The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in May, 2022*
Sermon Audio: It Takes a Church (Prov 22:6)
Children, do you like coming to church? Do you ever get bored? Wish that I would talk less? My family didn’t go to church very often when I was young, but on the rare occasions we did, I remember hating it. I would wait to go to the bathroom or use the water fountain till the service started so I had an excuse to escape the service for a minute or two, and would usually nod off at some point. A few hundred years ago, a little boy disliked coming to church. His parents had nearly given up attempting to get him to sit quietly through long morning service. He purposefully would try to be as disruptive as possible while he was there—making noise, faces, fidgeting. He hated church and he wanted everyone to know it. One day, somehow, he snuck away from the service and grabbed a set of pots and pans from his home nearby and paraded around the church building, loudly banging the pots and pans together in an attempt to disrupt the service. Eventually, an old deacon, tall as timber and old as the hills, lumbered out and stopped the young man in his tracks. He lowered himself down to where his wrinkled face was level with the red-faced child and said, “Young George, I can’t wait to see what happens when the Lord gets ahold of you.” And one day, when a young George Whitefield became an older George Whitefield, the Lord did get ahold of him and he was preaching to tens of thousands and leading scores of men and women to Christ.
Now, I heard that story years ago in a sermon someone preached and I cannot remember who said it or what source it was from. It has stuck in my mind because it is such an incredible story—you or I would have gone outside and reamed that kid out, but this old deacon responded with a remarkable amount of grace and compassion. Back then, deacons normally used to hang kids by their thumbs from nearby trees if they did things like that. Okay, I don’t really know that for sure, but it sounds like it would be true. Well, I have spent a long time searching for the source of that story or quote, and I could not find it anywhere. I may be remembering it wrong, or maybe it wasn’t about George Whitefield, but I went to Facebook and asked for help to see if someone else could remember it, and no one else did, but the story sparked a memory in someone else
“This reminds me of a church elder I know who got kicked out of Sunday School as a child for biting his teacher on the ankle from under the table…things got much better once the Lord got a hold of him! One colorful note to add…Bill wasn’t allowed in the church during Sunday School after the biting incident, so he had to wait outside until the church service began. This gave him the perfect opportunity to set fire to the weeds in the cracks of the church sidewalk. He was quickly reinstated to Sunday School.” Wise move. Bill sounds like a smart kid. Grateful the Lord got ahold of him.
Here is the aim of my sermon today: what is a church’s responsibility to the next generation, to our children? I am not thinking of exclusively what a parent’s responsibility is, but what an entire church’s responsibility is. There is an old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, but here we are going to argue that it actually takes a church. So, let’s look at our text.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
So, we are going to look at what Jesus’ own perspective was on children, what a church’s responsibility is for one another, and how we link arms to train them.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16
This is illuminating on so many levels. On the one hand, it shows us what the disciple’s thought about children (unimportant) and what they thought about Jesus (important). Important people don’t trouble themselves with the unimportant, and children often can feel unimportant. Maybe you are a very industrious person or have a demanding job or have very pressing “adult” things to do and if you sit and wait the five minutes it takes for your three-year-old attempt to put a sentence together or for your fourteen year old to pour out her heart to you about something that you know really doesn’t matter, that in a week’s time she will have moved on from, it will feel like Man, I could be doing something so much more important right now. And here is Jesus, literally the most important person who has ever lived, God in the flesh, the Messiah, right here. He doesn’t have time to serve in the preschool, parents.
But Jesus thinks otherwise. Jesus becomes “indignant” when the disciples stop the children from coming. This is the only time in all four gospels that we are told Jesus becomes indignant. That word is used elsewhere to describe the other ten disciples when they find out that James and John ask for special seats of prominence over everyone else in the Kingdom (Mark 10:41; Matt 20:41), when the disciples see the woman break the alabaster flask and pour out the ointment on Jesus’ feet, outraged at the waste of something so valuable just to be poured on feet (Matt 26:8; Mark 14:4; rulers of the synagogue see Jesus healing people on the Sabbath or hearing crowds shout out ‘Hosanna’ to Jesus (Luke 13:14; Matt 21:15). So, it’s used when someone sees someone doing something that they think is seriously out of place, something that is deeply offensive, wrong, outrageous. You can’t let these people worship you like you’re God or something…why did you let this woman waste something so valuable on your feet!? They are wrongly indignant. Jesus is worthy of worship, worthy of everything.
But here, Jesus is rightly indignant. Notice what verse 13 said, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them,” (Mark 10:13). This could mean a touch in the way of healing. These children may be sick and parents are asking for help. Or, as verse 16 tells us, this could just be children wanting to receive a general blessing from Jesus. Either way, Jesus is rightfully angry with His disciples and tells them, Don’t you dare stop them. And then Jesus scoops the kids up in His arms and blesses them (vs. 16). You and I tend to think children are unimportant. Jesus doesn’t think that. He considers children to be a great model of what it looks to enter the kingdom of God. If we were to think of what the ideal picture of a Christian were to be, we would think of some guru, some monk or martyr doing cosmically important things for the kingdom of God, someone who prays for 12 hours a day and speaks eloquently and wrestles with Satan—and then we think, Okay, that’s what it means to be a real Christian. But Jesus says, No, that’s not where things begin. It actually begins with looking like a child. Our problem is that we are too vain and self-important, and ‘becoming like a child’ doesn’t jive with that.
