Are Children’s/Youth Ministries the New Leper Colonies?

Are Children’s/Youth Ministries the New Leper Colonies? August 17, 2014

10584005_10152544613465490_742738581872875014_nThe little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them…(Matthew 20:13)

The disciples had a knack for protecting Jesus from those they considered unimportant. They wanted to send away the 5000 to feed themselves. They wanted to send away the Canaanite woman who wanted the scraps from Jesus’ table. And, they wanted to send away the children. Because Jesus was simply too tired, too busy, and perhaps to important, to lay his hands on those squirmy, chatty, rambunctious, stinky kids.

The disciples tried to create distance between Jesus and the kids. Not unlike the society at that time tried to create distance between lepers and “healthy people.”

In Jesus’ day, children, women, and slaves were lumped together as inferior members of society. Children had no rights. They were second class citizens, if that.

When Jesus heard what the disciples were up to…he went ballistic. You can almost hear him: Who do you think you are keeping these kids away from me. Get out of my way. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

And then Jesus removed the space between him and the children by taking them in his arms and blessing them.

Never once does Jesus say we should have the faith of adults. He says we should have the faith of children. He raises their status from second class citizens to the top of the class.

I’ve been a pastor for 30 years. I firmly support and applaud ministries to children and youth. I recognize the importance of speaking Jesus to them in their language, in their metaphors and life experience, and in creating environments for them to hang out with like-minded followers of Jesus in their age group.

But in our zeal to try to connect with our kids and youth, I’m wondering, from the vantage point of 30 years, if perhaps our ministries to children and youth haven’t sometimes gone too far, creating “leprosy zones” for kids; isolating them into their own tribes, communities, classes, etc., with little to no contact with big people, except perhaps to parade them out at Christmas and Easter. (Ouch!)

In my last post: Sunday Schooling Our Kids Out of Church, I suggested that maybe one of the reasons kids have a hard time staying in church as adults is because we assimilate them out of church from nursery through high school. Many churches never see a child/youth in worship and the children/youth never learn how to worship with the adults. So once they become adults they aren’t willing to enter that foreign country. (So, for example, focusing on an issue that has my attention right now, how will a boy ever learn to worship as a man if he doesn’t worship with other men?)

Regardless of where you come out on that argument perhaps the deeper issue is this: What message are we subconsciously and consciously giving our kids/youth when we intentionally and strategically create experiences in our congregations that keep them away from the larger Body of Christ?

What are we telling them about their place in the church and the Kingdom of God when they are isolated from adults/big people worship starting in nursery through High School and even beyond?

            Let the children come to me…

What are we telling them about God and God’s grace when we refuse to give them communion because they aren’t old enough?

            Do not hinder them…

What are we telling them when we bless adults (as most pastors do at the end of a worship experience) but we don’t bless the kids (most Sunday school and youth programs don’t end with a blessing…and because they aren’t in big people church, kids never receive the “communal” blessing from the pastor who represents the whole congregation and blesses on behalf of God)?

            For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.            

As one person wrote in a comment concerning my last post: A teen once said to me, “If the church doesn’t love me, then God must not either. To her, the congregation had made it clear that children and teens weren’t welcome and she took that as a stand-in for rejection by God.”

            And he took them into his arms and blessed them…

Again, the point is not that we shouldn’t have ministries geared to our children and youth. They need them.

But in the overall vision of the church, are our kids and youth a vital part of the whole Body of Christ—are they a part of us—or merely a subset moved off into their own colony?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:1-5)

A few weeks ago we had all of our kids come up front at each service. Each child told us his/her name (or someone told us the name if the child was an infant). Then, as I laid my hand on the child’s head, the entire congregation said the name of the child and blessed them.

The following weekend we had some of our kids, K-High School, line up in the front of the church. The adults, one by one, stood or knelt in front of one of the children and the kids laid hands on them and blessed them. In that moment we weren’t children or adults. We were the Body of Christ.

Isn’t that what we are supposed to be?

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