These are the words of Jesus when the adults, who saw the kids as a nuisance, tried to keep them away from him. It would be foolish of us to regard this event as insignificant. It’s not a story about Jesus loving children, though he certainly does. It is a story of salvation, of transformation, and the importance of children in the Kingdom of God.
Yesterday, we attended the 4/14 Movement Japan Leadership Conference. Over 100 leaders and influencers in Japanese churches were in attendance, learning about evangelizing the 4 to 14 year old generation: why it is important and what are the challenges to reaching their hearts. 70% of all people who receive Christ make the decision to do so before the age of 15 and 80% before the age of 20. Yet in Japan, people under 30 years old make up only 6% of the population of the church! This is a huge missed opportunity as more and more, young people are finding church is not relevant to them.
Meanwhile in places like Mongolia, churches have chosen to focus on evangelizing the youth and have seen exponential growth in numbers. In less than a decade, Mongolia has gone from less than 2% to nearly 8% Christian because the churches have been ministering to the children. Children readily receive the gospel because they are not burdened by cynicism and they share the gospel because they are not ashamed of it!
It was a joy to see a room full of adults, many of them pastors of Japanese churches, coming together to commit to change in the way the Japanese church addresses youth ministry. Yet we realize this group of people are only the first seeds to be planted. As churches and children’s ministries thrive, other churches and pastors will begin to prioritize children’s ministry and see tremendous growth in the Kingdom of God.
One of the questions that was asked was “What about the older people? Japan has a culture of honor for older people. Is it right to prioritize ministry for the young while sacrificing ministry for older people?”
The answer to this important question is perhaps more simple than anyone imagined. Involve the older people in the church in the ministry for the young. One of the churches showed an AWANA video and I was struck by the fact that many of their AWANA leaders seemed to be the older people of their church. What greater honor can there be for an older Christian than to be responsible for ministry to the young? Creating opportunities for the different generations of a church to interact with one another is critical to growing a healthy thriving church. I pray that more churches will make use of this precious resource, mature Christian people with hearts to serve the Lord by teaching and discipling the young.
I am so thankful to be a part of this movement just as it is beginning to take root in Japan. I can imagine looking back at this time many years into the future and seeing it as a turning point in reaching Japan with the gospel. We hope to continue to be actively involved with the leadership of the 4/14 Window Movement Japan and get others involved as well.