“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:46-48).
The disciples here are completely typical of us. Self-important, self-serious, self-centered. And Jesus, in an attempt to pop their bubbles of ego, brings a child forward and tells them that whenever they receive a child “in his name” they receive Jesus, and in receiving Jesus they receive the Father. Before explaining, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” Now, why does Jesus bring forward a child at this moment? In the previous story, the disciples were rebuked for stopping children from coming to Jesus and then a child was held up as a picture of what it looks like to enter the kingdom; here, however, the disciples are arguing about which one is the greatest, and Jesus says You want to be great? Take care of children.
Jesus concludes with, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great,” because we tend to think that caring for children is what the “least among” us do. But it is there that Jesus says true greatness is found. The world may not value children, but Jesus does. Stay at home mom’s, the world will never give an award for what you do; Dads who choose to scale back on their careers, to take a pay cut to spend more time with their kids, the world won’t understand that. But Jesus sees you, and He thinks what you are doing is beautiful, is glorious, is great.
“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matt 10:42. Here Jesus notes that every small act one of His disciples does for children, as small as giving a child a glass of cold water, is meticulously tracked by their Lord and will one day result in a reward. So every act of seemingly unimportant service to our children, every glass of water a mom gets for her boy, every granola bar a dad fishes out of the pantry for his little girl, every midnight diaper change, every late night conversation with your teenager, every frustrating act of faithfulness that you and I are tempted to feel like is mundane and boring and pointless, Jesus sees. And Jesus will one day reward.
So Jesus loves children, His heart is for them, He calls us to care for them, holds them up as a model for us to learn from, and says that one of the best ways to live a great life is to care for kids. Which brings us to our church.
Here is what the Bible tells us about the local church: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another,” (Rom 12:4-5). What is this telling us. It is telling us that the Christian life is communally shaped, and that community looks like people who are different (“the members do not all have the same function”), but who are united in one purpose (“so we, though many, are one body in Christ”). Another metaphor for the church used in the Bible is that of a family. 1 Timothy 3, when explaining the qualifications for an elder, explains that for a man to serve as an elder he must manage his own household well so that he can be prepared to manage the household of God, the church (1 Tim 3:4-5).
So, here is our church, we are like a body, like a family. We are filled with different people, with different gifts, from different walks of life, and different perspectives. But God tells that across our diversity, we are “individually members one of another.” We are bound together. We practice this at Quinault by taking membership vows, promising to use our gifts, our time, our energy, our resources to help one another grow in Christ, to bear one another’s burdens, to love one another. This means we put a priority and premium on the relationships within our church, with those we have made a commitment to.
Now click the lens over to thinking about our children: There are people here who are older without children, there are single people with no children, there are young families, there are empty nesters, there are widows, there are parents of teenagers, there are single parents; there are people who naturally love children, and there are people who find caring for children stressful. God has so chosen, so meticulously arranged this body together so that across the varied walks of life and various giftings, we could help raise the next generation. So this means that as we follow our Savior who loved children and commanded all His disciples to care for children and defined greatness that way, and we become a member of the body of Christ where we commit to help one another along in the Christian life, we never say anything like: Well, their not my kids, so their not my responsibility; I don’t have any kids, so I don’t need to worry about that.
We are all in this together. Christian Smith, a sociologist who has specialized in how religion, and Christianity in particular, is transmitted most effectively to subsequent generations has written on what seems to be the hallmarks of young people whose faith perseveres and flourishes beyond adolescence. The first hallmark is parents whose Christianity was just a natural part of their everyday life, who were strict with discipline, and who were active members in their local congregations. The second hallmark, more than anything else, more than going on mission trips or participating in a youth group or going to a Christian school, was that the young people developed meaningful relationships with non-family adults within the church.
When I was younger and not a Christian, like I said before, my parents were not walking with the Lord. So, when I began attending church in high school I began to make friends there and I was invited over to different Christian homes. I can remember clear as day, sitting at Julie and Mike Pemberton’s home for lunch after church one Sunday with everyone seated around the dining table and the thought struck me: Wow, all these people really like each other. I didn’t know anything about God, I didn’t know anything about the Bible, I didn’t know anything about anything, but I knew that this family possessed something I didn’t have. And I was hungry for it. I saw Christianity lived out in front of me there. I saw adults embrace the gospel whole heartedly. I saw how a husband loved his wife, how parents raised children, how a family prayed together, what repentance looked like—I saw it lived out in the families of the church. All because families were willing to invite me into their lives.
Just to make the point even more real for us.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
– Ps 127:3
What is a “heritage”? This is the same word for an “inheritance,” which we tend to associate with the opposite end of the spectrum of birth—with death. Like receiving a precious heirloom or vast estate, we receive our children as an immeasurable reward.
