Don’t Forbid Them to Come
The Bible contains many Scripture passages concerning children and the love Jesus has for them. At one point the Bible tells us that Jesus rebuked His disciples because they did not want the children to gather around Him. Matthew 19:13-15 says, “Then were there brought unto him little children that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” Jesus wanted to teach His disciples that children were very important to Him. As a Sunday school teacher I was glad to see that Jesus cared so much for His children.
Jesus used two tools in His teaching ministry on earth: parables (story telling) and object lessons. In
Mark 9:36, Jesus chose a little child out of the crowd to do an object lesson. “And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said . . .” I think Jesus wanted us to know this was a very small child. You do not hold a six- or seven-year-old in your arms, maybe on your lap, but not in your arms. So that is why Jesus took the child up into His arms. This lets us know that we should start teaching children at a young age.
In Mark 9:37, Jesus talked to the disciples about how important it is to receive such a child in His name. “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Now, John, one of His disciples, interrupted this object lesson just as little Timmy in your Sunday school class would, wanting to tell you about his dead goldfish or something that does not pertain to the lesson. John said, “Hey, Jesus, they are casting out devils in your name across town!” John was tattling just like Timmy. Jesus, being a patient teacher like you, answered John before going on with His lesson. He said that if those who are casting out devils in His name are for us then they are not against us. Basically He told John to leave them alone. Still holding the child in His arms, we see in Mark 9:42 that Jesus completed His thought: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”
Wow, that’s serious! Jesus would rather drown someone than let him offend a little one who believes in Him. Had I ever offended one of His children? I knew I had never pushed a child away from Jesus as those in the crowd were trying to do. After all I’m a Sunday school teacher. But I realized that I had forbidden them to come to Jesus by my actions. I didn’t mean to, but nevertheless, I had. Every child should have a smiling, prepared, prayed-up Sunday school teacher to meet him at the door on Sunday morning.
The problem is we don’t realize who we are in the body of Christ. If you are a Sunday school teacher, you are called and chosen by God Himself. You are part of the five-fold ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). You are not just a volunteer worker who is filling a position until the pastor finds someone better. Like many Sunday school teachers, I did not realize this either but now I know the truth.
Let’s take a look at how Sunday school began. Sun-day school was birthed in the heart of a man named Robert Raikes in eighteenth-century England. Pastor Raikes was going home from Sunday morning service at his church and noticed the urchins outside in the cold, running and playing in the streets. They were dirty, hungry, and lacking the bare necessities of life. Pastor Raikes felt God move on his heart about these underprivileged children and tears began to well up in his eyes.
Raikes went home to talk with his wife about what he had seen. He told her of his burden for these children. He wanted to bring the street urchins into the church to teach them and help them. His wife was totally against the idea. She did not want those children messing up their beautiful edifice. She said, “They would track mud and dirt into the church and they would break things and cause confusion!” But Raikes had a burden that would not be defeated. His burden drove him to approach the church committee concerning the matter. After telling them about his burden, he got the same answer from them. They were afraid the ragtag children would mess up the sanctuary.
Raikes decided if no one would help him he would do it alone. So he invited the street urchins to come inside the church where it was warm. He cleaned their dirty hands and faces and fed them a biscuit and tea for their hungry tummies. He gave them shoes for their bare feet and coats to wear so they would not be cold. He realized that many of the older children could not read. Using only one textbook, the Bible, he taught them how to read. Raikes saw their distress and simply began to meet their needs just as Jesus would have done.
How far have we strayed from this original bur-den for children? As a Sunday school teacher I was more concerned about gluing cotton balls on a lamb for a take-home paper than I was letting Jesus come into my classroom so the children could feel Him and He could meet their needs. I made sure the children had cookies and Kool-Aid even if we didn’t have time for anything else, like prayer. I taught a lot of Bible stories as if I were teaching Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers or some other superhero. Your Sunday school children need to know Jesus wants to help them in times of trouble, just as He delivered Jonah from the whale. They must realize the same Jesus who comes into their classroom on Sunday morning is the One who helped David in the battle against Goliath, and He will help them in each and every battle of their life.
My problem was I never one time asked Jesus to come into my classroom. The only time we prayed was a “bow your head” dismissal prayer. I had tried to be a good Sunday school teacher, but I seemed to continually get burned out and tired of it all. I didn’t know God expected me to treat my calling as I would treat any other ministry. We sure wouldn’t think much of a pastor who didn’t pray or prepare before service on Sunday.
