Children are often viewed as sweet little animate toys given to gratify our quest for entertainment. In many ways, they are. But they are more than that. They are humans. Hundred percent humans. Notwithstanding their little frames and silly use of their small brains, they too are body and soul. For this reason, they are moral creatures attracting the interest of their Creator.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Luke 18:15–18, where it is recorded that the people in Jesus’ time “were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” This account brings out two contrasting attitudes to children: the natural parent’s attitude to children and Christ’s attitude to them.

The natural parent’s attitude to children

While parents were seeking to bring their children to Jesus, the believers ironically sought to frustrate this. Christ’s own disciples were guilty of barricading children from reaching Christ and the place of worship. In our times too, the tendency is to distance children from public worship in a variety of ways. At one extreme are parents who, like the disciples, simply see no need to go with their children to the place of worship. So they leave them at home except on Sunday mornings, when it is socially and politically incorrect to be at church without their children.

At the other extreme are parents who take their children with them to God’s house, but with motives that smack of superstition. Temporal blessings such as good health, protection from spiritual harm, or good luck in their studies and life in general are sought. This is well illustrated in Luke’s narrative where parents bring their children to be “touched” by Jesus. There is no indication that the kids were ill or in need of liberation from bullying foul spirits. Just a touch from Jesus. Hopefully a blessing would ooze out of this. I am frankly bewildered what theology drove this “Jesus touch” theory. I can only imagine that it reflected a desperate but untutored desire for blessings. If this be the case, I will grant that there is room for seeking blessings through prayer. Yet even this should not be the primary reason for seeking God. A saving relationship through Christ should be the goal.

            Among those that do the noble thing of going with their children to God’s house, a good number are in a hurry to surrender them to some crèche. Others care less what their kids do. So they let them yap and roam during the worship service. There are good reasons for these neglectful and worship-disruptive tendencies, I must mention.

            First, most parents view children as intellectually and spiritually incapable of engaging God. They are too young for it. Even when these kids are smart enough to study and memorise colours, numbers and other things at school, they are deemed unready to learn basic spiritual truths.

            Second, parents are often not aware that both Sunday school and the main worship service are actually schools, just like pre-school and primary school, except for the syllabus and the significant fact that God is the ultimate teacher. Appreciating this will encourage parents to ensure that the discipline and order obtaining at their children’s schools is insisted upon during worship. This means no loitering, playing, snacking, chattering, snoozing and needless toileting during the worship service.

            Third, sometimes parents want to sincerely free themselves of the disturbance that comes from restless children. They, however, forget that it is their duty to train their children to seriously participate in all the aspects of worship from infancy. I cannot think of a holier way to enjoy worship free of child disturbance. It is part of the “game”.

            Fourth, although there is serious awareness that church is a place of worship, there is the unconfessed tendency to see it as a social club too. Therefore, parents allow kids to be kids during the whole time. For adults, it is a get together, a time to offload all gossip arrears. This is the occasion for emotional catharsis. At least adults have a sense of occasion, so they socialise after the service. Not so their kids. The example of our Lord Jesus as a child must come as a stinging rebuke to parents who are disinclined to sit in with their children through the entire worship service, with full focus on worship. Even before age 12, Jesus was routinely in the temple with his parents.

            What in Jerusalem was this boy doing in the temple when some of his peers were watching “Jerusalem United” slugging it out in the nearby soccer stadium? His parents led him to God’s house to worship. To use more modern parallels, there is no indication that while he was there he was running around the church fields, or sitting in some corner munching popcorns and crisps, occasionally licking lollipop while glued to mom’s cell phone. You do not get the impression he was involved in heated discussions about church human rights and freedom of mobility with his parents. Jesus paid careful attention to what was taught and he engaged the pastors in gripping Bible discussions.

Some might say, “But this was a special child, an extraordinary child.” Well, why on earth would any parent not want her children to aspire to be like the best kids? Who wants violent, dishonest, insulting kids for their children’s models? There you are! The boy Jesus must be the model for all children. Mary and Joseph must also be models of spiritual parenting.

Christ’s attitude to children

Two things characterise Jesus’ attitude to children:

Jesus openly invites children to come to him: “Let them come.” Jesus expresses special interest in children. They are not intriguing tulips or fascinating dolls. They are creatures made in God’s image, made for him and his worship. It is worth noting that Jesus demanded direct or personal engagement with the children. He would not accept relating to them through proxies or intermediaries. Such is God’s love to us. He seeks personalised contact with us and our children.

Jesus rebukes child obstructionism: “Do not hinder them.” All who neglect the spiritual wellbeing of their children by design, ignorance, negligence, or even superficial appearances before Christ are rebuked. Mere church presence without engaging Jesus as he speaks through his preached word is as good as not being present.

            Should not curiosity incite us to ask why Jesus extended the invitation to children? His explanation is instructive. “To such belong the kingdom of God,” said the Lord. The statement “to such,” makes it clear that children are not all automatically saved. Otherwise, this would absurdly mean that we are all born saved, only to lose this salvation when we cease to be children. Jesus is not saying children are in the kingdom, but that they are of the kind who enter it. They possess the ingredient of those who enter it. Emphasis is on receiving the kingdom in the manner childrenreceive things (v.17).

            Simple trust or the humble receptivity of children sets a fitting template for receiving the kingdom. The faith of children in their parents is similar to that planted by the Spirit in justification. Its features are unmistakable: humility, simplicity, fearlessness and hope. It is amazing that God chose a way of salvation that seems foolish, to shame the wise and nullify any human boasting and pride in possessing it (1 Cor. 1:18, 27). This salvation is accessible to all: wise and simple, adult and child. Let us, therefore, not deprive children the opportunity to hear the gospel. We never know when the Spirit of regeneration will intercept their unbelief. Yet, faith comes by hearing the word.


Let children be where Christ is. He wants them there. Where possible let them join parents in times of prayer and Bible study. Parents, where else shall your children learn how to pray the way you do and reason through your doctrines?

Parents should train their children to be disciplined during worship. The same Jesus who said “let the children come to me” desires to minister to them too. Do not allow distractions to rob them of God’s blessings. Train them to heartily sing, pray, and listen to sermons and review them at home. Encourage them to seek, meet, know and enjoy Christ.

This obliges preachers to directly connect with children in their sermons, among other goals. It is their solemn duty. Children are kept engaged by simplicity, clarity, interesting illustrations, and direct loving applications.

The God who said “train up a child in the way he should go” will remember your parental role as he fulfils his promise to see to it that your child “will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Invest in their eternal wellbeing while they are malleable.