One pastor once noted a place in the Bible where God had blessed someone to the tenth generation. So, he began to pray for his children to the tenth generation. So, I have three children. If my three children each have three children, and that reproduction rate holds for ten generations, that will be 59,049 people. In our church, we have nearly 50 kids, in ten generations that will (assuming they have, on average, three children) turn into nearly 3 million people. That is almost half the population of Washington state. And they are coming, church. Do we not bear an obligation to them? Are we not responsible? Does not our church need to do something to get ready for them?
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
The word “train” does not refer merely to the transfer of knowledge, but the cultivation of taste. It is related to an Arabic word that refers to a date mixture parents would rub on a newborn infants palate to help them learn to suck. That serves as a wonderful illustration of how we “train” our children. We need to give our children a sense, a taste of what the correct path is. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Dane Ortlund explains his aim to do this as a parent and what he received from his own parents:
“Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.
This is perhaps the greatest gift my own dad has given me. He taught my siblings and me sound doctrine as we were growing up, to be sure…But there’s something he has shown me that runs even deeper than truth about God, and that is the heart of God, proven in Christ, the friend of sinners. Dad made that heart beautiful to me. He didn’t crowbar me into that; he drew me in.” – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, pgs. 100-101
How do you make the heart of Christ beautiful for your children? Well, you first need to be captivated by the beauty of Christ yourself. You can only give what you have. How do we do that? Well, we need to consider what the Bible says about us being children.
The Bible does not describe us as initially as children of God. Look at John, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). He gave the right to become children. Which means, of course, that we previously weren’t children. Similarly, Paul tells us that we have been adopted into God’s family in Eph 1:5 and Romans 8:15.
So, what are we naturally then? Here is what Ephesians tells us: we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3). Children of wrath. We were headed towards destruction, waging war against God, thinking we knew everything. We, like a dead fish floating downstream, just followed the paths of the world, living for the flesh. Children of wrath. And what does God do for us in our sorry state?
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved,” Eph 2:4-5. But God. The great interruption we sorely need! God interjects Himself into our situation, our poor and pitiful situation. And what does God interject with? The riches of His mercy. Not His wrath, though we were children of wrath, ones who everyone would expect to receive wrath; instead the holy God responds with mercy. And why? Because of the great love with which he loved us.
No one is born a Christian. Every single one of us are transferred from darkness to light by the sheer grace and love of God. Christ, our older brother, laid down his life so that we could be adopted into His family, made alive, lifted us up into the heavenly places, and placed into a new family in the local church. And when you and I see that kind of love and turn towards our own children, the children of our church, and we (imperfectly, yes, but genuinely) extend the same kind heart to them that we have received in Christ. That’s how we make the heart of Christ beautiful to them, we let the beauty that has gripped us spill over into every part of our lives, including our parenting.
Practically, how can we train up our children:
– Treat children like they matter. Jesus thought they did. Jesus told us if we wanted to be great we should care for children, we should learn from them, we should receive them in his name. So that means we are going to treat children like they matter at this church. Children are not an interruption to our services, they are honored here. When we are in a conversation with other adults and our children walk up we don’t, through our tone and dismissiveness, tell them, “You are a nuisance.” We get down on their level and we speak to them, treat them like they matter.
– Let children know that you like them. We love our children here and we interact with them in such a way that they know that we enjoy them. We care about them. I love that Mark told us that Jesus scooped the kids up in his arms and embraced them. Kids need lots of hugs and cuddles from mom and dad. We need to play with our kids, wrestle with them, read to them, spend unhurried time with them. We all know we cannot be a professional playmate for our kids. We have jobs, we have other responsibilities, and we must discipline our children. I am not saying we give our children everything they want. But, it is precisely because we have those other responsibilities that we must make it abundantly clear to them that we delight in them, that they are an inheritance in our eyes. This is why when mom and dad discipline their children, we have to be so careful to show them the heart of Christ. God disciplines all his children (Hebrews 12). But His discipline, He makes clear, is a display of His love. It is not Him losing His temper, getting pushed to His limits and finally snapping, You are driving me crazy! Our discipline is not the by-product of our own impatience and anger, but must be the outflow of our love and commitment to our children’s own good. So, when it comes time to get a spanking or a timeout or a grounding, you make it clear to your child: Sweety, I love you and it is because I love you that I have to give you this consequence. And then, afterwards, we go above and beyond to show them: you know, I really, really enjoy you; nothing is ever going to change that.
– Serve children how you have been served. We wipe noses, and have the same conversation a thousand times, and make lunches, and show patience to those who are being impatient. We extend the same kind of love and care and service that God has shown us. If you are struggling to serve your children, just ask yourself, “How has Jesus served me?” In our church, one of the best ways we can serve our children is through volunteering in our children’s ministry. You can also regularly pray for our children. You can interact with them, spend time with them, invest in them.
Jesus loves children. He cares for them, and He calls us to do the same. God has placed us into this church where we all bear responsibility for one another—including the raising of our children. And He has shown us the beauty of His heart as a model for how we can train our children in the way they should go.