For many years I worked for the Lord with all my might but never knew my real place in the body. I always meant to do better but never seemed to reach my goals. I got so tired of sitting in watch night services at the end of the year and saying, “This will be the year I win a soul,” but another year would roll around without any change. I would purpose in my heart to be a better teacher and pray every day, but I never did.
Then we would have a fiery revival and I would run the aisles and shout and talk in tongues. I would be so full of the Holy Ghost and feel so great that I knew things would be different now. I would go home on Sunday night after the revival and say to myself, “You could pray now, but you don’t have to pray tonight because you just prayed at church. Start to-morrow night.” It’s sort of like the Monday morning diet syndrome. You inform yourself, “You are going to start your diet on Monday morning.” If you are really serious about starting a diet you need to start right now because if you wait until Monday morning you just can’t seem to get started at all. Plus between now and Monday morning you eat everything you can to get ready for your diet and you put on ten pounds.
OK, here I am on Monday morning with a “to do” list of twenty to thirty items, which I seem to add to during the day. Monday evening arrives much too soon but almost everything on my list has been done and I’m totally exhausted. After dinner is done the dishes are all cleaned up and put away and the kids are safely tucked in their beds; it’s finally time for prayer.
I know the atmosphere should be conducive for praying so I try to have everything just right. I have a mauve-colored Queen Anne chair in the corner of the living room that I call “the prayer chair.” You don’t want a chair that is too comfortable or you might get sleepy while you’re praying, so this chair is perfect. Now, the lighting has to be just right so I have a small lamp on a table beside the prayer chair that dimly lights the room. I don’t want a bright light because Jesus can see me too well, but I don’t want it too dark because the devil will get me. I place a small clock on an end table by the prayer chair and position it just right so I can see the clock but God can’t see me peeking at it as I pray.
After I get everything arranged the way I want it, I sit down on my prayer chair with the prayer list in my hand. I take a deep, relaxing breath and am finally ready for my hour of prayer. I read off my list to God, praying for the pastor, the church, missionaries, the sick and shut-ins, and special needs. I punctuate my requests with a lot of “hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujahs.” Hallelujah is supposed to be the highest praise, and I use it as fill-in because I can’t think of anything else to say. Opening my eyes, I glance at the clock; it’s been just six minutes!
I’m worn out and discouraged and I don’t have anything else to say to the Lord, but the devil sure has something to say to me. He’s waiting right by that mauve chair just as he’s done so many times before: “You can’t do it! You’ve tried to do this before and you just can’t pray!” He puts his arm around my shoulder and tells me not to worry about it. The devil says, “Listen, you do so many things for God. You teach Sunday school. You type the church bulletin. You direct the choir and so many other things. Why, God doesn’t expect you to pray too. You’re too busy. Let someone else do the praying, someone who isn’t so busy.”
I lumber down the hall and get in bed yet another time without really praying. I’m tired and defeated and my emotions are all mixed up, but all the while I know I must learn to pray. If others can pray, then why can’t I?
I’d been raised in church all my life, but I didn’t understand that prayer is more than just reading off a list of requests to God. I didn’t know He wanted time with me because He loved me so much. I didn’t understand what a real relationship with Jesus was all about.
My relationship with God started when I received the Holy Ghost when I was nine years old. On that Sunday morning I went to my Sunday school classroom and my teacher said, “We’ll not be having Sunday school today. We’re going to the big sanctuary.” All the kids groaned in disappointment because we really liked Sunday school.
We marched quietly into the sanctuary and sat on the front rows. I was on the right end of the first pew in the center of the church, and the pulpit was directly in front of me. Billy Cole was at our church for a Holy Ghost crusade and the whole church was excited. I was always in awe of visiting preachers because they were my heroes, but I’d never seen a preacher quite like Brother Cole; my attention was riveted as soon as I saw him. He was a short, heavyset man who looked as wide as he was tall. As he greeted the congregation with his friendly smile and his jovial laugh, I knew right away that I liked him. The words Brother Cole spoke and the powerful anointing I felt drew me to Jesus. I didn’t understand everything Brother Cole said but his words made me think. He said everyone is a sinner and needs to repent and ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins.
This got my attention. I was only nine years old and I didn’t think I was a sinner. I was a pretty good girl and had tried not to do anything wrong: I didn’t cuss or steal, I tried not to lie, and I hadn’t murdered anyone. How could I be a sinner? Brother Cole ex-plained that everyone is born with a dirty or sinful heart; before you could cry “Waaaa” for the first time your heart was dirty. This was news to me. I thought your heart got dirty only when you sinned.
