November 2022
“Where are the children?” I ask my college students this question often as we read Scripture. I invite the students to use their imaginations. In Deuteronomy 5, when Moses gathers all of Israel to remind them of the covenant that God had made with them at Horeb—where are the children? When Solomon dedicates the Temple in 1 Kings 8—as the ark of the covenant is brought in, and the glory of the Lord descends—where are the children? In Matthew 5-7, as Jesus delivers the mountainside sermon to the crowds—where are the children? When Peter preaches to Cornelius’ household in Acts 10—when the Spirit is poured out on them, and they are baptized into Christ—where are the children? Where are the children? The children are right there, in the midst of the gathering, taking it all in. If we don’t pause in our reading of scripture to ask ourselves, “where are the children?” we’ve probably missed them.   Our culture is different. Children do not always tag along with parents to all the important events that shape our thinking as adults. In fact, our culture might be so focused on our children that they are given alternatives to participating with the grown-ups. If I was to ask a student of our culture, “where are the children?” they might answer at school, at a swim meet, in children’s worship, at music practice, in their rooms, or playing video games. These are great activities! I’m not necessarily bothered that our children do all these things, my children do. Sadly, though, the answer is that children are elsewhere. They are not with us. If you were to look around your church and ask, “Where are our children?” What would you find? Perhaps you would find that: Children are a vital part of our church family.The church is a family composed of all kinds of families—young families, old families, single families, large families, friends like family. If you grew up in church you were probably blessed by spiritual parents and grandparents—women and men that loved you and wanted you to walk with Christ. Research from Kara Powell and the Fuller Youth Institute found that teens need influential relationships with at least five adult spiritual mentors to help stick them to the faith as they mature into adulthood. These vital intergenerational relationships are formed when parents and church leaders intentionally nurture healthy, life-giving relationships between children and adults. Children are participating in and learning a particular way of life.The presence of children in our churches goes beyond forming relationships with mentors. Within the faith community, children learn to worship, praise, serve, forgive, show hospitality and mercy, and become stewards of their resources. Discipleship isn’t just learning about God, it is the process of being shaped by the character and life of Jesus. God lays a kingdom mission on the church, gifts people for the mission, and empowers them to live it out. When we invite children into the center of our gathering, to do Christian life with us, we are empowering them to live a missional life. Children are pointing the way to Jesus and the kingdom mission.In Matthew 21:12-17, Jesus is performing miracles in the temple in the presence of two groups of people named in the passage—the Jewish leaders and the children. The children are shouting, “Hosannah, to the king of David!” and the Jewish leaders hear them loud and clear. These leaders are bothered by the children’s praise and confront Jesus with their perceived problem. Jesus answers, “From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” What if these supposed leaders had valued the children’s testimony about Jesus? They would have done well to listen and learn from the children. The children were leading in their understanding of Jesus, but the proud would not follow. How often do our adult sensibilities stop us from seeing God at work? Children call forth praise in Scripture, and I have been blessed to see them continue to do this today.  So, let me ask you, “Where are the children?” Look around your church and pay attention to what they say and do. Listen to the songs they sing. If you don’t see them, change something. God may have put something on their lips and in their hearts that is just what the church needs to hear.
Shannon Rains (DMin, Abilene Christian University) is the Assistant Professor of Children’s Ministry at Lubbock Christian University. Before her appointment, she served in children’s and family ministry for fifteen years. Dr. Rains lives in Lubbock, Texas, with her husband David and their children River (2003) and Reese (2009).