Children love Jesus. Three of the four Gospels tell the story of the Disciples keeping kids away from Him, only to be rebuked by Jesus as He said, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Mark's Gospel tells us that he held them and blessed them. Jesus loves children. One of the best parts of my life is my kids. I love them. I love watching them grow and mature. I love seeing the different stages of life and how they are being shaped through them. I love talking to my kids about Jesus, and that I can tell them confidently that He loves to hear them pray and cares about them; that Jesus knows their hearts and wants to hear their concerns, anxieties, and joys. I also feel the huge responsibility of being their dad.
In our culture, our families, and our churches, children become a polarizing force, just as they were in Jesus’ ministry. For too many, children are a burden who should remain unseen and unheard so that they don’t distract from more important things. True community is messier than that. For many others, children are idolized, their whims being lifted up as needs to be catered to, regardless of the costs to do so. Here are some biblical foundations for how we can rightly care for children and parents:
- Parents are responsible to disciple their children
This is vitally important. The weight of the responsibility for discipleship and training rests squarely on the parents. The church, then, can come alongside the parents and equip them by training them and stirring their affections for Christ. The most effective ministry a church can have to children, is to minister to their parents. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 gives a beautiful portrait of how parents disciple their children, as all of life keeps the beauty of God’s Word in front of us and provides opportunities to point to His goodness.
- Churches care for children
Churches don’t do the work of discipleship, parents do. If you have ever found yourself frustrated because you can’t get a 3 year-old to sit patiently and quietly to hear your 45-minute Bible story on a Sunday, you may need to take a look at Jesus. He didn’t sit the children down for a simplified sermon on the mount. Instead, “He took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mk. 10:16). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have good, gospel-shaped material that we use to teach our children as the church gathers on Sundays. It does mean that our children feeling the love and warmth of the church as their family is more important than the content covered.
Redemption Hill’s preschoolers are checked in before the service starts and picked up when it’s done. This gives the kids a chance to see each other, play fun games, and experience the love of the church is a safe, fun environment. It also gives their parents the chance to engage in worship and to learn from the preaching of God’s Word, equipping them and stirring their affections for Jesus so that they can better care for and teach their kids. We have teaching time with our preschoolers, but the primary focus is caring for them so that their parents will be better equipped to actually disciple them.
Our school-age kids (up to Grade 5) join us for the first portion of the worship service so that they can be part of the gathered worship of the church through singing and prayer. They then go out of the room for teaching that is developmentally appropriate and engaging. We call this Kids Worship. Anyone older than that joins us for the full worship gathering of the church, sermon and all.
If you’re a parent, don’t fall into the trap of relying on Sunday childcare for the discipleship of your children. The best of curriculum and teachers can’t accomplish that. Even as you evaluate churches, look first for a place that will stir your affections for Jesus and stretch you most to live His gospel out in your life. Your whole family has been called to live on His mission, and you have the responsibility to teach, train, and equip your children as you go. Take a hard look at what you expect a church to be. Churches should be families who live together on Jesus’ mission, gathering to be equipped and sent out, not buffet lines to fill our plates to consume varieties of overcooked programs with the expectation that they will nourish us to health.
If you give your time to invest in the children of the church, thank you. It’s worth it. You make more of an impact than you know. Relax a little on the pressure you may feel to have theologically robust teaching for these little ones. You get to show them Jesus’ love for them by joyfully embracing children as a vital part of the church. Your service to the family is freeing the parents to be refreshed and equipped so that they can continue to teach and train their kids as they walk along the way of this life.
Let the children come. Don’t hold them back, for such is the kingdom of God.