I came into my office the other day to find a quote on my desk that someone had left for me. The quote read: “Children are not just the church of tomorrow. They are very much a part of the church of today.” As I sat down at my desk it occurred to me that we don’t see children in the Bible “growing up” before they served God; in fact, many of them served God with great effectiveness before they would have been recognized as adults.
Josiah became a king when he was eight years old. Not long after he assumed the throne, he began to go throughout Israel and led a revival towards God and away from idolatry. That’s right: the entire nation of Israel followed an eight year-old towards repentance and righteousness. What’s more, Josiah didn’t buy into the idea that he needed to “grow up” before he could serve God. He served God in his youth and the Bible calls him the best king that Israel ever had. (2 Kings 22)
A young servant girl approached the powerful and wealthy military commander, Naaman and made the suggestion that he travel to Israel. She said that if he went that he would meet Elisha, who by the power of God would heal him of his leprosy. Naaman heeded her suggestion and the rest is history. When Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4, he makes reference to two Old Testament stories: one of them is the healing of Naaman. All of that happened because a young servant girl didn’t buy into the idea that she needed to be older to hear the voice of God. (2 Kings 5)
Samuel was a young boy whose mother brought him to the temple. There he heard God speak to him and tell him the future of Israel. All this while Eli, the high priest was deaf to God’s warning. It’s crazy that a kid, not the great high priest, heard the voice of God. (1 Samuel 3)
There is the young boy who brought a lunch to hear Jesus speak one day. When he felt the call he stepped up and offered his lunch to Jesus; in turn Jesus used his offering to feed the 5,000 that had gathered. Because he was bold and faithful, Jesus used him to perform a miracle. (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6)
In front of an army of adults, a young shepherd boy chooses to take on a giant. David defeats Goliath. He trusted God and his covenant, as a result he faced a giant and won. All while he was still a kid. (1 Samuel 17)
Two parents lost their twelve year-old in the midst of a trip to the temple. When Mary and Joseph found young Jesus teaching in the temple they asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was going about “His Father’s business.” (Luke 2:41-52)
I know I’m biased towards kids here, but that’s because I’m their pastor. But I also see how often their gifts, passions, and talents – that are being used for God’s purposes – go unnoticed, are undervalued, and dismissed. This is largely because many buy into the idea that kids are our future, not our present. And when we let that myth masquerade as truth we relegate kids to a spectator status with the idea that, some day – one distant day in the future – they can participate in the mission of the church. The problem is that if we shape them to be spectators, then that’s all they will be. What’s more, the sit and watch approach becomes their understanding of what church is.
After Jesus turns the tables over in the temple and healed those who came to him, the children began to sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The priests were indignant and asked him if he heard them. He responded saying, “From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” We would do well to heed the voice of Jesus to listen to and consider the voices of our youth. (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 2)
We have an opportunity here, an opportunity to be a part of shaping the lives of kids to lead the church of today and carry it forward tomorrow. We start this by listening to them, taking them and their questions seriously, and not dismissing their voices because they aren’t of a certain age. I guarantee that when you do, you will be amazed. The gift of youth is that they aren’t burdened by the cares of adulthood, they can dream and wonder in ways many of us find difficult.
What a gift to us that God continually gives us younger generations to speak through and lead us.