Matthew 19 : 13 – 15
This passage is one that resonates with me greatly. The importance of children within our Christian community is something that is a part of who I am and how I have been bought up by my family. Children can be a challenge to us, which may have been more evident with the difficulties of the last year. However we need to consider our approach to children as a church family and as individuals. Are they just a nuisance who make too much noise and are a distraction? Or can we see them for what they are really are, excited to learn and share their excitement with others? This extends to their faith in Jesus. We need to consider – Am I one of those who bring children to Jesus, or like the disciples who turn them away, for one reason or another? Do I believe it is good for children to be near Jesus, to know him better and love him as a friend? Just as Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It is so important for the church to welcome children and to share our faith with them.
I am in an unusual position in terms of how much time I have spent with children and young people. I began working alongside children when I was only 13 and have gone on to do so my whole life. I have had the privilege to be a Girls Brigade young leader and then a Boys’ Brigade Officer, to support youth and children’s work through the church, the YMCA, summer camps, Soul Survivor, as a teacher and later in life as a mother.
I have always been passionate about sharing our faith and being a role model for the younger generation.
It is easy as adults to forget the importance of children – they are the next generation after all – and the importance of taking the time for children and to show them what it means to be Christian in today’s world, which at times can feel increasingly secular. When society is becoming more focused on materialism and instant gratification we have an important role as a church community to reconsider our approach to children and to follow Jesus’ example.
The most recent statistics state that children are abandoning the Christian faith – with three out four young people leaving the church when they leave home. What can we do about this when it comes to our own community?
I think a simple thing that we can do is to take the time for children and to support them to develop their faith. This doesn’t solely have to be the role of a parent. Our two children have had not only Richard and myself taking the time to talk with them about God and the Bible, but grandparents, their aunt, uncle, friends as well as excellent youth and children’s work through the church and BB. However there is a role that is often overlooked, that of the wider church family. Children learn from what they see and hear in Church. There are numerous examples that I could tell you of children talking about what they have seen in church; asking questions such as why is that person dancing? Can we dance too? Why does that man have his hand in the air? Why do we pray? Do we have to close our eyes? Where is God? Why does Jesus look like that and why does the vicar look like Jesus?
These are the sorts of questions we want to hear – not why do I have to be quiet? Why can’t I sing and dance? Why do I have to come to church?
We want to encourage children and young people to come to church and to want to actually do so. Church needs to be a welcoming place where they can learn more about Jesus and his people. This has not been possible throughout the lockdown in the same way, however as a church family we can support children and their parents to still stay focused on Jesus.
Our two children have been able to enjoy a scoot to the church and they still have the excitement of going to church that they had before lockdown. Admittedly it has been different as they have been excited to scoot round the car park but also to see Beryl or Jean for a chat; Lily loves picking a flower to give to them. The excitement associated with the church as a building, a place to meet is important, also the excitement to talk with people from the church – the children feel a part of the church family. And we must follow Jesus example of welcoming children.
Just like Jesus, we need to not rebuke children, but have them come close to listen, to stop and take the time to pray with them and for them. In this passage, we can see that the parents want a blessing for their little ones; the disciples feel that Jesus is for grown-ups only and rebuke them; the tender love of Jesus is for children. Children in Jewish society had no rights, they could not dominate anyone, which is one reason why Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them rather than to the powerful who dominate others.
In this passage, children can also be interpreted as representing those who the world considers unimportant; in the same way the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14) teaches that the least of all in the eyes of the world is as important as the greatest of all in the eyes of Jesus.
The disciples thought that the mission of Jesus was too important to be delayed by a group of kids spending time with Jesus himself. I wonder if children ever feel like church is a place where they’re not important. I hope that they (and we) see Jesus’ response as a clear-cut rebuttal that redefines children’s role in church.
When we support children with their faith amazing things can happen, that as adults we might not even consider. For example, do we consider the importance of prayer for children? To model it to them and share with them?
Jesus laid hands on the children brought to him, he prayed for them and as he did so He modelled how to pray. Children pick up on this quickly.
For example, for one of our Junior Church Zoom sessions Poppy wrote the most beautiful prayer with the encouragement of Ingrid and her parents. This prayer was then read by Poppy to the younger children as part of their Sunday zoom session. Since then other children have prayed, feeling confident to do so after having it modelled. Only just last week Lorraine encouraged even the youngest aged 3 and 4 to pray. This is what it is all about – letting the next generation flourish in faith.
For the Boys’ Brigade weekly zoom sessions – each session ends with the Anchor prayer. This highlights the importance of supporting prayer for children and helping them to explore faith and answer their questions – no matter how odd they may feel to us as adults!
It tells us in the passage that Jesus stopped to pray/lay hands on the children – we must do this too.
We can follow Jesus’ example and support children’s and youth work at St Christopher’s and more widely – we can pray for the schools and local children. Pray for those who care for them parents, teachers, nursery and pre-school staff, teaching assistants, youth workers, social care workers – the list goes on.
We need to pray for children and we need to model how to pray as well.
When I was a child I learned the importance of praying for children as well as the world and ‘adult concerns’. My Grannie would host a Friday prayer meeting every week at our home when I was a child. The older women of the church, affectionately called the Church Grannies, were what I would call prayer warriors. Every Friday they came together and prayed. They prayed for every single child that was involved in the church in any way. They had up to date lists of the Sunday school children, those who attended BB/GB and those adults who worked with them.
There is another element to this passage that we must not forget: Jesus says “Let the children come to me for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Not only did Jesus want the children to come to him, but he told all the adults that if they weren’t like children, they couldn’t inherit the kingdom of God! Not that they are childish and immature, but that they are childlike.
We need to have faith like a child. Sometimes asadults we can get wrapped up in our lives and the way in which we think we should be doing things in the church and perhaps praying in a certain manner. In fact I think to pray like a child, simple but heartfelt prayers can help us to express a deeper emotion when it comes to our relationship with God.
I was at a summer camp a few years ago, and each night once the children were in bed in their tents two main things happened.
- The tent leaders would do tent prayers and the children would pray too.
- Afterwards, tent leaders would feedback on what had been prayed and the leader of the camp would share prayer requests for the camp as well as for those back at home. Then all the leaders would gather in prayer trios around the field to pray. That year I was with a man much older than me who taught me the importance of prayer and a childlike approach to faith stood there in a dark field. Each night we would take it in turns to pray and each night the older man would apologise before he prayed and would say he only had a childlike faith. Then he would say the most beautiful, simple prayers which expressed his heart and his desire to share the Lord Jesus with the children and leaders. It struck me that having a trusting faith like a child is so important. To ask questions and to pray with our whole heart. To share our concerns with the Lord not in a childish manner but in a childlike innocent way that is purely focused on the prayer and the Lord.
So practically, what can we do today to embrace the faith of a child?
- Pray everywhere and often. Bless your food, say your goodnight prayers, stop what you’re doing right where you are and pray for someone hurting.
- Ask for help. Don’t worry about what you can’t do; there’s someone who can. You just need to know who to ask.
- Have faith like a child – let us be all ears, eager to receive, to learn, to understand. Children are hungry for more of the story, more of the love, more of the meaning. They believe God is good, loving and kind, because why wouldn’t He be? There’s no pretentiousness, no hardening of their hearts from cynicism, but an absolute abandon in the depth of God’s love.
- Don’t worry about what you don’t know. There’s always someone who knows more and someone who knows less. You know what you need to know right now. Remember that God loves you where you are, and be secure in that and that God’s grace will fill in the rest.
Category: Children , Sermons , The Bridge