Children are often our best teachers. They approach the world with wonder and acceptance. They seek community, even as they sometimes struggle to share what they have. They are undeterred in their quest for justice and fairness. It’s not clear Jesus saw these traits in children, but we do know he implored the disciples to embrace them. He saw children and those who approach God with a childlike faith to be mirrors reflecting the image of God. In this lesson, children will explore their role as people called by Jesus to demonstrate the love of God to world.
Begin the time with your group of children by discussing what it means to be a child in today’s world. Ask your children to share a list of places or activities where they feel welcomed. Then have them consider what spaces they can think of where children aren’t welcomed. Why aren’t children allowed in them? Are there times when it is good for kids to not be involved in an activity? Are there spaces or activities where children aren’t welcome but they should be?
Prepare to read aloud Mark 9:30-37. Provide some context for the text. Note that when Jesus was alive, children were not viewed the same as they are now. Children were particularly helpless because they had little protection. They could not contribute to households, so they were seen as a burden and extra mouths to feed. Children were not only powerless, they also didn’t have value until they reached an age where they could be productive for their families. Encourage the children you move through this lesson with to hold these ideas in mind as they hear the Scripture reading.
Read aloud Mark 9:30-37. Ask the children to recount how the passage begins. It starts with the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. They try to hide their disagreement from Jesus, but he knows what they have been saying. Jesus then offers his own view of who is “the greatest.” Share that Jesus tells them, “Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Have the children wonder about this statement. What does Jesus mean? What does it mean to be “last” in society? Note that Jesus tells the disciples that those who are considered outcasts or least important by the world are the “first,” or those who will lead the way to God. They will understand what it means to be a disciple. Jesus lifts up a child as an example. Have the children share what Jesus tells the disciples about children. Then ask them to wonder what Jesus means when he says “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Share that Jesus is telling the disciples that children clearly reflect Christ to those who welcome them into a life of faith. Children were not as important as adults and were very vulnerable. By welcoming them, we welcome Jesus.
Continue the discussion by encouraging the children to think about how Jesus might want the church to treat children today. Share that Jesus’ words were spoken to the particular disciples he engaged in ministry with during his life on earth. However, they are also words that all future disciples, including us, listen to and try to follow. Ask the children to think about how the church might come to know Jesus better by involving children. What do children offer? How are children like Jesus? What can adults learn from children?
Together with the children, create a visual representation of the ideas they have discussed. Below are two activity options. Select the one that best fits the children you are working with. If you’re doing this lesson at home, share your children’s art with the congregation by taking a picture and emailing or texting it to some of your fellow church members, especially those in leadership positions. If you’re doing this lesson with a group of children at your church, display their work so that other worshippers can see it. By sharing their art, you’ll be demonstrating to the adults they worship with the ways that our youngest disciples enrich the church.
Paper people activity (simple): Gather the materials you’ll need for the activity: a large piece of blank paper (preferably chart paper size), printouts of these paper people, scissors, glue, and crayons or markers. Begin by asking each child to draw a church on the large piece of paper. Then give them a sheet of paper people. Ask them to color each paper person so that it looks like a child involved in the life of your church. Be sure they include themselves. After coloring, ask them to write a word or two that the person represents on the corresponding paper person. Have each child cut out the paper people and glue them on the paper church. Talk about how each of these people helps make the church what it is.
Origami people activity (intermediate): Gather the materials you’ll need for the activity: a large piece of blank paper (preferably chart paper size), several sheets of origami paper, string, scissors, glue, and crayons or markers. Begin by asking each child to draw a church on the large piece of paper. Then hand each child several sheets of origami paper. Show them this video demonstrating how to make origami people. Before making each origami person, ask them to write the name of a child in the life of the church on that sheet of paper. Be sure they include themselves. When they fold the paper, the name will not be visible. After completing each person, have them write a word or two on that figure that represents the corresponding person. When they have finished making their origami people, join them together using string. Affix the string of people on to the paper church. Talk about how each of these people helps make the church what it is.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.