We were just getting to the part of the story where Jesus’ parents find him in the temple, when 4-year-old Chloe tapped me on the arm. I paused to let her speak, prepared for a possible story about her dog or the scrape on her knee—normal fare for 4-year-olds. Instead she leaned forward and whispered, “I know where Jesus is right now!” With knowing eyes, she tapped her finger over her heart. “He’s right here,” she said with utmost confidence.
Teaching church school has opened my eyes and my heart to what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” His Spirit is alive in these little beings who so readily accept him and who sing and dance his praises without inhibition. No wonder he didn’t want his disciples to send them away! Their joy is infectious, like laughter. Who hasn’t, at some point, clapped their otherwise still hands or raised otherwise lowered arms in response to a child’s worshipful actions? A little child shall lead them. . . .
I have been asked if I miss being “in church” because of my involvement in children’s ministry. People are often surprised when I reply, “But I am in church!” I am not missing out. I am in the heart of God’s kingdom. Jesus is right here!
Jesus made it abundantly clear how important children are in his kingdom; in fact, the Bible is full of stories of how children were instrumental in carrying out God’s plan on earth. So how can congregations do more to embrace these little kingdom-bearers the way Jesus modeled for us?
What if we included children in the entire worship service instead of sending them to Sunday school while we praise and learn without them? Yes, it would require significant changes in how we do things. Picture an extended family gathering for dinner around one table—a little chaos, perhaps some tension, definitely messy, but with an overarching sense of unity. This is what I believe church and worship should look like as we feast together on the Bread of Life.
Would Jesus want our covenant children to participate as we remember together what he did for us? I think he would. By including them, we would show them that they are a vital part of the family of God. And maybe we could even learn something from our children—important things like joy, expressiveness, simplicity, and candor.
What would it look like if we embraced kids’ presence and allowed their childlike faith to influence us? I believe it would look like the kingdom of heaven.