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Being an Invitation from Jesus for Children

Being an Invitation from Jesus for Children

"Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” - Matthew 19:14

by Wynn Stenftenagel on January 26, 2022

In the Gospel of Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” I am fortunate that my experiences in the church have affirmed that invitation. Growing up, I always felt right at home in my “family church”.  The doors were never locked to any part of the building, so we could roam in the sanctuary, classrooms, and kitchen as we were compelled, or commanded, if adults needed to give us directions. Except for the terrible burden of being a shy girl having to recite memorized Scripture in front of the entire congregation during Children’s programs, I was made to feel very comfortable in church, even singing in the youth choir.  Still today, that church finds great enjoyment in the little ones coming with the noises and distractions that they bring with them. Holland UMC delights in children. Or maybe that’s just the perspective I get from my large family that worships there.  Regardless, the children come, and in so doing, they meet Jesus in a number of ways, from the Children’s Message to the Nursery and Sunday School Classes, KIC (Kids in Christ) Wednesday nights, and the HUMmingbird childcare center that the church runs.

As a young adult, I no longer thought like a child, and left my childish ways behind.  Unfortunately, that translated for me as a loss of faith. Even in the wilderness of my season of atheism though, I planned for any children I would have to be raised in the church as I was. Something of Jesus’ invitation to let the children come to him stuck in my psyche! I never stopped valuing the precious gift I received as a child in my home church, and all the things I learned at Jesus’ knee.  If you have been watching The Chosen series, you may have seen in episode 3 the moments that children had with Jesus, and several lessons they learned from him that they had not been taught anywhere else. First, they were welcomed.  Second, they were valued and listened to.  Third, they were taught for themselves, in relationship with others, and in their beliefs about God.  The seeds planted in childhood can take root and grow far beyond what anyone can imagine. For me, those roots were so deep that I returned to Christ when I started believing in God again, and upon my first visit to a United Methodist Church in the town where I lived, I discovered a homecoming.  My first connections in a new faith life were teaching first graders in Sunday school class and working for the church’s preschool.

I love being a part of similar opportunities now, as an adult and pastor at Bethany.  Since I remember church so fondly as a friendly place that felt like home, I had fun (pre-pandemic!) hosting weekly cookie parties in my office for staff children and occasionally other children wandering by on their way to preschool.  Having an office in the main hallway meant getting to greet children as they passed through, and making sure to have toys on hand!  Our staff kids are dubbed junior associates and are familiar with how our meetings run because they often attend them.  It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility to be a safe space for kids to come to not only play, but to also talk about what is going on in their lives, and as they get a bit older, how they are doing.  Since I have been at Bethany for so long now, I have been blessed many times by talking with confirmands about the Bible and theology, and to serve as a mentor and advisor for kids and youth struggling with life’s challenges.  It really is harder and more complicated for kids now than it used to be.

How do you understand Jesus’ instructions to let the little children come to him? Consider the ways you are that invitation, or that guide, for the kids in your family, life, and church.  It is not the sole onus of Children’s Ministry staff and volunteers.  It’s a responsibility we all bear and share. If you are shirking that role, are you stopping children in some way? Jesus loves the little children, and so must we!

Blessings on the Journey,
Pastor Wynn

Tags: faith, jesus, children

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