I’ve worked in a few different contexts where I saw churches change at the level of the child. What does that mean? Well, simply put, there was a gathering of people who attended a church. All of a sudden, children entered the picture in some sort of way (like through a church school, camp, or other outreach), and almost overnight, the very fabric of that particular body of church people dramatically changed!
How did it happen? As these young people were finding themselves and becoming citizens of God’s community, they seemed to be unencumbered enough to bring new life into stagnant spaces. By virtue of the gifts that youth brings, like the gifts of questioning and exploration, or the gifts of care and compassionate concern, the churches actually changed.
We remember well the story of the children who were brought to Jesus to be blessed in Matthew 19:13-14. The disciples were like, “Hey! Get those kids away from here!” And Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and don’t hinder them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”
In our communities of faith, we have often played the parts of the disciples—being the gatekeepers: “Okay kids. You have to be quiet. This is how we do things in worship. This is how you pray. No, you cannot swing from the balcony.” We are showing them the ropes, ‘cause we just know how things are done with Jesus.
Look at the power dynamic in this text. The disciples are gate-keeping and the little children are powerless to stop it. One exercises power over the other, or at least tries to do so.
But Jesus rebukes the gatekeepers and says, “Let the kids near, for “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
We see this! Our churches change when children such as these enter. As they usher in the kingdom of heaven before our eyes, one of equality, understanding, care, compassion, and concern, it would behoove us not to be gatekeepers, but realize who really holds the power. Jesus, who specializes in flipping paradigms, shows us how important the such as theses are, and how we have so much to learn from them.
Lord, give us courage to invite the children such as these into our hearts and spaces, to bring about liberation and change all around us.