And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. – Mark 10:13-16 (NASB) (Same in Matthew 19 and Luke 18)
Most of us are pretty familiar with this scripture passage. It’s probably one we have tattooed on our mental “ADOPTION ROCKS” file folder. Jesus loves the children! We love the children! We teach the children to love Jesus! Hallelujah!
But honestly… it’s a passage that always kind of bothered me (GASP. Beware of lighting strike). As a church culture I think we half roll our eyes at “those silly disciples – what were you thinking you goof balls?” and quickly turn our attention to a romanticized picture of angelic, perfectly dressed and behaved children sitting patiently at the foot of Christ. (*major eye roll*) Come on. These are kids we are talking about and in a time without chicken nuggets or in-door plumbing. One hundred bucks says at least nine of those angelic children had a goober on them somewhere… and a mother in the crowd frantically wiping jelly off her Sunday robe. Hardly a picture version King James would approve of.
I’ve read commentary on this passage that says the disciples felt that children were too insignificant to be allowed to interrupt the work of Christ. I suppose that could be true, BUT on multiple occasions throughout the Gospels it was the disciples who brought Jesus to children who needed His healing touch. (The nobleman’s son was healed in John 4; the daughter of a ruler was restored to life in Matthew 9; the young boy in John 6 who offered his five loaves and two fishes was brought freely to the Lord by the disciples; a demon possessed boy was healed in Luke 9). In fact, in Mark 9, just one chapter before the disciples rebuked the “perfectly angelic” children, Jesus took a small child from among his followers and set him on his lap, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37). Apparently, those children were significant enough. What made them different from those seeking his presence in Mark 10?
I think the disciples followed their humanness – like we all do, and they brought to the Lord what was comfortable in their own hearts: the nobleman’s son; the ruler’s daughter; etc. But the children in Mark 10…? What made them unworthy or uncomfortable in the disciples’ eyes? Were they the poor or unkempt children? Maybe their Sunday-best was the clothes they had worn at work, well worn and dirty. Were they the children with physical disabilities that maybe take up more space and time? Were they the children with intellectual or developmental delays that kinda need to do their own thing sometimes? Maybe the ones that have difficulty managing themselves in new or large situations?
Maybe they were the children who were physically or emotionally unable to follow traditional social rules and instructions. Maybe they were the kids that make us uncomfortable in our own church circles… not because we don’t want to love them, but because we don’t know how. And if we are really honest, sometimes taking care of ‘those types of people’ (children and adults alike) forces us out of our comfortable pew just to the left of the heating/AC vent where we like to worship God… without being disturbed. Is our comfortable ignorance keeping these precious yet uncomfortable-children from the sweet embrace of their Savior?
No, I don’t think the disciples believed children were insignificant. I think maybe these kids were harder for the disciples to love and they just didn’t know what to do; and what they did do hindered the children’s access to the Lord. That angered the Son deeply. Let’s make sure we don’t do the same.
Special needs ministry in churches is a huge need. The Christian Orphan Movement means more and more children from difficult backgrounds (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) are waiting at the doors of the American church. If we as disciples of Christ are not proactively ushering these sweet ones to the heart of the Father, then we are, by default, hindering them.
There are so many amazing ways to meet children with special needs and their families where they are at. There are formal access ministries like Able Church and Camp Daniel. There are also structured curriculum resources available from Joni Erickson Tada and the Key Ministry to name a few. (There are some other links below). If your church or congregation is looking to build an official ministry these are all good places to start. But informal outreaches are equally as necessary. My home church does not have a specific special needs ministries but each of the family resources below we’ve taken full advantage of!
*A quiet or low-stimulation room (“nursing” mother’s room) for either parent to participate in worship and/or sermon and safely watch their child(ren) who may be not be able to involve themselves in Sunday school.
*Providing first access to a family style restroom, or augmenting ‘baby’ changing stations to accommodate a larger child.
*Livestreaming or podcast technology that allows families that need to stay home (or are in the newly adopted cocooning stage) to participate in worship and Word from the comfort of their couch.
*Kids church teachers & volunteers that ASK how to best meet a child’s needs. A class room that meets stimulates needs? Basic sign language? Snack/texture changes? Triggers to avoid? Encouragement to give?
*Special training for high schoolers/young adults to be Sunday School Buddies.
*Providing kids church curriculum & crafts to take home if the traditional classroom is not suitable for the child.
*Emphasizing a family’s primary ministry is to their children and releasing a parent (or both) from regular ministry ‘duties’.
These are examples of simple accommodations that loudly declare “you and your child are valued here in any way you come.” I’m sure this was the heart that Jesus was looking for in his disciples in Mark 10. Not gatekeepers of the Gospel, but ushers that say “Jesus is right this way. Let me take your hand and show you the way.”
“We urge you dear brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
SPECIAL NEEDS MINISTRY RESOURCES:
The Able Church: http://ablechurch.us
Camp Daniel: http://www.campdaniel.org
Key Ministry: http://www.keyministry.org
The Inclusive Church: https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/
LifeWay Ministries: http://www.lifeway.com/n/Ministries/Special-Needs
Joni & Friends: http://www.joniandfriends.org/education-and-training/
Children’s Ministry Magazine: http://childrensministry.com/articles/special-needs-no-child-left-behind/