At my home church one of the core values -- in fact, the first core value -- is "Children Come First." In a congregation which is majority children and youth, the primacy of ministry programs for young people is a given. We also intentionally raise youth up as leaders, not only within the programs in which they participate, but also within the leadership structure of the congregation as a whole.
Over the last few hours, I have been thinking a great deal about this core value of children coming first. Yesterday, we spent a good chunk of the day coordinating with our Salvadoran Lutheran Church team leaders for this year's Mission of Healing. We met at Fe y Esperanza, the former refugee camp turned agricultural center, gathering in the sanctuary of the church there with church leaders, congregation members and community representatives. We had just about completed our review of the different healing areas (spiritual, medical, reflexology, HIV education, children's play, adult craft table, etc.) when the president of one of the communities' town council raised her hand. "What about spiritual healing for the children?" she asked. "Today I had an experience walking behind a family of children and their mother as they were walking to school. The children were rebellious, playing in the dirt, running around, chasing a cat and the mother was at her wit's end. I see children who are troubled, rebelling more and more. They need prayer - to be prayed for, prayed with and prayed over."
This might be something you would expect to hear in a room full of pastors and church workers. What struck me as unusual was that these thoughts did not come from a pastor but from a community leader who was very sincere in her concern for children and youth in her community and her country.
What followed was quite an extensive brainstorm of ideas for an area dedicated specifically for children, where they could meditate near a candle and have their own spiritual healing experience. Of course, children and youth will continue to be welcomed into the general spiritual healing area with or without their grown-ups just as they have always been. But in addition, pastors with gifts in working with children will test out some new ideas as a pilot project for this year. In neighborhoods where the presence of gangs and violence impacts the lives of children so strongly, and where children are afraid or even not permitted to walk to church or or to a friend's house or even to school, adults need to create opportunities for children to play safely, to talk about their worries, to have quiet time, to pray, and to know that they come first.
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”