Common English Bible (CEB)
30 From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. 31 This was because he was teaching his disciples, “the Human One[a] will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” 32 But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him. 33 They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” 34 They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” 36 Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
Children fascinate me.
On one hand, they can be adorable little mini-humans, sponges of information, endearing in their own way, and brighter than we give them credit for.
On the other hand, if you have ever been in charge of caring for kids, you know that they can be horribly greedy, loud, mean and downright hellish with just a moment’s notice.
The truth is, kids are a handful. At the same time, working with them, caring for them, teaching them, and watching them grow is an altogether rewarding experience. While I’m young, unmarried and currently without kids, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Yes, I am somewhat afraid of being in charge of them, but only because I know that being in charge of kids is a tremendous responsibility, and I am quite large and might break them.
All that aside, I really do like kids. Probably because, in my head, I still am a kid. I have an overactive imagination like a kid. I remember quite well what it was like to be one. I also love to teach, and there’s nothing cooler than the feeling you get when you know you’ve gotten through to a kid.
There’s been a lot written over the years about doing children’s ministry, and integrating children into the life of the church. In fact, one of the biggest services most churches offer are childcare and educational services, which is amazing when done right. It’s been a historical part of the ministry of the church to educate and care for children, going back to early monasteries caring for orphans and educating children offered to the care of the church.
However, what I really want to focus on is the idea of integrating kids into the life of the church. The implications of that are staggering. And no, I’m not just talking about a really good daycare program. My ideal vision for kids in church is precisely that: Kids In Church. Participating in worship. Heck, even leading worship. Not only that, being integrated into the missional fabric of the church, and perhaps even given a voice in decisions and discernment processes for the church.
The church is nothing if not intergenerational, and this is a part of our identity from the start. Jesus in his pedagogical wisdom was trying to quell an argument among his disciples: Who is the greatest.
If you watch young boys long enough a funny pattern emerges: they always wind up being in competition with each other. Who can stand on one leg the longest. Who can run the fastest. Who can be the loudest. The list goes on, but it’s always a competition. Therefore, I imagine Jesus was getting pretty tired of the whole childish argument between fully grown men. So what does he do?
He picks up a kid, hugs him, and makes apparent the problem with they’re logic. Our conception of “greatness” is not God’s. For Jesus, the greatest person is the one who becomes the least, and the servant of all. In caring for the least of these, you find greatness in humility. To be a truly great adult, you need to welcome in the kids.
Adults take themselves way too seriously. We get all up on our high horses, and pretend we are wise and authoritative, while deep down inside, we’re still children. Jesus want’s us to recognize this. However important we think we are, however smart we are, however great we are, we need to remember that we too were children. We too were the least of these, literally, as kids. It’s something we all have in common.
It’s therefore our charge to take care of our children and youth, but not only that. We need to raise them. We need to teach them. We need to love them, and integrate them as much as we can into the life of the church, and not get so upset when they act like kids. We were just like them at one point, and if we forget to care for them, we doom ourselves to irrelevance and oblivion.
In welcoming in the children, we welcome God into our lives, and that’s a far more important conversation to have than “who’s the greatest.”