Today, we look at a Day 2 text from this year’s summer curriculum, “Holy Trinity, Wholly Love.”
Reading: Mark 10:13-16
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
“Children are the future of the church.”
In my years a youth minister I heard this phrase often. And I think it’s time we stopped saying it. While it’s not necessarily false, it’s not the whole truth and it keeps us from valuing children for who they are right now.
Saying that children are the future of the church implies that they are not fully part of the church here and now. It indicates that children are not the church currently but will be someday. We ELCA Lutherans drive this lesson home with our youth in the way we have set up our confirmation and membership programs. Children do not become full members of the congregation until they have been confirmed, until they have “grown up.” Yet most of our youth (over 80%) stop coming to church after they are confirmed.
Why? Because we have shuffled them off to the corners of our communities (the youth room at the end of the hall or in the church basement), cordoned them off from worship (allowing them to serve only during youth Sundays or only as acolytes, and, in some severe cases, disallowing boisterous babies through stern looks and quiet reminders that “we do have a nursery they can go to”), and blocked them from leadership (how many of our church councils have a youth representative; how often are the words of those youth taken seriously?).
It’s no wonder kids leave after they have been confirmed. They were never really a part of our community to begin with. For decades we in the church have been like those disciples trying to shuffle children away from Jesus. It’s not that we don’t want children to know Jesus, it’s just that we want them to know him in our way, on our terms, in our time.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer got his start as a youth minister. He later remarked that the difference between a society and a community is that a society shuffles kids off to the fringes until they are old enough to participate as adults; a community brings children to the center and values them as they are. So many of the churches I see function more like societies than communities.
Today’s text comes from the second day of our summer camp curriculum and seeks to tells us something about the second person of the Trinity: Jesus. Today we learn that Jesus values community over society, children above all. But we don’t just learn about Jesus, we learn something about ourselves, too. We learn that to be with Jesus we must be like the child: vulnerable, honest, authentic, playful, adventurous.
Maybe instead of shuffling our children off to Sunday school to learn from us, we should shuffle them into the middle of our church sanctuaries so that we might better learn from them.
Jesus our brother, we give you thanks for your ministry here among us. Remind us what it means to be like the little children. Help us not to sweep them to the side but to draw them to the center, valuing them not for who they might become but for who they are here and now: the Father’s beloved children.