By Michael Kelley
Picture the scene with me—another busy day in the life of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus and the disciples turned, there were people. Sick people. Needy people. Accusing people. Skeptical people.
And, as it turns out, there were also a bunch of kids. Their parents brought them to Jesus because it was customary for great teachers of the law to lay their hands on children and bless them. These parents didn’t quite know what to make of Jesus, but they came.
Jesus, in response, became indignant. Then he welcomed those children with open arms—teaching the disciples a lesson about the kingdom of God along the way.
“Let the little children come to me,” he said in Mark 10. “Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus then took the children into his arms and blessed them.
His words in this passage teach an important lesson for us church leaders. The temptation is to act like Jesus and bless children along with everyone else.
Instead, we need a reminder to be like those kids.
We are often insecure. We’re overworked and under-rested. We’re overcommitted and under-joyed. We’re overstressed—thinking we should be doing more for Jesus.
There are always more people who need to hear the gospel. Always more families in need of prayer and spiritual care. Always more tasks to do at church to keep our ministries running.
And we, as a result, are weary. We need intercession and blessing from the Lord—as did the children who clamored toward Him in Matthew 19.
Even as pastors and leaders, we desperately need to understand the state of rest that comes so naturally to children who trust in the love and care of their parents. How much more should we rest in the fact that we are the children of God.
How do we do this? How do we begin to “grow down”? Here are three simple things we can do.
Create margin in our schedules
We live in a marginless society. Our wallets, our calendars, our emotions—all are fully booked. Every minute, every dollar, every spare thought seems to be accounted for. As a result, we’re unable to rest.
It’s not like that with children. They know how to be busy—to be creative, to care deeply, and to live in the moment. Then they know how to stop and rest. They have faith the world will not end if they stop for a moment.
It’s a lesson we adults can learn. By faith, we don’t have to do everything all the time. As children of God, we can trust He will ultimately take care of our needs.
Say “no” more often
Saying “no” is difficult for most of us because we fear disappointing people. As a result, we’re overcommitted and under-rested.
Again, it’s not so with kids.
Children are honest, in that respect. They haven’t yet been taught that we have to keep up a reputation and constantly advance in our social standing. Instead, they say yes and no freely and then keep right on going with life.
As children of God, we can learn from this. We can say “no” to those things that are not the best use of our time and energy. We no longer seek the approval of anyone but God—and in Christ, we already have it.
Open ourselves up to authentic relationships
Children are naturally authentic—sometimes uncomfortably so. Surely, most parents have wished their kids had a better filter on private details. The desire for privacy grows as we age until we reach the point where most of us are—no one truly knows us.
People know only the best version of us: the carefully curated one with a smile in the right place, the kids dressed just right, and the polished conversation ready to go. Keeping up that kind of image is exhausting.
As God’s children we can move into authentic relationships beyond this façade we have created. This, in fact, is how God created us—to live in authentic community with other people rather than guarding our privacy so closely.
As church leaders, we must use extra caution. It’s not wise for a pastor to air his dirty laundry every week in front of the whole congregation.
It is wise, however, for pastors to pursue relationships both inside and outside the congregation that allow them to be themselves.
All these things are natural for children. If we want to grow up in Jesus, then it seems we must grow down to be more like children.
Perhaps it’s time we begin to see them as examples—and incorporate these characteristics that ought to mark the life of every grown-up follower of Jesus.
MICHAEL KELLEY (@_MichaelKelley) is the groups ministry director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus.