My fifth word that must impact children’s ministry is from Matthew 18:
The disciples were anxious to know who was going to have the privileged positions in the kingdom, and they got up their courage to ask Jesus. Their question is recorded in Matthew 18:1. I believe they were really, really, really hoping Jesus would say “You guys, of course!” But instead, Jesus looked at the people listening in, saw a little child, and called the child over to him. He stood the child right in front of them all.
I wonder, “What happened in the disciples’ thoughts during the few seconds it took for the child to walk to Jesus?” I think they might have thought something like, “Oh-oh – I’m not sure this is going to be the answer we were hoping for.”
Jesus DID answer their question in verse 4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (ESV). But in addition, He took the opportunity to teach several things about children, and three of them are made especially significant by His use of the word “one.” Here are the three:
Don’t offend one.
In verse 6, Jesus gives us this warning. Some translations use the phrase, “cause a child to stumble”, others “to sin”. Actually, it is the two concepts put together: we are not to be the reason why a child would be hindered in their spiritual growth. With this warning Jesus adds the sobering comparison, “…it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Don’t despise one.
I hate it that Jesus inserts the word “one” in verse 10! I’d be in the clear if Jesus had said, “See that you do not despise these little ones” because I love kids! But He had to say, “See that you do not despise one” – and I remember Billy. “Stinky,” “dirty,” “loud,” “hyper.” They all applied to Billy. Actually, I remember quite a few kids that – I confess – I despised. This is so hard to do, but if we are to have the mind of Jesus in our ministry, we will love all children the same, just like He does.
Don’t lose one.
Jesus ends this topic with the parable of the one lost sheep. His conclusion at the end is “it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Again, “one” is SO significant; and we would do well to notice it. The shepherd (who is an illustration of the attitude of our heavenly Father) has ninety nine out of a hundred sheep safe in the fold – yet his concern is for the one that is lost. I think, if he were like us, he’d be feeling pretty good about the ninety nine: after all, most of us stay quite focused with how many children we have. But if we think like Jesus, we will ask, “How many did we lose?”
Do you ever measure that? How many children were attending regularly, and now are not? I don’t consider a child moving as a “child we lost”, but a child going from a life pattern where he was hearing God’s Word and learning, to one where that is no longer the case, is a loss. How about your small group leaders? Would they say with the Father, that “it is not my will that one of these little ones should perish?
Don’t offend one. Don’t despise one. Don’t lose one. Following these words of Jesus would revolutionize how we approach our ministry.