“Let the little children come to me.” – Jesus of Nazareth
This past Sunday was a snow day in our part of the country. Most churches closed due to weather. When my wife, daughter, and I made our way downstairs to make some breakfast together, my wife suggested that we have a family devotional time. Since our daughter is six, we have the Jesus Storybook Bible, a summarized version of the Bible that tells the major stories on a level that children can easily understand. Sarah, my wife, thought it would be nice to read a chapter from that book and then say a prayer together.
It was looking like an idyllic family devotional time until we told our daughter about the idea. For some reason (maybe because she had just woken up and because of the magical snow outside), she was not in the mood to have a family devotional time together. She started to cop an attitude and resisted the idea of reading a Bible story together and praying together.
My mind and heart raced for a response. I knew that I had two primary ways of responding: be a dictator and insist that our daughter cheer up and join us in this spiritual moment OR give her the freedom to choose whether or not to join us parents in a devotional reading and prayer.
I chose the latter. I decided that I did not want to force or demand participation in something so special as a time of worship. Instead, I chose the option of invitation. I invited her to the table with us, knowing that she could freely opt out without any hard feelings.
So my wife and gathered at the table, held hands, and started praying. Our daughter was in next room, free to do as she pleased.
While Sarah and I were praying, something beautiful happened…..with our eyes closed, we suddenly felt a small hand join in on top of ours. It was our daughter, freely accepting the invitation to join us in worship. My heart melted for a moment and then we continued our prayer and then read some of the devotional book together. From that point forward, our daughter was actively engaged and the attitude was gone.
I tell this story knowing that not every similar case ends that way. But I couldn’t help but notice a general principle at play that I have noticed when working with children and families in worship settings (or humans of all ages for that matter).
Here is the principle: the idea of invitation. I believe it is critical to invite people to worship and engage with Jesus rather than to force, coerce, or bribe people to such things. For those of us who lead worship experiences, that can feel risky. What if nobody wants to come? What if nobody responds? What if they all walk away? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is stepping out and worshiping God in Spirit and in truth and offering a free invitation to anyone else who wants to join in. God will work in the hearts of those He is calling to join for that particular time. And if some do not join in at that time, that’s fine. God may still be working in their hearts, just on a different pace or with a different big-picture story.
I wonder if many people are resistant to the Church and to God today because at some point in their lives (probably their childhoods) they felt forced or coerced to do something spiritual. The last thing we want to do to children is communicate the message that God is a dictator that makes them do things they don’t want to do.
Remember that Jesus said “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14; emphasis mine). He did not say, “Make the little children come to me.” The irony in that passage is that the disciples were actually holding the children back. The children wanted to play with Jesus. And Jesus simply said “Let them come to me.”
I’d like to share a worship response object lesson we organized at summer camp last month. It was a little risky because we had about 300 campers and it could have gotten chaotic, but the kids did great and the end result was very moving.
First of all, when I say, “worship response,” I’m referring to something we do after the sermon/teaching time in a worship service. The band played soft worship music while the kids rotated around the room at various stations that helped them respond to God’s Word in a variety of ways. I go into more depth about this general idea in another post.
One of the stations this particular evening of camp invited the kids to write things down at two different tables. The theme of the camp was “I Am” and we looked at some of the “I Am” statements made by God in Scripture.
Table number one had poster boards, permanent markers, and a basket of cards wherein each card listed a name of God found in Scripture (“Counselor”, “Redeemer”, “Alpha and Omega”, “Good Shepherd”, etc.). The kids would come to this table, grab a card, and write what they saw on the card onto the poster (using a permanent marker).
On table number two, we had a large white dry erase board and some dry erase markers. The children were invited (if they chose to do so) to come forward and anonymously write a sin or struggle on the white board using the dry eraser (see where we’re going with this?).
When all the campers had written what they wanted at the two tables, we brought the posters and white board on stage. I instructed the band to play What Can Wash Away My Sins? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus while a child wiped away the sins and struggles from the dry erase board. It was a beautiful moment.
Then, as you can probably guess, we brought up the posters with the names of God all over them. I told the same child to try erasing it with the dry eraser. You should have seen the look on his face! He thought I was crazy for telling him to do so. But I wanted to make the point clear: as he attempted to erase the poster with God’s names, nothing was coming off. It was all permanent! And that is exactly the point of this illustration: Jesus wipes away our sins, but His name endures forever!
Your name, LORD, endures forever, your renown, LORD, through all generations. -Psalm 135:13
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Photo Credits to Christopher Seay of Next Level Kids Camp in Texas (all except the last photo).