By Gustavo Crocker
In a well-known story, D. L. Moody was asked how the night’s evangelistic meeting had gone. His celebrated response was, “We had two and a half conversions.” His interviewer responded, “You mean two adults and one child?” “No,” Moody replied, “two children and one adult. The adult only has half his life left to follow Christ. The children have their entire lives to do so.”
This exchange reminds me of the inclination to think about children as “not-yet participants in the kingdom of God.” This cannot be further from the truth! Great leaders think of children as essential players in God’s kingdom and God’s plan of reconciliation. They see them as central to their mission.
Jesus used children to illustrate some of the greatest truths about the kingdom of God. Jesus reminded the disciples that not only are children a model of faith to enter the Kingdom, but we are required to examine ourselves on how we welcome children in our midst.
What does it mean to put children in the middle?
Matthew records the disciples discussing greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Before Jesus responded, He painted a vivid metaphor in leadership: He placed a child in their midst. Putting children in the middle means that we cannot think of children as peripheral. True leadership conversation must start with the perspective that children matter and are at the core of God’s plan of redemption.
Children are a model of faith. Jesus’ bold response to the disciples highlights the damaging power of “growing up” (Matthew 18). “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Child-like faith is absolutely necessary to enjoy the fullness of the riches of His kingdom. A child’s faith is unspoiled, genuine, and unbiased. As children grow older, their faith, already tainted by the Adamic propensity to sin, becomes spoiled by the agnostic, materialistic, self-centered societies that shape and train them. As our faith becomes sophisticated, we begin to question even the most evident truths. To enjoy the rich, unadulterated blessing of God’s kingdom, we must become like children.
Children are the most ripe and ready mission field. Around the world, in any country or culture, more than three-fourths (75 percent) of adults now filling our churches received Christ between the ages of 4 and 18. Missiologists have defined this group age as the 4/14 window, the world’s most ripe yet unreached people group.
Unfortunately, we think of them as “ways to attract their parents,” “a drain on our budgets and programs,” “a distraction to our solemn services,” or even as “non-productive entities who do not vote and who do not give.” The disciples were in the same boat. Matthew 19 narrates another event with Jesus and children. As people brought their children to Jesus for Him to pray and bless them, the disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus’ response was emphatic: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Do not hinder children. You were one of them.
Throughout church history, theologians and practitioners have discussed the “reliability of the faith of a child.” Well-intentioned leaders, infected by the “grown-up bug,” question the validity of a child’s conversion. To them, D. L. Moody responded: “It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?”
Children are the most prolific mission field. Harvest it!
Children can be agents of God’s mission. We cannot stop at ministering to children and youth only. Great leaders invest in children and youth as agents of the transforming mission of God. Children and youth are capable of sharing the love of Christ to their relatives, friends, and social networks and leading others to join them in their faith.
The Scripture is full of stories of children and youth used by God to accomplish His mission:
…a trafficked child, Joseph, brought hope to his people…
…a shepherd boy, David, defeated a giant and became king of Israel …
…a young minister, Samuel, led God’s people while serving in times of dryness and desperation…
…an anonymous, well-prepared boy provided resources for Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand…
…and Jesus Himself, while still a young boy, declared His commitment to the Father’s business…
It was said by the prophet Isaiah: “…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
Great leaders express their greatness by thinking small. We must focus on the child in our midst.