Brother Cole also said that you will not go to Heaven just because you are good or because your mother or father were going to Heaven. I thought that if Jesus came back I would go to Heaven because my mother was saved. After all, my mother took me everywhere with her. When we were shopping and she was ready to go, she always came and got me where she knew I would be—in the toy department. When she took me to church she always came to the Sunday schoolroom door to get me when it was time to go home. Surely she wouldn’t go somewhere as far away as Heaven and leave me here. I guess I just figured that she’d come and get me, and I’d hold on tight to her skirt as we went to Heaven.
But Brother Cole explained that you have to be saved for yourself and no one can get you to Heaven except for Jesus. The good news is that the plan of salvation (repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost) is simple and everyone who wants it can have it. I closed my eyes and asked Jesus to clean out my dirty heart and told Him I was sorry for bad things I had done. As I thought of things I’d done wrong, tears began to run down my cheeks, and I asked Jesus to forgive me and move into my heart.
On that Sunday morning Brother Cole spoke the word of faith and I received my personal Pentecost. He laid his hand on my head and I spoke in tongues and shouted and jumped in the Spirit! The Holy Ghost got into my hands and feet and when I opened my eyes I was in the back of the church and didn’t know how I got there.
I was introduced to Jesus that day. But as time progressed, I never really got to know Him as I should have. I couldn’t introduce Jesus to anyone else because I hadn’t grown to know Him for myself. I would sing songs in Sunday school about Jesus and I’d pray at church but I never developed a strong, best-friend relationship with Him. That’s why I never won a soul. I didn’t know anything about Him, at least not in a personal way.
So the years rolled by and I taught Sunday school and ran a church bus route. I typed the church bulletin even though I didn’t know how to type. Now this was before computers and word processing software so I used an old typewriter, scissors for cutting out pictures to paste into the bulletin, and a lot of Wite-Out. It took me hours to get the bulletin together on Saturday night using my speedy two-finger method, better known at church as the “seek and ye shall find” method. On Sunday morning the congregation couldn’t wait to receive a church bulletin, and I’d hear the chuckles and laughter in the sanctuary as my many errors were found. I directed the church choir for ten years and didn’t know how to read a note of music. I had to get people in different sections of the choir to teach each other their parts.
I was doing a lot of things I wasn’t very good at, but I did them because I wanted to do something for the Lord. I just kept busy for God, serving Him but not knowing Him. Like a servant, I reported for duty when a chore needed to be done or when church services were scheduled; I never made my way into the throne room as His child.
You see, a servant has limited privileges. He doesn’t approach the king the same way the king’s children do. When you become a child of the king you can burst into the throne room anytime you want and sit upon the king’s lap and talk to Him about anything. You have all the privileges of the king’s children. He has made all of His resources available to you, and someday you’ll receive an inheritance. I hadn’t yet discovered this . . . but keep reading.
As time passed I became more and more frustrated. This endless cycle of works with no prayer was really taking a toll on me and my spiritual energy had drained away like oil out of a car. I didn’t have a burden for anything I did, nor did I feel as if I did anything very well. I was more interested in just “getting through” another Sunday than anything else. The scary thing was that other people in the church looked to me for spiritual guidance and leadership. They looked to me, someone who didn’t know how to pray. But that was my dirty little secret.
I became so frustrated and hungry for something more but didn’t know how to find it. I saw others being used in the gifts of the Spirit and I longed for those gifts. I knew Jesus was no respecter of persons and if others could operate in the gifts and see angels, then I could too. It was this hunger that finally drove me to seek out my “burden.”
I was sitting on the back pew of my home church in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday night, tired and weary. I didn’t usually sit in the back, but I didn’t feel like being there that night. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was teaching kindergarten in a local Baptist school every day and keeping up with my many duties at church. I thought I was too tired to endure yet another revival. The evangelist was preaching but I wasn’t really listening to the service at all. I just sat back in my pew crying uncontrollable tears and telling God I was done. If this was all there was to serving God I was through; I could not go on anymore.
I’d never talked to God like this before. I figured at the time that I had nothing to lose. When I began to really pray, it was as though a floodgate burst open. I told God how tired I was. I repented for not praying. I told Him I knew He had a ministry for me to help others but I couldn’t seem to find it. I asked Him to forgive me for not doing anything very well. I petitioned Jesus to use me in the gifts of the Spirit. I wanted to see angels; if Lee Stoneking could see angels, then why couldn’t I? I explained to God that I was hungry for something more. If I couldn’t find it, then I was outta here!
