Monday, 29 May 2017

Let the little children come to me!

Recently I sat in a Church service and the children were brought to the front to have a “children's talk.” Today the pastor was teaching on "let the children come to me for such is the kingdom of God.” 

My husband leans over to me and says, “They are speaking your language,” while looking at me with the smile that says, “see, this is not that bad.”  While I honour their intent, it was one of the most difficult things I have endured for a long time.  

Let me try to relive this for you…..

The children sit on the stage looking at the adults. There is a glass window behind them with Jesus holding his hands out drawing all His children unto Him. 

The talk begins for the kids and the adults are watching the kids who are now on show for all.  I see many adults begin to look at their watch or read their bulletin to pass the time while the “Children's talk” is on. The children are sitting very still and look a little uncomfortable as they are staring out at a whole lot of adults. The leader is lovely and tries to talk to them, to engage them and tell them how Jesus never told the children to go away and that he said we ALL needed to become like children to enter the kingdom.  The kids are quiet and still and the teacher is having trouble getting them to respond.  A whole lot of adults looking at you, can be scary. When one child finally does answer in a natural way, there was a laugh that rang through the congregation because her     answer was “so cute.” 

This caused the children to shut down even more,  but to be fair,  I was aware of the love and warmth that was evident in the room despite the strained process that is going on. 

And then after talking about “letting the children come to me, do not turn them away” …the children are asked to leave the room to go to Sunday School. 

Am I the only one in the room who can see the irony in this?

I know in this context, in this traditional setting, it makes sense. It is how “Church” has been done for a long time.  

“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these. After laying hands on them, he left.” (Matthew 19:13-15)

This passage is highlighting how the disciples continued to misunderstand Jesus and here I felt I watched it being played out yet again.

The service continues….

Luke18:17 "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, will never enter it" 

The Pastor begins to preach on this passage, while the children are elsewhere, taken away so the adults could learn more about being like a child so they can enter the kingdom. (sorry if I sound sarcastic)

He says….. “In the disciples’ minds the children were not important and important people don't hang out with children”

Not sure if anyone else could see the hypocrisy in the room.  Like a “frog in the kettle” here we are sitting in the comfortable, quiet, ordered space, listening to a well-spoken and passionate message, learning that we should be like the children we have just sent away to another room.

The Pastor continues to say, “Jesus says, what the world thinks is important is not what I care about. I care about the powerless and those that are like children. Jesus is constantly going sideways of his culture.”  

The congregation sits in silent agreement.

While I agree, the Pastor is saying that we must value children in this culture, in this setting, but somehow it feels like the actions this morning didn't match what was being said. God sees children as the people they are and He values them. Let them come and do not stop them, Jesus says.  The church should be a place where children are welcomed in and where they meet Jesus, but the cost of that is huge for the Traditional church. 

What are we saying to kids when we send them out? What are we saying to adults if we keep making it comfortable enough for them so they learn and they never have a chance to see what it is like for a child? They never get to learn from kids what it is like to have a “child-like” faith in order to enter the Kingdom when we gather at the church, because we are very rarely together!

He continues on saying, “Camps are great, and a place where kids get to go away and learn about Jesus and then bring it back home”

And while true, I am dying inside, feeling like he gets it, but then doesn’t. It is so wonderful to have a Pastor speaking about children, but what he is saying is only part of the truth. Our language is so tricky. Our western culture is set up to send kids away to learn and encounter Jesus at Camp, Sunday school or Kids Klub, but it is only part of the truth and what we are called to do. 

Then his final challenge to us all 

“Do you talk to them at the coffee break?Is it awkward ? We all feel awkward, but we have to reach out and take time to share the love with kids. It is not easy. It feels like you are all talking a different language. Sometimes it feels like we are watching cats being herded, but that's why we have a children's message, because we want them to know they are welcome. Don’t be the grumpy old church person. Even if it just a smile,  we are put on this earth to lead them and love them.”

This is his final plea to the adults in the room. His great encouragement. At this point, I am really struggling, but I look around the room and everyone is smiling and happy. 

So often the Church is missing the point on so many levels. I suppose we are still like the disciples all these years later…..clueless. I don't know where to start to unpack the experience of that morning, only to say I walked away from that morning feeling sad. 

What does it truly mean to welcome the children? To not hinder them? To love each other as if we are all the children of God? To see the family of God as one big family that needs to learn to love, live and grow together? When we get together as Christians, what did Jesus intend when he said: 

 Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
"anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, will never enter it” (Luke 18)

We must be challenged to consider what that should look like today if we followed Jesus example?