Recently I heard the following story: A family with two children started attending a church close to their home. The son was deaf, partially blind and had a rare blood disease. Even though the boy was very sick, he was also energetic, creative (read into that what you will!) and fun loving. While they were the only family attending with small children, they thought they were loved and accepted by the other church members. Then one day, a representative of the church came to them and asked them to find another church. "We'll help you out financially any way you need it," the church told the family, "But because your son is so noisy and disruptive, we would appreciate it if you went somewhere else.'
"What's the rest of the story?" my husband asked when I shared this with him.
That IS the story.
Granted, some children are disruptive. Whether physical handicaps, emotional trauma, socio-economic restrictions or more energy than a roadrunner on steroids, some children face tremendous odds that will challenge the comfort levels of a small church, Is motioning the family toward the door an option?
Not according to Jesus! In Mark 10:14, Jesus told his disciples, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these." He goes on to tell his disciples that anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Jesus gives two good reasons for children in the church. Children need the Kingdom of God. How else will they receive the Kingdom if not through the vehicle God has provided called the Church?. Second, the Church needs children. We need children to teach us how to receive the Kingdom. How will we understand what Jesus meant unless we surround ourselves with children and observe what it is about them that makes them so special to Jesus?
"You don't understand," pew-sitters might moan. "They are SO disruptive. Our little church just can't handle them. You want us to change we do worship just to accommodate them?" A church overwhelmed with a special needs child might stop to think of what it must be like for the parents who deal with the child day in and day out. Are we saying they need to trust the Lord for daily strength and courage to cope with their child's needs when a congregation isn't willing to put up with it for one hour a week?
Think instead of the tremendous blessing a small congregation can be in lifting up a family, encouraging them, carrying part of the load, as Galatians 6;2 tells us to do. Think of other fringe and community people who are watching how the church interacts with someone who is different, watching to see if the church is as loving and accepting as they say they are. If the church enfolded that child and his family to themselves, think of the message of love that would shout to the community.
It can be done as another congregation proved. One Sunday, a pastor noticed a new family in the congregation, a father and two sons. The next Sunday, the mother showed up with the two boys. This pattern alternated for several weeks. One Sunday the pastor asked why they didn't all come together as a family. The parent explained that they had an autistic son at home who hated crowds and was scared of the loud music from the organ.
The pastor said, "Bring him anyway. We'll do what we can to make him comfortable." The family sat in the balcony and left church a few minutes before dismissal. And wouldn't you know it? For some strange reason, the organ didn't work for several Sundays in spite of being tested and working okay mid-week! Soon, the autistic child was taking piano lessons from, guess who? The organist! Last time the resource for this story heard, the boy was starting to play the organ.
If your church is small, children will demand change. A church might have to let loose of some of their sacred cows for the sake of a child. It's worth the sacrifice, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. A child's faith is more rich when it is shaped by adults. If we are going to shape the faith of children in our communities, we need to be willing to give up our time schedules, get down on our creaky, arthritic knees to their level, touch their grimy hands and love them to Jesus.