Little ones are inherently valuable to Jesus, and they should be to us as well. So we should include children in the life of the church.
By Jared Kennedy
Our society’s approach to kids is often driven by a consumer mindset. Newlyweds sometimes don’t want children because of the financial burden. Others naively think having kids will fill a void in their lives. Seasoned parents, by contrast, might be tempted to say, “I pour so much into my kids. I can’t wait until they get old enough to give something back.”
Even in ministry, we sometimes see children as a means to an end. “If you want to reach parents, you need to reach their children. If the kids don’t like the church, the parents won’t come back.” But statements like these judge the value of children based on what can be gained from them.
- The Bible says so
- So we as the church don’t miss out
- For the sake of the church’s future
Jesus tells us to welcome children
In Matthew 18:10, Jesus told his followers, “See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven” (CSB). What dignity children have that the messengers of heaven assigned to them see the very face of God! We may think an appeal to guardian angels is silly or sounds like some kind of folk religion. But our Savior saw significance in these angels’ assignments. It was evidence for Him the Father doesn’t want a single child to perish or fall away from the faith (Matthew 18:12–14).What dignity children have that, according to Jesus, the messengers of heaven assigned to them see the very face of God. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
Little ones must not be despised. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5, CSB). For Jesus, valuing kids as a part of the believing community is essential. Regardless of a church’s doctrinal stance on children as full-fledged, covenant members of the body, we can all recognize the amazing ways the New Testament talks about kids.
Jesus says a child’s presence must not be despised or hindered, “because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, CSB). The churches to which Paul wrote must have taken this to heart because the apostle addresses children directly. He expected them to be present with the gathered community when his letters were read (Colossians 3:20). Moreover, he addresses the children who were there as those who are “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1, CSB). In doing so, he demonstrated an expectation that at least some of these young children were included in Christ and could be expected to hear, believe, and obey God’s Word.
Without kids, the church misses out
Children aren’t the only ones missing out when they don’t participate in the larger church community. The New Testament assumption is that the church is missing out when children don’t partake. If we take the biblical record about children seriously, we must believe their presence in the church is vital.
In his book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, Calvin College professor Robert J. Keeley describes a number of ways to include children in the life of a church fellowship. One of the most practical is by simply giving kids real jobs to do. “Children and young people should participate in the life of the church through authentic tasks,” Keeley explains. “By authentic I mean tasks in which they give as well as receive. They should feel that if they aren’t doing their part, the whole group will suffer.”If we take the biblical record about children seriously, we must believe their presence in the church is vital. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
Keeley goes on to describe a program at his church that gives elementary-aged kids opportunities to serve as candle lighters. And one child each week marches the Bible into the sanctuary at the beginning of the service and then takes it out into the world at the end. He also explains how teenagers are considered “regular citizens” who work in the nursery, play instruments in worship, and run the soundboard.
As I read how children are included in Keeley’s liturgical church, I thought about my own experience growing up. In middle school, deacons regularly recruited guys in our youth group to pass the offering plates. Those older men knew me by name, and I still remember them. I also thought about my oldest daughter and her friends who have served with our church’s hospitality team, making coffee and passing out bulletins.
When church leaders are mindful of the next generation as they plan worship services and other events, and youngsters serve side-by-side with adults, the church benefits from their gifts, from the life and vibrancy of their youth, and from the reminder that Christianity ultimately finds its shape in a dependant, childlike faith.
For the future
Including kids and youth in the life of the church also teaches them their value to the church community at large. When kids are given an opportunity to contribute to the life of the church during their growing-up years, they’re building relationships with Christians who are ahead of them on their faith journey. These relationships are more important to a child’s faith over the long haul than any child-targeted program or state-of-the-art youth ministry facility.Relationships with Christians who are ahead of them on their faith journey are more important to a child’s faith over the long haul than any child-targeted program or state-of-the-art youth ministry facility. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
In their research, Fuller Youth Institute leaders Kara Powell and Chap Clark discovered the number one way churches made teens feel welcomed was when members of the congregation showed an interest in them: “More than any single program or event, adults making the effort to get to know the kids was far more likely to make the kids feel like a significant part of their church.” As Keeley says, “It’s when we individually take the time to get to know the kids in our own church that we can have the most impact on them collectively.”
Related: 5 Keys to Preventing Church Dropouts
It seems so simple. Serve at Vacation Bible School or with your church’s children’s ministry. Give some attention to kids when you see them in the worship service or at a fellowship meal. Get on a child’s level, learn their names, and show them you care. When you do, you’re making a long-term investment in the future of your local church.
Jesus was clear with His disciples about children’s value in Matthew 18. But, sadly, by the next chapter, they were rebuking the people for bringing children near (Matthew 19:13). Do we do the same? Do we hear Christ’s words then turn around and just as quickly forget? Don’t miss the blessing God gives us in the little ones. Remember, our Savior says, “Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5, CSB).
Jared is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of resources for church leaders, parents, and children including Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission and The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and three daughters where they attend Sojourn Church Midtown.