Reach: valuing, welcoming and reaching children, giving them an opportunity to come into relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus had an amazingly high value that he placed on children. Once he said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4).” And in Luke 9:47-49, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you is the one who is great.”
Luis Bush summarizes Jesus attitude in his must read book, The 4/14 Window: “Want to enter God’s kingdom? Become like little children. Want to be great in God’s eyes? Become like little children. Want to let Jesus know you welcome him? Welcome little children. Want to avoid God’s judgment? Don’t lead little children astray. Want to identify with God’s plans? Don’t belittle or overlook little children. Want to follow Jesus’ example? Love, pray for, accept, be with, and bless little children.”
Sadly in many of our churches today, kids are the great omission in the great commission. In history there have always been those who are overlooked by others. In the Christian community children sometimes have been relegated to second class status, both in what people perceive they can understand and in what they can do. In the old days there was a saying, “Children are to be seen but not heard.” This was a parenting attitude of the 50’s and 60’s. Jesus would have had a hard time with that because he treated kids with so much more respect and value.
Once when Jesus was on one of his ministry trips some children were trying to get to him but the disciples intercepted them thinking they were doing Jesus a favor. Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to bring the children to him and he blessed them saying it was to them that the Kingdom of God belonged. Jesus, in this moment, challenged the prevailing attitude toward a young generation of his time. He also said to “Not hinder or forbid the children to come to him” (Matthew 19:14). Going even further he declares that to cause even one of these little ones to stumble would incur his wrath. “Better to have a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea than stumble a child” (Matthew 18:6). Wow!
It’s ironic that so many ignore the clear and explicit words of Jesus and do not have any strategic plan to bring kids into relationship with Christ. It should be one of our primary objectives both as parents and those in the Church community. How can we neglect the evangelizing of our own children, all the while waiting for them to come to some ambiguous “age of accountability” (which by the way is NEVER mentioned in scripture)? Never does the Bible encourage us to wait until a certain time before introducing kids to Christ.
My wife Becky’s story underscores the need to rethink how and when we approach leading our kids to Christ. She tells of a time when she was just five years old and heard from her 7 year old sister that she had asked Jesus into her life. Becky knew that it was something she also wanted to do. Soon after that she was in an adult church service one Sunday night trying to sit still, behave and stay awake, and remembers the preacher asking if there was someone who wanted to give their life to Christ. That was exactly what she wanted to do and this was her chance, except the preacher completely ignored her, thinking that she was just a child and wasn’t paying much attention anyway. After raising her hand in response to his question and being ignored, she knelt down right there alone and asked Jesus into her heart. At that moment she felt a warmth go through her entire body. Excitedly she went to her older sister and told her the good news. Too young? Think again… Becky has been walking faithfully with Jesus ever since that day, and is a champion for the cause of kids and a leader in the Vineyard today. In our vineyard church we have over one hundred kids come to Christ every year. And Becky makes sure it happens! Turns out that God was already at work in a five year old’s life and she was more ready to come to Christ than anyone could imagine.
Like Becky, contrary to preconceived notions of many adults, children can indeed grasp spiritual truths quite easily. They can sense the guilt of sin and understand that they need a Savior and grasp the significance of faith. They are very eager to respond to a loving God that wants to be their Savior (forever friend). God created us to know him as children.
It may come as a surprise to you that 90% of our brains are formed by the age of three and 85% of our personality is formed by the age of 6. Just as kids are rapidly growing physically and emotionally in the first few years of life, their spirit is ready to grow, too. This is the age to introduce kids to the basic concepts of God’s loving kindness and goodness. “By the age of 13” according to George Barna, “One’s spiritual identity is largely set in place” (Future Impact, Dan Brewster). Accordingly, If we can reach children and youth, and disciple them when their life perspectives and worldviews are being shaped, we can set them on a foundation that cannot be easily moved. The Jesuits understood this truth and said, “Show me a child when he is seven and I’ll show you the man” (Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney).
Interestingly enough, evidence suggests that if children are going to make significant, long term commitment to follow Christ, those decisions will often be made (80%) before the age of 15 (85% before the age of 19). If a young person has not made a decision to follow Christ before the age of 19, it is highly unlikely they will do so later on in life. Wow! If that is anywhere near accurate then it seems that we would be wise to invest our time, energy and money to evangelizing this age group. And don’t forget that the most effective communicators of the gospel to kids may be other kids if we train them and give them the resources they need.
For us at the Vineyard Church of the Rockies it is our goal to ensure that every child and young person is given the opportunity to know who Jesus is, what He offers, and how to know him personally. We also believe that this is a community effort. It really does take a village to raise a child but also to lead a child into relationship with Christ. If our Christian community is not authentic and not living out the teachings of Christ it will be very challenging to bring the emerging generation to Christ.