I began to speak in tongues and pour it all out to Jesus. I reached out in a way I never had before. I talked to Him as I would talk to my best friend. I told Jesus exactly how I felt.
The evangelist for this revival was Jason Sciscoe, a young apostolic preacher new to the evangelistic field. He suddenly stopped in the middle of his message and told the church to pray. He came back to my pew and ministered to me. He told me everything I had just been telling the Lord. He told me God had a work for me to do and it would begin this very night. He spoke of gifts of the Spirit, of thousands receiving the Holy Ghost, and many other wonderful things I’d been praying for.
I don’t know exactly what happened next, but I do know I fell to the floor between the pews. My common sense or pride told me people would wonder what was wrong with me or see that my hair was getting messed up. But I didn’t care. For the first time in my life I didn’t care what others thought. I just wanted to please my Jesus. I lay on the floor for the rest of the service and Jesus took me on a supernatural journey. I gave birth to a burden for the ministry God had for me and I found the relationship with Jesus I had been looking for. I came up from between the pews changed. Thank God for apostolic ministry!
In the days and weeks to come I found myself seeking Jesus many times a day. I became keenly aware of His presence all the time . . . not just at church. I began to talk to my friend Jesus about everything. It was in those precious months that I found the mind of the Lord for my life and got divine direction for what He wanted me to do. I didn’t realize it then, but I would never again be the same.
A few weeks later a local pastor in Tennessee called me and said he felt led by the Lord to ask me to come and hold a Children’s Crusade at his church. At that time, Children’s Crusades were almost unheard of and there were only a handful of people doing Children’s Ministry. I didn’t know what this pastor expected of me so I asked him what a Children’s Crusade was and what he wanted me to do. He told me Jesus would guide me and show me what to do, so by faith I said I would come.
I didn’t know anything about Children’s Crusades but I knew Jesus would help me. I talked to Him about it. The Lord told me exactly what He wanted me to teach the children in that crusade. He gave me an object lesson, the idea for a prop, and everything else. I began to pull it together prayerfully. The Lord gave me a simple message about “Opening Your Heart’s Door to Jesus.” He led me to construct, with the help of a local pastor, a four-foot-tall door that could swing open and children could actually walk through it. I hung a big red three-dimensional heart on the front of the door, which had a padlock on it. The padlock needed three keys to unlock it to illustrate the three steps in the plan of salvation: repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost.
Here’s how I planned the lesson: I’d talk to the children about where to find the keys to their heart’s door. The message would encompass a simple treasure hunt in the sanctuary. I’d send one child at a time to find a note in the piano bench or a note under the plant that would eventually lead to finding the hiding place of the keys. The final note would say, “Look in the World.” I’d be exasperated as I explained to the children why we should never look in the world for the keys to our hearts. Then I’d explain that one little mistake can cause so much confusion in their life. For, you see, the note would say, “Look in the Word, not the World. We’d then realize the keys to the padlock were in my Bible (the Word) the whole time. I’d open my Bible to Acts 2:38 and there they’d be: three actual keys on a key ring that just fit the lock on the little door! It was such a simple thought, but Jesus had given it to me so I knew He would bless it.
The night of the Children’s Crusade when I was introduced to speak, I stood in front of the whole congregation with the children on the front rows. I was terrified! I started to introduce myself and thank the pastor for inviting me to minister to his church when a little boy sitting on the front row said out loud, “Mama, you’re right. She talks like a Yankee.” I stood there frozen for a minute with everyone laughing. Then the Holy Ghost quickened my mind. I said, “Yes, I’m from the North originally, but I’m mostly [I started singing] a one God, apostolic, tongue-talking, Heaven-bound, born-again believer in the liberating power of Jesus’ name.” I sang that song all the way through and the ice was officially broken. Leave it to a kid to break the ice for you.
After the lesson and when the children came to the altar to pray, the Holy Ghost fell on them in a mighty way. As I saw children crying, speaking with tongues, and slain in the Spirit all over the floor, I knew this was what I was born to do. Twenty-six received the Holy Ghost in that first crusade. I would never again forbid a child to come to Jesus by my actions.
The above article, “Don’t Forbid Them to Come” was written by Vickie Oliver. The article was excerpted from Oliver’s book Birthing Your Burden in Children’s Ministry.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”