Luke 18:15-17: Membership: To Care that Children are Nurtured in the Faith
Tom, aged 5, opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out. He picked up an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages. “Mum, look what I found,” he called out. “What have you got there, dear?” With astonishment he answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”
Mandy aged 5 was watching her parents dress for a party. When she saw her dad donning his tuxedo, she warned, “Daddy, you shouldn’t wear that suit.” “And why not, darling?” “You know that it always gives you a headache the next morning.”
Zachary, aged 4, came screaming out of the bathroom to tell his mother he’d dropped his toothbrush in the toilet. So she fished it out and threw it in the garbage. Zachary stood there thinking for a moment, then ran to the bathroom and came out with her toothbrushtoo. He held it up and smiled, “We better throw this one away too then, because it fell in the toilet a few days ago.”
We have come to the final and perhaps most important affirmation in our Church Membership statement, “To Care that Children are Nurtured in the Faith.” Written in the 1950’s, The Short Guide to the Duties of Church Membership was intended to provide a summary of what is expected of church members. Our Creeds tell us what we should believe. Our membership pledge describes how we should behave. Once a year at Easter, we individually and collectively renew our commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another for the year ahead by reaffirming these disciplines or pledges. Since Easter we have been considering them one by one in our sermon series. I invite you to keep a copy in your Bible, take them seriously, and review them periodically to help you grow to maturity. Please turn with me to Luke 18:15-17 and let us allow Jesus to teach us about the place of children in his church. Observe three things:
To parents, children are a precious gift
To the disciples, children were a pain in the neck
To Jesus, children are a perfect model
- To Parents Children are a Precious Gift
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them.” (Luke 18:15)
You only have to go within a few hundred meters of a new born baby to feel the energy field created by a glowing if exhausted parent or grandparent. Complete strangers will be induced to stop and smile. And if they too are a parent, pull out a photo of their children. One day Michael will understand why I still use the answer-phone message he recorded when he was about 4 years old. And there is something incredibly disarming when a baby smiles back isn’t there? And it is a great delight when parents with little or no religious background feel drawn to church and want an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the God they have until now ignored. The Psalmist acknowledged:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
And Jesus observed, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
To parents children are indeed a precious gift.
- To the Disciples Children were a Pain in the Neck
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” (Luke 18:15)
Why? It was customary for parents to bring a child to a rabbi for a blessing. Its natural. So, why would the disciples rebuke the parents? Why would they hinder anyone from coming to Jesus? Here are three possible reasons that apply as much to us as to them.
2.1 Children are too young to understand
Some adults think that. Church is for grown-ups. A child’s mind is shaped by those around them. If a child’s understanding, habits and values are not molded by godly parents, if they are not shaped by Christian friends, if they are not inspired by a spirit-filled church family, you can guarantee one thing – they will be shaped by people with a much more destructive agenda.
It is never too soon to introduce children to Jesus, but you can only lead them where you yourself are walking. If you cannot explain your faith in simple terms that make sense to a child, then you have not really understood it yet.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
No, children are not too young to understand.
2.2 Children are a low priority
The disciples may have felt that Jesus had more important things than dealing with little children. They were headed for Jerusalem and were expecting Jesus to set up his kingdom any day. Blessing a few children was a low priority. But they failed to realize the spiritual nature of the kingdom in which each person is special, irrespective of age or background. Jesus cares about everyone including those we might feel are the least or most insignificant. Who has primary responsibility for nurturing of our children? Mothers and female teachers right? What does God say?
“Fathers,do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
That is because, from Pentecost, children were included in the gospel promise:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
That is why when we came to Virginia Water, we brought the children into every Sunday morning service. It is why we raised £200,000 to build the Church Centre a priority to provide Sunday Club facilities. It is why we resisted the pressure from some leaders to cut youth led services, and made them a priority on Sunday evenings.
No, children are not too young to understand. And no, children are not a low priority. Maybe the disciples simply thought:
2.3 Children are a Noisy Distraction
Children are a distraction – true – at times they do make a lot of noise. But if you think children should be seen and not heard then we have a special quiet zone just for you outside. It is called a graveyard. It is very quiet and peaceful out there. Children may be a noisy distraction and you may have been brought up to sit still and shut up but notice Jesus says “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16) It belongs to them so let us make sure they know. Make sure they know that God loves them by the way we treat them. No, children are not too young to understand. No, children are not a low priority. Yes, sometimes children can be a noisy distraction but get over it, adults can be too. How we treat children will shape how they treat others. Sadly in most churches, children and families are not a priority. 39% of churches have no-one attending under 11 years. 49% of churches have no-one attending between 11 and 14. 59% of churches have no-one attending between 15 and 19. But it is much worse than that. There has been a 90% decline in the numbers of young people under 20 attending church over the last 20 years.
