I was at a Charge Conference Sunday night and was handed a copy of the morning’s bulletin. It had beautiful artwork on the cover created by one of the children in the church. They were celebrating Children’s Sabbath. This is the time of year to think about ministries to children, especially when we think about church budgets and the United Methodist Call to Action report that reminds us that we need to do all we can to reach younger people as a denomination.
When Florida police arrested a 13-year-old in connection with the killing of a British tourist, they discovered the youngster had 56 prior arrests. Florida Deputy State Attorney General Pete Antonacci commented, “That is an ‘active child.’” An active child? And I always thought an active child was a kid who plays football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring and swims all summer. How out of touch are we with what is happening with children. This is one reason why we need a Children’s Sabbath. It is so important for us to focus attention on our children – the newest generation of church leaders.
You might wonder why I think children are church leaders. I would respond as the Bible does. In Isaiah 11:6 it says, “a child shall lead them,” and Jesus lifted up children as superior models of the Kingdom (Matthew 18:1-4). So, indeed, children are our future leaders, but before they can lead they have to learn. What are we teaching them? Children’s Sabbath teaches children that they are so special that they deserve a Sunday geared especially for them. Every Sunday’s “Children’s Sermon” also underscores this same emphasis, as does Children’s Worship. After-school, pre-school and all day childcare programs are tangible proof of the church’s appreciation for children and their families.
There is a wonderful Chasidic story about the child of a rabbi who used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous. The father did not know what lurked there. He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?” The boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.” “That is a very good thing,” the father replied gently. “I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “Yes,” the boy answered, “but I’m not.”
All of us need a special place where we can more easily find God, or, more accurately, remind us that God has already found us. We want to make sure that church is that special place. We want children to know that church is a place of safety, learning, and fellowship – a place where every child is special and loved by God. Our goal is to provide the best place imaginable for children to know Jesus’ love. This takes time and effort. We say thank you to all who give of themselves for children.
A British father wrote that when he was on an outing with his family, his wife implored their daughter Molly to hurry up because there was “no time to stop and blow dandelions.” In response, Molly raised what may be for a child – perhaps for all of us – the major philosophical issue of the new millennium. “Mummy,” she said, “what is time for?”
If the church lets children know that “time” is set aside for them and that they are of utmost importance, then think what a difference children’s ministry can make in the world. As the ushers passed the offering plate, a young child being taken to church for the first time watched the proceedings with intense interest. As the ushers approached her pew, the little girl said to her father, “Remember, Dad, you don’t have to pay for me. I’m under five.” Wrong! This is exactly who we are paying for and we are glad!!! The more money and time we can invest in children is a great thing!