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On Faith: Children can do big things in God's kingdom

On one of the Sundays of September, the Gospel lesson in my congregation was from Mark 9, a chapter in which Jesus holds up a child and urges his disciples to understand the importance of valuing and welcoming children.

In fact, when we welcome a child, Jesus said, we welcome him. It was a very appropriate passage for this time of year, when most of our congregations are seeking to ramp up our efforts to provide ministry with and for children and young people.

We know, of course, that God values the young among us, vulnerable though they may be in many societies or instances. And in spite of their youth — or maybe because of it — children can do big things in God's kingdom and in God's eyes.

According to our Christian faith, a child came even to save the entire world. In the prophets we read, "A little child shall lead them" and again, "Unto us a child is born."

The Bible is full of child heroes. Think of Miriam, the older sister of Moses. When Moses' life was threatened, it was big sis Miriam who took baby Moses and hid him in the bulrushes, and who then cleverly saw that he was adopted into the household of the Egyptian princess at the time.

Or think about David. Although he grew to be Israel's most famous and beloved king, he began as a shepherd boy. A shepherd boy who had a gift for singing and composing and playing the harp. A shepherd boy with a man's courage, who slayed Goliath, the giant enemy of his people. Children are not merely cute; they are courageous and full of faith, called by God to minister to us through play and learning and loving. We are, likewise, called by God to provide ministry that upholds children and helps them to grow in faith and love.

Simple though it sounds, this is not nearly as straight forward an endeavor as it may once have been. Shifts in demographics and society have worked against us in many ways.

Unlike decades ago, in our day and age, we may or may not have many children within our congregations. And due to challenging family situations, any given child may be away every other weekend.

As children age, it's very difficult for any church to compete with every school, social or sports activity. It would seem that in our present era, we must think creatively and be willing to be flexible and try new approaches, if we are to follow Jesus' command to embrace and welcome children.

Most of us are trying multiple approaches to welcoming children. We may do our best to provide Baptism and education about its importance, nursery care, Sunday school or children's church. We may often include time for a children's sermon or youth talk during worship.

In addition, many times, we incorporate children in worship through their singing, reading, acolyting or ushering. Children can be a part of serving church suppers or weeding church gardens.

The milestones in their lives can be observed within congregations, from first communion to graduation from high school to blessings prior to school beginning or driver's licenses being procured. We are doing our best to be welcoming to young ones.

Still, let's be honest — it can be an uphill battle in our day and age to pass on our faith, and to find the ways to best welcome and connect with children. But it's a battle we can't concede, because Christ specifically tells us to welcome children, and to see our welcome for these little ones as a way to welcome Christ himself.

May God bless our efforts to welcome children into God's kingdom!

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Pastor Susan Berge serves at Knife River Lutheran Church and lives in Duluth.