Pick My Brain – Let the Children Come…and Lead Us…

     by Marlene Bogard, Minister of Christian Formation

I recently preached on Matthew 19: 13 – 15 at Buhler Mennonite Church in connection with other resourcing on developing Safe Sanctuary policies.    Similar passages on Welcoming Children are found in Luke and Mark.  However, Matthew emphasizes that the people wanted Jesus to pray with the children, in addition to laying his hands on them.  The Matthew passage also portrays a Jesus who is a bit gentler to the disciples, since he does not place the stern warning on them that Mark does in a parallel passage.  The real, true message here is simple but weighty:  Jesus loves the little children, and this is very, very good news.

I looked at this passage from a variety of angles, but the primary one was…how do we Welcome Children?

Jesus actions of welcome, laying hands and prayer are powerful indicators that children are to be received into worship, into the entire life of the congregation, not only Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. These invitational actions of Jesus in Matthew 19 are a model for how we will interact with the children in our midst.

One of the things that I notice as I visit various congregations is the way that children and youth are noticed, included, invited and involved in the life of the congregation. Or not…  This past Sunday, I was heartened to see the children at Hope Mennonite, Wichita, be part of the blessing of the MCC School Kits.  In some congregations I have noted that family groups serve as greeters.  But there are many many times when I fear we have missed the boat in honoring, and including children and youth in the entire “church” experience.

So here are a few things for you as pastors and church leaders to ponder as you plan worship, as you consider your mission, as you act out your priorities:

  • Can all ages and all abilities fully participate in worship at their own capacity?  In what way?
  • Is there a variety of ways that all (and especially children) can engage with the worship theme or scripture?
  •  Are songs, words, announcements and sermons prepared in such a way that children and youth can understand and find them meaningful?
  • Are children and youth seen as full and valued participants?
  • Are children and youth invited to help plan worship or other church-wide events and celebrations? (Other than the annual “youth Sunday”)
  • Are children and youth asked for feedback on what they find meaningful during worship?
  • Do children and youth feel welcome to voice publicly their concerns and request prayer during the sharing time?
  • And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all – what is our theology of children?  How do we understand their relationship with God? Depending on how we answer that has much to do with how we proceed with Christian Faith Formation. And, I might add – this is a basic and most wonderful conversation to have, but more on that another time! 🙂

Our approach to children may in fact be defined by how they lead us. Just this morning, retired pastor Florence Schloneger shared this tender story about children, worship and their humble approach to God. A few weeks ago, during a worship service on the theme of anointing and healing, Florence led the Children’s Time at Shalom Mennonite, Newton.

She shared, “At Shalom there is a small bench for the leader so he/she is on the level of the children.  After a few words of introduction which explained what we were doing that morning as worship (telling God who we are and then God responding to us), I asked the children to line up, tell their name to me and to God, then I would make the sign of the cross on their hands with oil and say these words from God to them:  (Name), I will love you forever.  All at once I realized all the children were in a perfectly straight line, kneeling and approaching me on their knees!  They automatically wanted to be on the same level as I, but it also felt like they instinctively knew something important about how we approach God–and that we all do it on the same level.  I continue to be blessed by the image of all those children approaching me on their knees for a blessing–all in a perfectly straight line.”

This holy moment, led by the children demonstrated their innate understanding of the Divine and their humble approach to God.  Who among us as adults would naturally drop to our knees? And then crawl on our knees to receive anointing?

Jesus said, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children and those like them. Jesus is insistent that children are as valuable to God as adults.  If we go with this…then we must also say Children and Youth are not the future of the church – they too are the church!

I look forward to having many conversations with you in the coming year about Faith Formation with Children, Youth and Adults.  Bring it on!