Linda Mei Lin Koh is director of Children’s Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

"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" (Ellen C. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 517). These are strong words from the pen of inspiration for us today.

George Barna's recent book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, provides even more urgency to do more children's ministry and do it better. Back in the early days, children's ministry was similar to babysitting; adults could worship in the sanctuary while we were down the hall telling Bible stories, singing songs, coloring, and waiting for the adults to get done.

It's a different world now! Today's children are bombarded from all sides with the most ungodly influences. Parents, with their very busy lives, are not aware of what they are up against. Church leaders' views of children's ministry remain rather antiquated, with little understanding of how critical it is to start developing a child's biblical worldview from the very earliest years of life. George Barna's book attempts to sound the alarm for all parents, leaders, and teachers, and if we do not take this seriously, we are very likely to raise a generation of kids who do not know God.

Now that the alarm has been sounded, there is a call to action. It's calling us to invest more in kids! Parents, educators, and the church can and must do our utmost to develop our children into spiritual champions. Church leadership needs a strategy now to help transform kids' lives. We need to invest our resources, be it curriculum, finances, or personnel, to educate and inspire kids to accept Jesus and to nurture them in a loving, serving relationship with Him. We cannot afford to look through a narrow glass and leave children out in the periphery of church life. They need to participate in corporate worship with their parents and other adults. When we involve them in prayer, testimonies, collecting the offering, outreach activities, and other leadership roles, these children will feel a part of the faith community. They are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ!

Notice the pen of inspiration's strong admonition: "Those who love God should feel deeply interested in the children and youth. To them God can reveal His truth and salvation. Jesus calls the little ones that believe on Him, the lambs of His flock. He has a special love for and interest in the children.... The most precious offering that the children can give to Jesus is the freshness of their childhood" (Reflecting Christ, p. 373).

Ellen C. White strongly concurs with the Barna's research when she says that "no higher work was ever committed to mortals than the shaping of character. Children are not only to be educated, but trained as well; and who can tell the future of a growing child, or youth? Let the greatest care be bestowed upon the culture of your children. One child, properly disciplined in the principles of truth, who has the love and fear of God woven through the character, will possess a power for good in the world that cannot be estimated" (Child Guidance, p. 163).

Barna's research makes it very clear that the spiritual development of children is primarily the responsibility of parents; however, the children's ministry team and the whole church must be actively involved as well. According to Gary Hopkins, author of the book It Takes a Church, the entire faith community is a vital agent in the spiritual growth of children. It takes a church to show children that the church cares about them. If church members take time to know the children personally, pray for them when they are facing difficulties, encourage them when discouraged, and forgive them when they err, they are more likely to stay with the church and with God. Yes, we are called to partner with parents in helping our children grow closer to Jesus.

Yes, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has invested an enormous amount of human and financial resources in providing church schools for our children. The Sabbath School Department has for years provided a good curriculum and other resources for our children to learn from God's Word. That is commendable! But let us not forget these little ones in our churches and in the pews. We need to learn how to love and treat them with dignity and respect. Too often we send them out of the church when there are no more seats for the adults or we don't include Sabbath School rooms for kids when building a new church.

Invest in children now! Let the church catch a vision for the importance of children's ministry and an understanding that it takes effort and dedication to do it right. We should no longer refer to children as the "church of tomorrow" but realize that children's ministry affects the church today. We need to move from "Can't we just show a video to eat up time?" to helping to strategize on how to make every second count in children's church. We need to provide space for children's Sabbath Schools, translate and print GraceLink Bible study guides, set a budget for children's activities and child evangelism, and provide the best teachers to teach and impact them. We cannot afford to lose our children to the world for the kingdom of God is for them, too. Remember that tomorrow's members and leaders begin with today's children!

Linda Mei Lin Koh is director of Children's Ministries for the General Conference.