The Power of Children’s Ministry

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By Larry Fowler –

You’ve seen the picture — “Jesus Blesses the Children.” It is a popular one for artists to depict. Usually, the paintings show the children and Jesus interacting happily, butterflies flitting by, and the grass and trees look like they are straight out of the Garden of Eden. It is serene. Jesus is happy. And, if a picture is only meant to show verse 16 of Mark 10, it may very well be pretty accurate. But then, there is the rest of the story …

“He arose from there and came to a region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to him again, and as he was accustomed, he taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ testing him” (Mark 10:1-2).

In verses 1-9, the Pharisees were debating Jesus. As they had done before, they were trying to trip him up. They were testing him. The issue of divorce was a hot topic, something about which there was quite a bit of disagreement in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees wanted to try to draw him into that current controversy. Jesus’ answers to them were very wise, and he startled them with his answers, as he usually did.

The setting changes in verse 10 from a public one to a private home: “In the house his disciples also asked him again about the same matter.” They asked Jesus to give them more information about the topic of divorce. This conversation in which the disciples had a great deal of interest is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of parents bringing their young children so that Jesus would bless them (verse 13): “Then they brought little children to him, that he might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.”

The children that were brought to Jesus were likely infants or young toddlers. Some scholars believe that this was a tradition. At one year of age, children were brought to a rabbi in a synagogue for his blessing. And so, it could very well have been that these children were being brought to Jesus for his blessing and his prayer for them.

In the second part of verse 13, the scene switches from focusing on the parents to focusing on the disciples: “the disciples rebuked those who brought them.” The disciples rebuked the parents.

They were busy learning, and so they probably thought, “This just isn’t the time.” They didn’t appreciate their discussion being disrupted.

Since Jesus’ emotional reaction is only recorded in Mark, (parallel passages are Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17), it often gets overlooked. The artist who paints this scene without studying the Mark account will portray a happy, peaceful occasion. However, we can’t appreciate the full impact of the passage, nor understand it accurately, without noting how Jesus responded in verse 14: “But when Jesus saw it, he was greatly displeased and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’”

The other two accounts don’t say he was displeased. When we read the Matthew and Luke accounts, we can imagine Jesus speaking in very nice, gentle, pearly tones, saying, “Let the children come.” It just sounds so wonderful — so majestic.

But Mark tells us it didn’t happen that way at all! Jesus’ emotional response is revealed in verse 14. We see how he reacted, and wow, was he angry! He was greatly displeased! Another translation says, “He was moved with indignation.” It was definitely a strong, negative emotional reaction. But why was he angry?

Clearly, Jesus had a point to make. And clearly, it was the actions and the attitude of the disciples that was the focus of his anger. It was Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 2.11.18 PMthe way they rebuked the parents for bringing the children. Let’s clarify this picture: the disciples were upset at the parents; Jesus is upset at the disciples. The parents thought they were doing something good. They were. The disciples should have been pleased. They weren’t! The disciples thought they were doing something good. They weren’t. They thought Jesus would be pleased with them. He wasn’t!

What did the disciples do that made Jesus so angry? Consider their thinking: they thought children were an interruption. They thought blessing children was less important than the discussion they were having. That attitude was the basis for their actions, and that attitude was the reason for Jesus’ anger. To put it another way, they thought adult issues were more important than ministering to children.

Jesus’ reaction was so strong. In fact, the strength of the words that are used to describe his emotions is second strongest — only behind his reaction to the moneychangers in the temple.

Think of it: the second-most angry that Jesus got was at his closest friends, his disciples. Most significantly, he got angry with them for putting a higher priority on discussing an adult topic than on ministering to children. The disciples simply didn’t see children as they should have seen children.

In local churches, four different attitudes toward children are seen.

Attitude #1: Children are a bother. This view is sinful! 

You know the attitude — we have to take care of them, especially during the worship service! There has to be a children’s church, because the children will distract the attention of the adults! We have to do something with them — even if it is just showing them a video to keep them quiet. Somebody’s got to do it, or else ministry to adults will be hindered. Possibly, the disciples themselves would have fit well into this group.

When this attitude is present, there is apathy toward children’s ministry. When this thinking infiltrates the church, it reveals itself through the alignment of resources. The best of recruiting efforts, church budgets, facility upkeep, etc., are reserved for adult ministry, and children’s ministry gets the leftovers.

Attitude #2: Children are a tool. This view is practical! 

Without a doubt, this view is common in western-culture churches. Children are potential tools for reaching their families. Pastors and church leaders that are focusing on church growth will understand that one of the most effective ways to build a church is to have an effective children’s ministry. And so the value given to children’s ministry is due to its potential for reaching adults. Such a view is inadequate. It’s good — and it works — but it’s inadequate.

Attitude #3: Children are our future. This view is true! 

Moses reminded the children of Israel of this view of children on several occasions. And nothing has changed since — we understand that if we don’t minister to children, Christianity will die. They are the instruments of carrying the message of the Gospel to another generation and into the future. We see how important all of that is. Such a view is essential — but it also is inadequate. This view still sees children as a tool to accomplish another end.

Attitude #4: Children are people. This view is the best — because it is biblical, and it is Jesus’ view. 

Close your eyes and say the word, “people.” What do you see? Only adults? Or are there children in your mind’s picture? When the disciples saw the little children who were being brought to Jesus, they didn’t see people. Maybe they saw future people, but not real-time people.

Jesus’ response demonstrates a different perspective. He didn’t say to the disciples, “Let the children come to me, because they are our future;” rather, he scolded them, “Let the children come to me … for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In other words, not merely because of their future value, but because of their present value — they, as little children, were important to him. They were real-time people that needed him. A child, to Jesus, was definitely not a bother. Not merely a tool. Not someone with future value. But a real person — now. He stopped the other thing he was doing, and gave them his full attention. Which attitude is prevalent in your church?

One thing is very clear: children were important to Jesus. When he said, “let the children come,” he didn’t do it in a peaceful scene. He didn’t do it outside in a beautiful, green park-like setting. He didn’t do it with gentle tones and a peaceful look on his face. Instead, the words “Let the children come” were words of strong anger. When Jesus spoke them, the message was sharp and full of emotion! It was a strong rebuke to them for what they had been thinking. It was not at all the way that it is usually painted.

“ … He was indignant … ” Three words that reveal so very much! They make one issue really clear: Jesus saw children as worthy of his time. To him, they were a priority. Ministry to children too often gets pushed down, shoved aside, put off. It gets treated as second-rate, receives secondhand resources, and is expected to play second fiddle to “real” ministry — adult ministry. But not by Jesus. He demonstrated it was very important.

And if children’s ministry is important to Jesus, that’s all I need.

Larry Fowler is executive director of global networking for Awana and KidzMatter. He is the author of several books including Rock Solid Kids, from which this article is excerpted. Used by permission of Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group ( 2005.

Sidebar #1

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Sidebar #2


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