Virginia L. Smith, PhD, is the director of Children's Ministry Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

What comes to mind when you think about the children in your church? Little Christians? Disrespectful? Participating members? A nuisance? A joy? Wiggly? Geniuses? Maybe you have several of those ideas as well as others. Children are a gift from the Lord, but they require a great deal of our time and attention in order to develop into the mature Christians that the Lord plans for them to be. Yet with all the stress and perplexities of life today, it is too easy to neglect the spiritual nurture of the children. After all, they need to be older in order to understand what it means to be a Christian. Don't they?

"In the children who were brought in contact with Him, Jesus saw the men and women who should be heirs of His grace and subjects of His kingdom.... He knew that these children would listen to Him and accept Him as their Redeemer far more readily than would grown-up people... In His teaching He came down to their level. He, the Majesty of heaven, did not disdain to answer their questions, and simplify His important lessons to meet their childish understanding. He planted in their minds the seeds of truth, which in after years would spring up, and bear fruit unto eternal life.

"It is still true that children are the most susceptible to the teachings of the gospel; their hearts are open to divine influences, and strong to retain the lessons received" (Desire of Ages, pages 514, 515).

The church that wants an effective evangelistic program will capitalize on children's receptive minds. When parents brought their children for Jesus' blessing, the disciples tried to shoo them away because they felt that Jesus' time was too precious to be wasted on the children. Jesus then revealed His attitude that there was nothing more important to Him than taking time for the children.

"When Jesus told the disciples not to forbid the children to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers in all ages,—to officers of the church,─to ministers, helpers, and all Christians. Jesus is drawing the children, and He bids us, Suffer them to come; as if He would say, They will come if you do not hinder them" (Desire of Ages, page 517).

When we look at our church statistics and note the proportion of young people who have slipped away, it becomes obvious that we must bond them to us and the Lord at an early age if we want them to still be a part of the church in the future. By giving them a sense of inclusion, an awareness that they are needed and appreciated, we can help them understand that they, as well as we, are the church of today.

Children love to help. You don't have to work hard at designing complicated ways to involve children. Just be creative in letting them be a part of whatever is going on in your church community.

Helping was an important part of Jesus' childhood, and if followed, His example will be a blessing to every child. By participating, a child takes more interest, learns more, has less time to get into trouble, feels an important part of the spiritual community, and grows in capability. "The exercise that teaches the hands to be useful and trains the young to bear their share of life's burdens gives physical strength, and develops every faculty. All should find something to do that will be beneficial to themselves and helpful to others" (Desire of Ages, page 72).

Don't underestimate children's capacity to contribute. As we enrich their opportunities to learn and then use what they have learned, children will amaze us with their contributions. For example, in the last four years thousands of Adventist children in Venezuela have held evangelistic campaigns for adults. The resulting baptisms have been about one quarter of all the yearly baptisms in the Venezuela-Antilles Union. The spiritual effects on the children themselves as well as the growth in the church as a whole have been so great that the Union Committee voted that the children should continue these efforts every year.

Even with all your responsibilities, and duties, and hobbies, and complications of life, don't forget to take a good look at the children in your church. Look at them as Jesus did. On my desk I have a framed statement that is worth memorizing: "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

Your local church programs, as worthwhile as they are, will only be important in the lives of the children who participate in them. By seeking their involvement, you are bonding them to the church family and making it far more likely that they will choose to come to Jesus.

Virginia L. Smith writes from Silver Spring, Maryland. She is the Children's Ministries Director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.