Summary: A message to adult's about the Lord's emphasis on children.
“The Children’s Champion”
Mark 10:13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
Ministry to children has always been a challenge for the church historically and theologically. Church leaders have struggled to meet the needs of children for many reasons but if we want to know the value of children’s ministries we have to look no further than our text and Jesus word’s to His disciples. I want to share one example that speaks to the difficulty…
Robert Raikes, Glochester, England—1780’s
At the dawning of the industrial era in the late 1700’s (about the time of the United States Revolutionary war) England had a large underclass of poor people who had moved from the countryside to the city to work in “factories.” There was at least one factory in Glochester that manufactured pins. Children as young as eight years old worked six days a week in gruesome surroundings for a pittance. When their tiny hands (which helped them as workers) got caught in the machinery and got cut off, the children were simply dumped on the streets and new workers were hired. There was no free schooling at this time. Education was considered a family (not a communal) purchase—if you had enough money, you sent your children to school. If you were poor, your children did not learn to read and write, and were probably destined to a life of poverty so they couldn’t even read. In the growing factory society the poor never seemed able to rise out of their abject poverty.
Sunday was the one these children got off. Many blew off steam wandering around the town breaking windows and robbing homes while the upscale parishioners attended church. The street urchins of the day survived miserable conditions at work and learned how to be pickpockets and thieves at a young age. There was no way out of the poverty cycle for these children.
These “gangs” of street urchins sparked a vision and burden in Robert Raikes. He saw their lack of education, their dead end life of poverty, and their turning to crime as something Christian folk should be concerned about so he got an idea. His idea was simple: why not start a school on Sundays for these poor children where good Christian people would teach them to read and write, teach them the Ten Commandments, and instruct them in moral living? Maybe with a basic education they might be able to escape their dreadful life.
So Raikes started a “Sunday school” for these poor children. Their parents could not pay for school like other better-off people could so Raikes paid for the first school himself—and recruited others to contribute. He became obsessed with reforming the morals of the poor children and the “lower class.” In 1780 (or maybe 1781) he started this first Sunday school and paid the teacher himself. She quit soon after but he hired others. Since he was a printer, Raikes published large sheets with the Ten Commandments and other Scripture verses on them so the children could use them for his double-duty aim of learning to read and write—and at the same time learning moral principles to live by. These printed sheet were in a sense the first “Sunday school curriculum.” Raikes was a devout member of the Church of England…
Opposition arose quickly to Graham and Bethune and their idea of starting Sunday schools. The idea of holding classes on Sunday was called Sabbath-breaking. Isabella’s husband encouraged her not to wait for the male pastors to get aboard but simply start with the women—which is why the word “Female” got into the title of her organization. Meanwhile her husband organized the New York Sunday School Union which tapped male givers who couldn’t bring themselves to support the women’s group. This mother-daughter team faced typical opposition from established pastors (especially the prominent role of women in the movement). For instance, in 1817 in Medway, Massachusetts when the minister and deacons were opposing the women’s idea of starting a Sunday school one male leader complained, “These young folk are taking too much upon themselves.” Others said “These women will be in the pulpit next.
Keith Drury’s “Local Church Education” course at Indiana Wesleyan University over the years 1996-2010
The disciples exhibited some of the same attitudes so it is safe to say that this has been and continues to be an issue for the church. Let’s examine our text to see what we can learn…