church today, however, they are also the church’s leaders of tomorrow. Either way, we need to understand that our children matter to the Lord. If our children have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have trusted him for salvation through repentance and faith, they are the Kingdom of God right now. There’s no waiting period for children, once they are saved, to become a part of the Kingdom. This passage in Mark helps us understand this entire premise that children matter to God and we should not ignore this. Our children matter to the Lord and the Kingdom, but they also should be a vital focus of our church’s ministry because they are the next generation of leaders in the church. It should be a primary focus of the church to train these young people to lead Bible studies, be ushers, teach Sunday School, and even possibly become significant lay-leaders in our churches.
One specific passage of Scripture that comes to mind when thinking thoughts like these is what I believe to be the poster passage for discipleship: Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Everyone who has been in student ministry for more than five minutes most likely knows this passage by heart. The main point I want to pull from this passage is in the first section of verse 7. Moses writes,
“You shall teach them diligently to your children..”
Moses has already given the greatest commandment to all who would believe in Christ for salvation and that was to love God with all your heart, soul, and might.
This first commandment is a significant commandment because this deals with loving God through the totality of yourself. Moses is trying to get the Israelites to understand that your first obligation as a chosen person of God is to have an individual, covenant relationship with this one, true God. He was addressing the Israelites as a group, but giving them commands individually. We know that the culture in which we live has radically destroyed every sound definition of love we have. In our culture, love is based more on feelings or attraction more than any other factor. However as Christians, we know that love is an act of the will. Love is defined by the commitment one has to another person, no matter what comes their way. So when Moses exhorts the Israelites to love God, he is telling them that this is going to be a choice you make on a daily basis and it will be because you truly want to love him, not because he makes you feel good or feel worth something – even though those may be benefits of your relationship with God.
Then he continues by telling the Israelite parents to pass down this type of covenant relationship down to their children. He encourages them to teach this same type of love that is not based on feelings to their children. Moses’ next commandment was for parents to train their children to love God in the same way. This seems like a plea for family worship more than a biblical basis for student ministry, but student minister’s know that to be “successful” in student ministry is to help parents realize their need to take charge of their children’s faith formation and not leave it up to the church and its staff.
It is imperative for us as the church to embrace the love for children that Jesus had. When we neglect our children by simply entertaining them or distracting them until church his over, we are not being like Christ. When we are more worried about numbers instead of spiritual growth, we are ignoring the command of Christ to “let the children come to me.” We are depriving our children of spiritual nourishment. It’s not enough for the church to simply have programs for children and teenagers while mommy and daddy sit in “big church.” It’s not enough for the parents of our children to depend on this type of methodology as the primary source of faith formation for our children. This is why it is of utmost importance for the church to be intentional about discipling, not just children but, all ages within the walls of the church building.