January 12, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and 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.”
When Jesus’s disciples tried to keep him from being “bothered” by parents bringing their children for a blessing, Jesus responded decisively. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” This story reminds us to be people who bring children to Jesus rather than those who stand in the way.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began to examine a curious story about Jesus that appears in Luke 18. When people were bringing young children to Jesus so that he might bless them by touching them, Jesus’s disciples intervened, rebuking those whom they believed were bothering Jesus.
But, as I noted yesterday, the disciples missed Jesus by a mile. This is obvious from what he says in response to their action: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them” (Luke 18:16). Next week we’ll look at why Jesus said this. For now, I’d like to reflect with you on the simple truth that Jesus welcomed children. (The Gospel of Mark adds that Jesus took the children in his arms, in addition to welcoming them and touching them; see Mark 10:16).
Churches, it seems to me, should imitate Jesus by welcoming children. Or, to put it differently, we should be like those who were bringing children to Jesus. (Sometimes, I fear, we play the role of the disciples.) Bringing children to Jesus means different things in different seasons of life and in different situations, of course. But no matter the specifics, we should be engaged in helping children know the love and truth of Jesus. For some of us, if we’re parents with young children, this means making sure our children know the Lord. Of others, this means teaching Sunday School, helping out in the nursery, or leading parent education classes. Still others of us can make sure church programs value and respect children and families. Plus, we can always offer personal encouragement to parents, invite families into our homes, and make sure families feel supported and included.
As I reflect on this passage from Luke, I’m thinking about my personal investment in the lives of children. There was a time when that was a top priority for my life. But now that my own children are grown, I’m less regularly involved with children. And I’m not yet in the grandparenting stage of life. Nevertheless, I do try to treat children with respect and kindness, showing them the love of Christ in the way I interact with them. I also make an effort to encourage folks in churches who work with children, youth, parents, grandparents, and families.
If we’re going to be people who bring children to Jesus, then we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Children will often surprise us when it comes to matters of faith. They may ask tough questions we never had to answer before. Or they may show maturity in faith that we had not expected.
I’ll close with an example from my family history. The church I pastored in California allowed parents to decide when their children would take communion and how they would prepare them for this central act of worship. We offered a pre-communion class for children in fifth grade and their parents, but gave parents freedom to follow their own consciences in the matter of communion for their children.
When our son, Nathan, was six years old, he prayed with serious intentionality to “receive Christ into his heart.” He had a clear and mature six-year-old understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. So, my wife, Linda, and I decided it was time for Nathan to receive communion. We choose a worship service a couple of months out for Nathan’s first communion. During those months we talked with Nathan about his faith, about what it meant to be a Christian, and about the meaning of communion. When we asked him what communion meant, he was clear that it was a way for us to remember what Jesus did on the cross. Linda and I were confident that Nathan was ready for his first communion.
We were together as a family during the worship service in which Nathan was going to receive communion. Kara, our four-year-old daughter, would come forward for a blessing, as usual. She’d be ready for communion in a couple of years, Linda and I figured. But as we were getting ready for the Lord’s Supper, it occurred to me that we hadn’t given Kara a heads up about what Nathan was going to do that day. Not wanting her to be confused, Linda and I explained to Kara that her brother was going to take communion in this service. We told Kara that in a couple of years we’d prepare her as we did Nathan and then she’d be ready for communion.
But Kara was not satisfied with this plan. “I want to take communion today. I’m ready,” she said emphatically. “But Kara,” I said, trying to keep everyone calm, “you haven’t been prepared yet. It’s important to know what communion means before you take it.” “Dad,” Kara said, now more emphatically and more loudly, “I am ready. I know what communion means. It means that Jesus died for our sins. It means that God loves us. It’s not just eating a snack. Communion is remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross. I believe he died for me. I believe in Jesus, Dad. I want to take communion with Nathan.”
This was not the plan. It was not our timing. Linda and I were not thinking our four-year-old was ready for such a grown-up sacrament. But she had just explained what it meant and that she believed Jesus died for her. As Linda and I stood there in the sanctuary, trying to decide on the spot what to do about Kara, I heard in my heart echoes from our story in Luke, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” Linda and I both agreed that we really shouldn’t keep Kara from taking communion in that service. So we went forward as a family and both Nathan and Kara had their first communion together.
I’m not telling this story because I think what we did would be right for every family. I recognize that different churches and families have different ways of preparing people for their first communion. My main point is that if we want to let children come to Jesus, or if we want to bring children to him, then we need to be ready for the unexpected. And when the unexpected happens, we would do well to remember this story in Luke. We’ll never be too far off if we’re seeking to bring children to Jesus.
Have you ever observed Christians acting rather like the disciples when it comes to children?
In what ways does your church bring children to Jesus?
In what ways are you helping to bring children to Jesus?
Do something this week to encourage a child to know Jesus better. (This may include encouraging a parent or a grandparent.)
Lord Jesus, thank you for this story in Luke. Thank you for letting the children come to you.
Lord, I want to be with you in this work. Keep me from being like the disciples. Help me, instead, to find ways to welcome children and bring them to you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: When Children Disrupt the Sunday Service
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.