“Would you rather have clean walls, or reach children? You can’t have both.” That loaded question resulted from a list of complaints presented to the pastor at the monthly deacon’s meeting. Some members had griped to the deacons about “dirty fingerprints all over the building,” following a youth meeting. Fortunately the pastor’s question enabled the group to put the problem into proper perspective. The church building is God’s house and should be respected and clean, but children make messes—it’s in their genes. If a church ministers to one, it must be willing to deal with the other. Little children and big messes just go together. With the complaint now in perspective, the deacons decided, without a vote, to put up with messiness and inconvenience, in order to reach and minister to families with young children. After all, the true purpose of the church is not to construct elegant buildings, but to reach sinful people, with the saving gospel of Christ.
What Would Jesus Do?
A similar event occurred in Christ’s ministry, recorded in Mark 10:13-16, “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.”
Without realizing it, the Lord’s disciples had adopted the wrong attitude of their culture regarding the value and worth of children. During the first century, children were considered to be the property of parents, who could treat them as they pleased. In those days most people looked at their children more like unpaid workers or cheap labor. In verse 13 the Lord’s disciples “rebuked,” or sharply criticized those who brought children to Jesus. In verse 14, the Lord’s reaction shocked His followers, as He was “indignant,” very displeased toward His disciples and their devaluation of the importance of children.
The disciples thought they would help Jesus by keeping children from bothering Him. But the Master let them know that reaching and blessing children was what He was all about! “Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them” (verse 14), He said. In His ministry lifestyle and personal life, the Lord Jesus always had time for people, including little children—and so should we!
It is important for churches to reach and teach children because, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (verse 14). For, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (verse 15). Humility and submission to God is essentially a foundational value in His kingdom. So, Jesus “took them in His arms” (verse 16), blessing and holding the children, as we should do.
A Frightening Trend
There seems to be an alarming absence of children and young families among many churches today. If you look around your church and see more than 50% are gray headed, your church is in trouble. In just a few years the gray heads will be gone. Then who will carry the load, support the church, teach the classes and preach the gospel?
The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life recently released some startling statistics. The percentage of adults attending religious services by age revealed: 18-29 Year Olds – 27%, 30-49 Year Olds – 33%, 50-64 Year Olds – 38% and 65+ Year Olds – 48%. The truth is simple: only about one-quarter of younger adults are bringing their children to church.
One lesson from Mark 10 is that the Lord would have us endure crying babies, mischievous children and dirty fingerprints because, “of such is the kingdom of God.” The aim of church is not so that every member can get what he or she wants, have everything their way, and passively sit in comfort—but to worship God, communicate His Word and proclaim His message.
Remember Thy Creator in the Days of Thy Youth
The Barna Research Group could endorse Solomon’s commands about remembering the Creator in ones’ youth. According to a survey of 992 born-again Christians, 77% came to faith in Christ before their 21st birthday, with almost half (43%) of those trusting Christ before they turned 13!
Summarizing their findings in, “Evangelism Is Most Effective Among Kids,” is this powerful statement: “The primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the preteen years. It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life – especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development.” It is not that older people cannot be saved—it is to say that most unbelieving older people will not be saved.
Seek to Reach the Kids!
There are many tools, curricula, means and methods available to equip churches to reach young people today. But churches must employ them with a strong devotion to Jesus and the gospel, without fear of sticky fingerprints on the stained glass windows. Seek to lead your church to take children in their arms and bless them, just as Jesus did. Make your church’s top priority reaching young families and not maintaining clean walls! You can always clean the walls, but only Jesus can clean the hearts.