Unless there is a radical change, if that trend continues, the majority of churches will be closed in 50 years.
Frankly I welcome that. I’ve spoken to many pastors over the years about this and they shrug their shoulders and lament the absence of children – but can they get their Church Councils to modify their service times?
Or change their pattern of services, or make them more seeker sensitive, more parent friendly, more child focused? Nope. They expect people to fit in rather than adapting, reaching out and being receptive to change. And so they are dying, and that is a good thing. Tim Thornborough writes,“The church in the UK may be getting smaller, but the evangelical portion is growing in strength. Perhaps the loss of the liberal wing will sharpen the perception of the Christian message in the rest of the culture. The major downside is, however, that we are starting a lot further back with most people; there is much less general awareness of the Christian message than a generation ago. There are more hurdles of suspicion to get over before we can gain a hearing for the gospel.Could it be that we are living in a time much more like the 1st century than any other of the last 15?
When we look out at a world that has never heard the gospel, which rejects Christian morality, which thinks of Christians and churches as weird, then we’re looking at the world Paul, John, Peter, and the first churches looked at. What did they do? They were grieved over the ignorance and superstition, and they did something—they talked to all sorts of people about the gospel. And what happened? Many sneered, some listened, a few turned to Christ. May God grant us the same grief, the same gospel hearts, and the same result.”
That is why our 2020 Vision prioritizes evangelism – sharing the good news of Jesus, prioritizes life relevant bible teaching, prioritizes membership and every member ministry, an inclusive welcome to all ages and races, and prioritizes children and young people. In this we are hardly being radical. 4000 years ago God said,
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
To parents, children are a precious gift
To the disciples, children were a pain in the neck.
3. To Jesus, Children are a Perfect Model
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)
Jesus ignored his disciples and instead, called the children to come to him. What did Jesus mean when he said, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”? (Luke 18:17)
Children know that they are dependent upon parents, grandparents and teachers. Pride tends to be associated with growing up and becoming important. But remember,
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:6,10)
Children will trust and believe those who care for them and those in authority. Children are very dependent on parents for everything – their food and sustenance, their clothes and shelter, for protection and safety. That is why Jesus reminds us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Children are satisfied with straight answers. They do not require complicated explanations before they are willing to believe. On one occasion Jesus prayed,
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Luke 10:21)
What is the most popular question a child will ask? “Why”? It sometimes drives you crazy but they have an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Children are not ashamed to put their hand up and ask a question, or offer an answer. Its fun to learn until adults knock the fun out of learning.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
Think about it. Most children don’t keep diaries or appointment schedules or plan beyond today. They notice the wonder of creation and they express it loudly ‘Wow!” – Look at the rainbow, smell the flowers, jump in the puddles, touch the…. look what I’ve found…..” Every day is a new and exciting adventure. Tomorrow is never to a child. To the Pharisee who liked his religion organized and predictable, Jesus insisted,
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Children are not easily dismissed. They are persistent. As babies they cry to get our attention. And as little ones they may nag when they want something. By teenage years they have usually learnt from us how to manipulate too. Never give up. Jesus insisted,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
Surveys show that more than four out of every five people become Christians before the age of 18. The average age of conversion is around 17 years. Most of the religious beliefs, behaviours and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed and embraced by the age of 13. If there isn’t a firm foundation in the Bible and the Christian life before that, children are more susceptible to succumbing to peer pressure, to doubting the faith and seeing church life as alien to the real world. So let us ensure that our children’s and youth ministry, our schools work, our university ministry is our first priority and receives the best of what we can provide, not the left overs.
Do you know what is happening in our Sunday Clubs and Youth programme? Do you care? Are you praying regularly for our Sunday Club and Youth leaders. Their prayer requests are listed in the monthly prayer diary. As Warren Wiersbe says, Jesus wants us to be child-like not childish. An unspoiled child illustrates humility, faith and dependence. A child has a sense of wonder that makes life exciting. The only way we too can enter the kingdom of God is to become like a little child and be born again.
To parents, children are a precious gift
To the disciples, children were a pain in the neck
But to Jesus, children are a perfect model