13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16

The question for me isn’t why was Jesus blessing the children, but instead why didn’t the disciples want Him to bless them? He had time for children and the disciples didn’t is what it all boils down to.

In North America large numbers of young people have left the church and there seems to be little church leaders and pastors can do about it. They have tried everything from entertainment to mission trips in exotic locals to win their hearts back to the church—but nothing. Then again maybe this is part of the problem; we are trying to bring young people into the church.

The church, for many young people who have grown up in small town and small churches, was less than impressive. Stale music, stale testimonies, stale sermons, and stale viewpoints just don’t excite youth and make them enthusiastic about church. Then again, it probably doesn’t do much for adults either.

So, is all lost? No, because young people can very much be won to God, but we must encourage and allow them to come to Jesus for their spiritual blessings and not micro-manage what we think they need or should have spiritually.

Friday evening a friend told me that a mutual friend’s daughters are attending a church that they are so enthusiastic over they actually plan their University studies around the church. I will guarantee that the church focuses on reaching youth, encouraging youth, and ministering to youth.

The young are not necessarily turned off towards God, they simply don’t know much about spirituality. This generation is the first that has grown up without their parents having a strong church background. So the problem is really two fold for any person or church that wishes to minister to the youth of our society. One is a number of them have attended churches that have, to be honest, left a bit of a sour taste. And on the other hand we have a great number of youth who have never experienced Christianity in any form.

Let’s get back to Mark 10:13-16 again for a moment and notice Jesus’ words to the disciples about these children.

14“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The first thing we notice is Jesus says “let the little children come to me.” One of the great problems we have faced reaching out to the young is we do not let them come to Jesus. We try to get them into Church or baptize them, or get them involved in a host of activities, but what they need is Jesus. Now, for many of these young people, that may not include church services or taking on the other trappings of Christianity now or ever.

What it does mean is we have to stop being like the disciples who hinder the children from coming and receiving their blessings at the hands of Jesus. We have to stop hindering them.

How do we do that?

First of all, the Kingdom belongs to “such as these”. We know that Jesus is drawing a spiritual truth out of the situation by reminding the disciples that the innocence of the children, who readily come to Jesus, is how we should all be in our relationship with him. Open, loving, and accepting are the hallmarks of children and the hallmarks of born again believers. Jesus goes on to say that if we won’t receive him as these children receive him then we don’t enter the Kingdom of God. (v. 15)

Secondly, we need to invest time in youth. There has to be one-on-one encounters that put Jesus at the center of the conversation instead of pressure to conform to what we think they should become and act like. I know, this takes time, energy, and determination but it is what we must do to reach out.

Friendship evangelism use to be a buzzword in the Christian community but has lost its luster because of the personal work involved. It is what we have to invest in again if we are at all serious about youth. It really isn’t about the age difference between those of us who are older and the youth we are reaching out to. It is instead an honest desire to share Christ and let the youth know that they are welcome in the heart of Jesus.

Instead of being gatekeepers we need to invite young people to meet Jesus who accepts them as they are. That is a hard thought for some of us older believers to get our heads around, but it is true. When the children came for blessings, Jesus didn’t have a quiz or have them recite the catechism to see if they were worthy of his blessing. He just gave the blessing to all who came. And who came? Those whose parents brought them. Today that task falls more and more onto the shoulders of believers to invite youth to meet Jesus.

Lastly, the whole point of our responsibility is simply to point to Jesus and invite people to get to know him. We are not the teachers or the changers of hearts; that is the work of the Spirit. We simply do the introductions.