The overarching mission (purpose) of children’s ministry is help children come to Jesus and then mature as his followers (disciples). This mission is pursued through a four-part disciplemaking strategy:
- Seek the lost. Introduce lost children to Christ and assist them in following him.
- Nurture believers. Help believing children grow in their love for God and for people—maturing in age-appropriate ways as disciples of Jesus.
- Equip workers. Equip believing children to participate in ministry to their churched and unchurched friends and family.
- Multiply leaders. Equip older believing children to take on leadership responsibilities within children’s ministry—preparing them for leadership within the church at large.
To help a child experience God’s gift of salvation in Christ, you have to be confident that a child can come to faith and become a disciple of Jesus. I must confess that I have not always believed this. I have always deeply loved children (including my own), but I used to think that the focus of ministry to children should be on keeping them safe and reasonably well-behaved until they become young adults and could then be baptized and become Christians in the full sense.
In his mercy, God corrected my faulty understanding. Scripture and experience make it clear that children can be believers and participate in Jesus’ disciplemaking ministry.
In Matthew 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and heads for the temple courts, where he drives out people who were turning the temple area into a flea market (verses 12-13). Having cleared out these unbelievers, the way is cleared for those whose hearts were open to God, including the blind and lame (verse 14), and also young children who were crying out in worship, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (verse 15).
The head honchos of the temple (the “religious” types) were indignant—perhaps they were uptight about the noise or perhaps it was simply the presence of the children. Whatever put the burr under their saddle, it didn’t bother Jesus, for he proclaimed of these worshiping children (quoting from Isaiah): “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”
(verse 16). God has ordained (appointed) young children to worship Jesus.
Jesus welcomes them: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” Jesus told his reluctant disciples, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). The immediate context is Jesus blessing little children, but it would make no sense for Jesus to say that the kingdom belongs to ones like these children, if children did not, themselves, enter the kingdom.
The kingdom is open to anyone, including children, who turn to Jesus, trusting him to be their Savior (Redeemer) and their Lord (Master and God).
Part of the reason that I did not believe that children could turn to Jesus (be converted) was that I saw conversion as requiring lots of information—the sort of information that only an adult could master. Certainly, we learn information about Jesus. But as a famous theologian once observed, the essential message of the Bible is summarized in a well-known children’s hymn: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
How old do you have to be to understand that Jesus loves you, forgives you and is the Lord of your life? Not very old, it seems to me. And I’ve got evidence to back me up. Many of us have had the privilege of leading children to Christ and baptizing them as a public acknowledgement that Christ has made them his own.
Several years ago, Pastor Charles Taylor and his wife Keysha (who lead one of GCI’s congregations in the Miami, Florida area) had this privilege. Their 8-year-old daughter Chakeyra accepted Jesus Christ and was baptized. Here’s what Charles wrote me concerning her baptism:
One night a few months after our daughter had given her life to Christ, she was lying in bed. It was pretty late and I thought everyone was asleep. But Chakeyra called to me from her bed, “Daddy, could you come here please?” When I got to her room she said to me, “I want to be baptized.” She then said, “I’ve been lying here in my bed thinking, and I really feel God wants me to get baptized.” I said, “Really? You do? Why?” She said, “I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, and I want to really commit myself to him in a bigger way and be a part of the church.” So we talked a bit, and I told her we would start baptism counseling. The next morning, she said, “Daddy, can we start my baptism counseling today?” Every day after she would ask, “Are we doing our baptism counseling today?” She would never let me forget. Sometimes if I was busy during the day, she would remind me before she went to bed. We counseled for a couple of months and then one day she said to me: “Daddy, I’m ready to be baptized. When can we do it?” Well, we set the date, and her baptism was as great a joy to Keysha and me as Chakeyra’s birth, and then her rebirth when she accepted Jesus. It was also a great encouragement to the adults and children present in our home for the baptism.
The calling of parents and children’s ministry workers alike is to share Jesus with our children, and then minister to them according to their response.
A word of caution
I guess it’s clear by now how I feel about children coming to faith. But I also understand that children want to please adults and their friends and are thus easily influenced (even manipulated). So we have some cautionary policies. First, children’s ministry workers are not to pressure a child to receive Jesus. Second, we are to be sure that parents or legal guardians are fully aware of what we are teaching, including invitations to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Third, it is our policy that preteens not to be baptized unless a parent or legal guardian gives permission and is present at the baptism. With these cautionary measures in place, we can reach out to children, sharing with them the greatest truth of all—Jesus and his love—inviting them to receive him and be his follower.
Author: Ted Johnston