To prepare for this sermon, I Googled “What’s the most important thing you can do for children?” I got around 1.6 billion results! I didn’t have quite enough time to read through all of them, but there were a lot of different opinions. “Eating together as a family.” “Spending quality time together.” “Teaching them to value themselves.” “Lots of hugs and kisses.” And the list goes on.
Now, these are all good things people do for children! But are they the MOST important? Because you’re here—in a church filled with children—you already know what I’m going to say, right? The most important thing we can do for children is to guide them to faith in Jesus! So as Christians, we’re motivated to encourage children in their faith, to serve as spiritual role models. But the challenge is taking that knowledge and desire and putting it into consistent practice, isn’t it?
This is an important topic for all of us, because Jesus Loves the Little Children! How can we put that love into practice as Christian role models? Mark explains. First, Let Them Come to Him. Second, Lead the Way to Him.
The mothers in Mark’s gospel who were “bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them” understood. They’d heard about Jesus’ miracles, how he’d even raised a little girl back to life! They’d heard the prophets quoted, the whispered questions, “Could this Jesus be the Messiah?” They put their faith in him. Therefore, they understood how vitally important it was to connect their children to Jesus! They got it.
“But the disciples rebuked them.” Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it. Acting as self-appointed Secret Service, the disciples ran interference, scolding this crowd of mothers carrying their babies and toddlers for wasting the master’s time with these “insignificant” children.
Which are you? The mothers bringing children to Jesus? Or the disciples cutting them off? Some of you are smiling at the kids next to you. “My kids are in church, so I’m certainly not hindering them from seeing Jesus!” That’s wonderful! I praise God that you’ve brought your children to be blessed by Jesus! But there are more ways to hinder children than irregular church attendance.
We hinder children if they’re only connected to Jesus one hour a week; if we don’t study God’s Word and pray together at home; if during our Monday-Friday routine, we don’t discuss the Bible truths we heard on the weekend; we hinder children by teaching them that faith is only a part of our life when we’re in church. God commanded the Israelites, “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. If we don’t teach children that Jesus is a part of their life during every activity, in every part of every day, we’re like the disciples, putting up stop signs.
If we spend all our time teaching kids to swing a bat, play the trumpet, or dance ballet, we hinder them. There’s nothing wrong with those activities, but when they devour the time you would spend with children in God’s Word, they become stumbling blocks to faith! God told the Israelites, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” He meant that God’s Word needs to be the most important and prominent thing on our minds and in our hearts. Otherwise, we teach kids that God is most important… when we don’t have other commitments first.
And it’s not just parents. If children hear people in the atrium after services complaining about the sermon, the organist, or the hymns, we teach them that worship isn’t about God, but about personal preference. If big sister goes to church but lives with her boyfriend, she teaches little sister that she doesn’t need to actually live her faith, she just has to show up. If church members without kids turn and glare at the family whose kid is crying during the service, and that family never comes back, we’ve told that family, “We don’t care about your kid’s soul at Mount Olive.” If pastor throws together the children’s message only as an afterthought, he teaches that only adults’ faith matters. It’s possible for us to hinder children from seeing Jesus, even when they are in the pews.
Jesus indignantly rebuked his disciples for hindering the little children. Do you think he feels any different when we do it? The good news is, he rebukes us to lead us to repentance. He’s indignant because he loves children so much. Although the disciples tried to hinder the children, Jesus still lovingly took them in his arms and blessed them. In spite of our hindrances, Jesus still takes little children lovingly in his arms. Our failures don’t trump Jesus’ love! The Holy Spirit still works to bring these little ones to faith. God makes them his own in baptism and through the Word. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
So how can we “let the children come to Jesus” as Christian role models? Bring them to Jesus at worship, at Sunday School, and in Christian education; study the Bible with them at home and pray with them; discuss your faith with them; answer their spiritual questions; befriend a family with children at church; get to know them, encourage them, tell them how much you appreciate their kids being in church; give your offerings to support our school and youth ministry and FVL; there are so many ways to let children come to Jesus, and each is vitally important as Christian role models. Why is this work so vitally important?
Because many are falling away! A 2015 poll reported that roughly 1/3 of Millennials are unaffiliated with any church, up 10% from 8 years ago. Interestingly, 80% of that 1/3 were raised in Christian homes. Each successive American generation includes fewer Christians than the one before. One researcher explains, “Older generations of Americans are not passing along the Christian faith as effectively as their forebears.”
Now, we can’t blame the decline in American Christianity entirely on Christian role models. Not every person who falls away is the result of failed spiritual encouragement. But might our inconsistency be part of the issue, or a symptom of a deeper problem?
Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” What does childlike faith look like? Childlike faith trusts completely. It’s like when dad throws his child high into the air. The child doesn’t scream, “Stop Dad! You’re gonna drop me!” The child joyfully giggles, because they trust their Dad will catch them. Childlike faith doesn’t fear, trusting that the Father won’t let them fall.
Childlike faith is simple, humble, and unquestioning. When the teacher tells the kindergartener that 2+2=4, they don’t demand empirical evidence to back it up, they simply believe it. They trust that the teacher knows best and wouldn’t lie to them. Childlike faith takes Jesus at his Word, and doesn’t demand extra evidence in order to believe, because childlike faith understands that the all-powerful God knows better than we do.
Being a Christian role model means that we not only encourage children to have a childlike faith, we also “model” that faith for them! Basically, Jesus says, “to lead little children to Jesus, your faith needs to become more like theirs!” Otherwise, it’s like a mom without a license trying to teach her kids to drive. How can she teach what she doesn’t know herself? Being a Christian role model is like the emergency oxygen masks on airplanes. The safety video always says, “Secure your own mask before assisting others.” To be a Christian role model, you need to make sure that you’re modeling a childlike faith for the children. If we want little children to come to Jesus, then we need to Lead the Way to Him!
That means you’re the one who takes a child by the hand, and says, “Come on! I’ll take you to sit at Jesus’ feet. I’m going there myself.” It means you’re connected to Jesus more than one hour on the weekend. It means that God’s Word takes the most primary and prominent place in your life.
Childlike faith requires repeated study of God’s Word, to constantly remind ourselves of Jesus’ promises, his grace and his love. Adults tend to worry more than children. So to have a truly childlike faith in God, one that trusts humbly, simply and without fear, we need those constant reminders from the one who lovingly took us in his arms and calls us his own.
Why is the work of Christian role models so vitally important for the next generation? Because if we don’t lead them to follow Jesus, the world will teach them not to. The reality that mentor Paul presents for his young friend Timothy is just as prevalent today. “Evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” People will question and mock our children’s faith. Satan will challenge and tempt them to drop Jesus and join the growing statistics of unbelievers. If we don’t continue leading them to Jesus, chances are good that they’ll fall away from their faith, just like that 1/3 of Millennials.
We have to do more than just inform our children’s faith, teaching them book answers like Math class. We have to do more than just conform them to the faith, “This is what you believe because this is what the rest of us believe.” Their faith needs to be transformed; made “their” faith, and taken to heart and life. How can we do that? By connecting them again and again to the powerful, transformational Word of God, and by modeling a childlike faith and life, as Paul did for Timothy. “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” We need to teach them God’s Word. Then we need to show them what living a childlike faith looks like.
What’s the most important thing we can do for children? We spend a lot of time and effort to see children smile. We work to see them smile as they hold up a trophy; to smile as they nail the final notes of a difficult piano piece; to smile as they receive their diploma. But the smile we should work harder for than anything else—the most important thing we can do for our children—is make sure we’ll see their joyful smile in Heaven, as they worship at the feet of Jesus, their Savior and ours. Amen.