Sometimes I am asked if I miss serving as a pastor in a local church. When I answer yes, I will most often give a brief response such as, “I miss having the close personal relationships with the people.” Upon further reflection, after almost 14 years as a state missionary, I can honestly say that I truly miss the pastoral relationship with little children as much as I do with the adults.
In my early pastorates, Pam and I worked with preschoolers, in Vacation Bible School. I loved watching them interact and receive the blessing of Bible teaching and the enjoyment of the special activities which accompanies this annual emphasis. In the latter years of my pastoral ministry, I worked with adults in VBS as well as teaching them in Bible study on Sunday mornings.
As I travel the state representing Alabama Baptists in churches of all sizes and types, I watch with keen interest how pastors relate to little children. I often have some endearing flashbacks to my days in the local church. I can remember the smiles and chuckles of the little children as I welcomed the opportunity to interact with them. Those are cherished memories for me.
As a frequent guest in churches due to my travels, children have a natural hesitation about reaching out to me. This is very understandable and indeed a healthy response. Today, we are concerned about the safety and well being of our children and we want to protect from the dangers of any kind of potentially abusive situation. Reluctance to talk to strangers is no respecter of persons. When the parents introduce them to me, most off those barriers come down and there is at least a smile and in some cases an answer to the question, “Well, how old are you?”
Recently, I was in revival at the First Baptist Church of Demopolis, a church served so well by Carl Williams. He has three beautiful children. The youngest is Marleigh. She is a little redhead like my youngest daughter, Allison. Marleigh has an infectious smile and an overwhelming desire to hug everyone. I was no exception. She came running to me and hugged me at every opportunity available to her. She came back several times and said, “I need one more hug,” which I happily gave to her.
In the Bible, there is some discussion about the “blessed child.” The Old Testament offers descriptions of this blessing. Remember, Jacob stole the blessing from Esau. Later, Jacob seemed to shine his blessing on Joseph too. The so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son may have overtones of the “blessed child” built into the narrative. The blessing sometimes became problematical for the child who did not receive the same parental affirmation as another.
In our culture, we don’t speak so much of blessing one child over the other. Yet, parents may have a tendency to do that more than they think. Some children get the mistaken notion that they are an “unblessed child.” This formative and fallacious self-concept can cause many problems in personality development, which can be evidenced years later in adulthood. Dealing with these issues is a most challenging task for parents and for the children who grow up with such feelings.
Jesus commanded His disciples to “let the little children come to me, for such is of the kingdom of God.” Our Lord, in His earthly ministry, set a sublime example as to how to affirm or bless children. Today, He wants us to nurture the children in such a way that they will be drawn to Him. Jesus wants us to lead children to Him for salvation. When children are reached for Christ at a reasonably early age, they tend to develop the disciplines of faith, which become tools in the Christian life for faithful living for Christ.
Marleigh blessed me with her hugs and smiles. She reminded me that we are little children in need of affirmation. Children bless adults, especially their parents, when they offer such gestures of affection and consideration. It is actually a two-way street flowing with the kind of healthy love that Christ so often described. When I look into the face of little children, I see a glimpse of Christ Himself. I pray they see the same reflection on my face when they see me.