Kids are rowdy, they knock over our shiny religious teacups filled with anger, impatience and selfishness. But their rowdiness is no excuse for our complacency. Protecting our whitewashed lives is not what God has called us to.
When my boys were little I felt the tension between what I wanted to do with my days and what I was actually doing. Tending to my screaming toddler, appologizing to the parent of the child my child just bit and disciplining my child what felt like a thousand times a day was not in my plans. When your kids are little the days are full of unseen tasks that help them stay healthy, precious moments of firsts and tender affection. As Christians, we set out with creative ideas and plans to do what can feel like futile attempts to model loving Jesus and teaching them to say his name.
When your kids are older the days are packed with resolving conflict, long talks, hours of pleading in prayer, and casting vision for what you see God doing in their life. At this age you attend concerts that sound similar to nails scratching a chalkboard, but clap like it’s a professional orchestra. You attend baseketball games yelling, “Get your hands up! Get down by the hoop! Good try!” And all the challenging days of raising kids can feel they are keeping you from your real life. But as my pastor Jason Vance says to parents, spending all day working out problems with your kids is your real life.
Among parents and grandparents and non-parents in the church I see the same disillusion about kids. We tend to think of kids in the church as the people someone else will teach. Some of us think we’re too old, or not good with kids. Some of us think we’re too young and don’t know what to do with kids. Some of us find kids too annoying. Some of us find kids exhausting. But God has not called his people in the church to look at the coming generation and hope someone else is teaching them.
Jesus said we should not “despise” the little ones among us (Matthew 18:10). Despising children is a real problem in the church. It’s easy to say we are pro-life, but refuse to lower ourselves to goldfish, fruit snacks, snotty noses, crying toddlers and telling stories on the floor about the God who made those rowdy kids in his image and sent his Son to lay down his life for their sins so they could be with him forever!
Not everyone is going to bear or adopt children. But all of us are called to pass on the message of the gospel to the generation coming up behind us. There are exceptions of people who should not work with children due to criminal convictions, or cannot work with children due to disability or injury. But for most of us, our excuses for not teaching the next generation of kids in the church the gospel fall short. In reality we despise how children expose our pride and selfishness.
Just as we are facing a tsunami of elderly folks who need the humble-service of gospel bearing lives, we are also facing a generation of children who unless we teach them, will grow up not knowing the ways and delivering work of our God in Christ.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses commands the older generation in Israel to teach the younger generation what God has done, delivering them from slavery in Egypt. He tells them, “Hey you guys, God is telling you all to do all these things and let all He has done for you be on your heart because you’ve seen what he has done for you. But the generation after you hasn’t. So do what I’m telling you to do! And talk to the kids in your everyday life about all God has done” (My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 11).
But in Judges 2:10, after Moses and Joshua are dead and gone, it says, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” Israel had despised the children. They failed to let what God had done be on their hearts, and they failed to tell the kids among them what God had for them. Oh that we, the church in 2019 would not be guilty of raising a generation we despised, who don’t know the work the Lord has done for us!
Welcoming children in Jesus’ name, teaching them the gospel of Christ is a picture of the position of humility from which we enter the kingdom of heaven- like a little child, wide-eyed and rowdy, needing discipline and self-sacrificing love. We need to get down on the ground with the kids and remember the faithfulness of God to bear with us daily, like a grown up giving up his or her days to love and train a child in the ways of Jesus.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 18:1-5, 10