Let the Children Come
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” —Matthew 19:14 (NLT)
At the heart of the gospel this is the call of Jesus. Let them come! Let the broken, poor, disabled, mistreated come. Let the minorities, the women, the overlooked come. Let the children come. The smallest in society. The most vulnerable. Jesus wants them all to draw near.
I have no doubt that this is your heart’s desire for the kids you serve, too. Strangely, it’s mankind’s tendency to over complicate the simplest of things.
As a child I remember my little heart bowing under the pressure of conformity. By the time I was in upper elementary school, I questioned if I would ever please God. The to do list of memorizing Scripture, reading my Bible, completing Awana books, acting or not acting a certain way, bringing friends to church to get a token, and on and on. It weighed on my shoulders. I knew God loved me, but I wondered if He liked me.
It wasn’t until I was older that I truly found freedom in Jesus. I believed what I’d learned as a child was true, but I had to press in to find the gold of the gospel. It took years to undo the effects of the religious system I grew up with. I was parched for mercy. When I found it, I wept with relief. Then fell in love with Jesus all over again. Rules can never comfort a grieving heart, only Jesus can.
Children by nature operate in concrete principles and need structure. Spiritual disciplines are a good place to start with them. Sometimes though, we forget they are capable of wonder and surprising spiritual understanding. They can handle hard questions. They need to know they are wanted and valued. To all of their needs Jesus says, “Come.”
It’s so important that we make sure the programs and structures of our ministries never keep children, or anyone, from simply coming to Jesus.
I love that the original disciples weren’t actually believers when they began following Jesus. They just came when He called, and walked with Him. It was in following that they became believers.
How can we help our kids become followers right where they are? First by giving them access to the heart of God. Relationship is where it’s at. As they learn the principles of Scripture, and hear the practical difference those truths have made in our lives, a connection with those truths can be made. Perhaps faith will become real as they hear how much we need Jesus ourselves.
Our culture seems to have moved away from an apprentice, storytelling style, and become a lecturing, classroom format. The beauty of relating to Jesus can get lost if we’re not careful. But life change happens best in relationship. That’s true of kids as well as adults.
Second, we can remember that if we focus more on external obedience and performance we will have kids that grow into adults who conform, not necessarily ones that have been transformed. There’s a huge difference. We do not want people in our church to merely conform their behavior to fit the set expectations of a system or a distant god.
We want people who are in relationship with Jesus, who have experienced His mercy so deeply they are compelled to allow him access to every area of their lives. People who long for truth, who hunger for what’s right, who see themselves in humility, and whose actions are an overflow of gratitude to Jesus.
That process starts early and takes great care. It is easy to focus on changing behavior. It is far more complex, time consuming, and messy to focus on the heart. But the only way true discipleship happens is when the heart and the mind are both engaged. We can’t neglect one in favor of the other.
The kids you serve may or may not remember each lesson you teach, but they will remember you. They will remember if you were a living example of the gospel. They will remember if you loved them. They will remember if you brought them to Jesus, or if expectations and rules kept them at a distance. Offer your kids access to your heart and to Jesus. People obey what they love.