by Wess Stafford
Quick, tell me, what portion of your church budget is dedicated to children's ministry? If it's more than 15 percent, yours is an exceptional church. Children make up half of our world's population. Why then, does it make sense to spend less than 15 percent of our efforts ministering to them? The answer, I'm ashamed to admit, is that we—the church—are missing an important opportunity. Indeed, we are missing a crucial mandate set by God Himself.
Throughout the course of this year, Pulpit Helps has asked me to share the depth of God's heart for children and the poor, and what that means to you. It's a message I'm very passionate about. My hope is that you'll join me in this passion and spread it throughout your congregation—and that, together, we can build a grassroots movement for children that will sweep across the nation. Let's begin with a story about one of the most innovative evangelists of the 1800s: D. L. Moody:
The story is told that late one evening Moody arrived home from speaking at a meeting. Emma, his wife, was already asleep. As her exhausted husband climbed into bed, she rolled over and murmured, "So how did it go tonight?"
"Pretty well," he replied. "Two and a half converts." His wife lay silently for a moment pondering this response, then finally smiled.
"That's sweet," she replied. "How old was the child?"
"No, no, no," Moody answered. "It was two children and one adult! The children have their whole lives in front of them. The adult's life is already half-gone."
You see, D. L. Moody understood something that many of us have either forgotten or have overlooked altogether. Children are a huge part of the plentiful harvest that Jesus spoke about. Research indicates that almost two-thirds of the people who give their lives to Christ do so before the age of eighteen.
That's a massive window of opportunity! But far too often the church spends those years entertaining children instead of evangelizing and discipling them. It's like a farmer saying, "I know that two-thirds of my crop is ready for picking but I'm only going to spend 15 percent of my time and resources focusing on that section." It doesn't make sense.
You need only look to the Scriptures to see how precious children are to God. Jesus taught it all through His teachings. The first are last and the last are first. The weak are strong and the strong are weak. The rich are poor and the poor are rich. Everything about the Kingdom of God is upside down and it should be no surprise that the most often ignored—the children—are, in fact, important to God.
Still, the church is not innocent of committing the "Great Omission"—overlooking children. How many church planning sessions focus on children? Few, I'm afraid. Who are the hardest volunteers to recruit at your church? Chances are it's the nursery workers or Sunday school teachers. At many seminaries, child education and evangelism is a "lower elective." This is just the opposite, I believe, of what God intended.
Twelve years ago, just one week after I accepted the presidency of Compassion International, my heavenly Father spoke to me in a very real way, explaining His heart for the world's children.
I was out on the wide expanse of prairie east of Colorado Springs. There was nobody within 10 miles of me except cattle, a few coyotes, and jackrabbits, so I did what I often do when I'm alone with the Lord: I was singing at the top of my lungs. I was praising Him for that evening's glorious sunset over Pikes Peak. I was overwhelmed and amazed that God would entrust Compassion's ministry to insignificant me. I pondered for a moment how big our ministry might become by the time I would retire. If God blessed the future as He had blessed our past, I calculated that we might be sponsoring over a million children by then! I spent a moment in amazement until I sensed an almost audible voice say, "That's all?"
I whirled around to see who had spoken way out there in the middle of nowhere. Then a follow-up question pierced my heart: "What about all the others?" God was unfolding an important message to me in a very personal way. He was telling me that it is the mission of all believers to protect and encourage all children—to make a way for them to His lap.
Even when Compassion's ministry grows to one million children, it will still be but a drop in the ocean of hurting children who need our help. Six and a half billion people live on our planet. Over three billion of them are children. That is one tremendous ripe harvest! Not only are the workers few but their willingness to take on this challenge is lackadaisical at best. If we, the church, are not willing to disciple these precious little ones, who will? And that question brings me to the sense of urgency I feel about this message.
Imagine with me, if you will, those early days of God's creation. Remember that, as Lucifer, Satan was a witness to the process of creating the world. It frustrated and angered Satan to see the great joy and satisfaction God was getting from the emergence of this wondrous work of His hands. How curious he must have been when God fashioned man in His own image from the dust of the earth. I can almost hear the devil grit his teeth as God breathed His own breath into man's nostrils.
Something about this crowning part of the Creation moved God deeply with a profound love. Satan saw it and knew he had found a soft spot in God's heart. To hurt God, all he had to do was destroy mankind. He began his strategy as a serpent in the Garden of Eden, and he has been trying to accomplish it ever since.
First Peter 5:8 says, " your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." When a lion approaches a herd of antelopes, it singles out the weakest animal for the kill. Often that means a younger buck or fawn that hasn't quite developed the agility and speed of the older animals.
Satan is no different. He knows the weakest prey is our children. He also knows that if he can catch them while they're young, they may never have a chance to develop into spiritually strong adversaries. He continues his quest of destroying mankind and he's preying on our young ones to do it.
I firmly believe there is an invisible battle, a spiritual war, raging over each and every child. Children may be ignored by government, church, and mission—but not by Satan or by God Almighty. We can choose to make children a priority in our lives, thus engaging in this spiritual battle, or we can continue to set them aside—leaving them vulnerable to the throes of that war.
Over the course of this year, we will look at some of the ways Satan is trying to destroy our children. We will also look at ways you can get involved in that battle. My hope is that you'll find out what God is calling you to do on behalf of His little ones—in your family, in your community, in the world. Together, we can work the fields of grace and bring in a bountiful harvest, all for the glory of our wonderful Creator.