It’s so commonly said that it’s become a bit of a joke at seminaries and among pastors. When asked where a church feels called to ministry in their local community, one response floats often to the top. “We really want to minister children!” church leaders will respond. Push a little bit on that statement, why folks want to bring in children, and the truth is out: “If we bring in more kids, their parents will come along, too, and that will keep the church alive and kicking!”
I can’t fault the impulse. In all the time of my ministry, I have only ever known two congregations that were not existentially afraid – two out of the eight or so churches I’ve worked with that weren’t concerned with their growing age and the dearth of young adults in worship.
I do, however, deeply fault the logic, and all because of my college freshman philosophy class.
Immanuel Kant, 18th century German moral philosopher, spent a chunk of the “Grounding on the Metaphysics of Morals” on the question of what constituted a moral act. He ended one such line of thinking with the proposition that one such moral act was to treat a human as an “end in itself.” That is to say – humans are, morally speaking, not to be used as means to an end, but as valuable for and in themselves.
When we see the people in our community as things that we NEED – as a sort of commodity that we can buy with children’s programming and coffee – we have lost any sense of these folks as ends in themselves, and are instead trying to use them as a means to a laudable end, the preservation of the church.
God calls us not to need other people in this way, but, rather, to have something to GIVE – a series of wondrous gifts, our hospitality and our friendship and the good news of Jesus Christ. And I am enormously excited when I see us sharing those gifts with children.
If we’re going to minister to children, let it be because we have something we want to give them! Let’s tell the Bible stories that touched our hearts, let’s play and listen and share! We have gifts to give, gifts that will treat each child as a beloved daughter or son of God, as valuable as just who they are.
“Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” If we take Christ at his word, then even God’s kingdom is not ours, but belongs to these children, these kids. And our responsibility, to the best of our ability, is to give it to them. Not for our sake, but for theirs.