The world has changed. Family structure has changed. Children are maturing physically, mentally, and (sometimes) spiritually faster than previous generations. Parents and other adults in their sphere of influence have open conversations and the children hear and see it all. Children today have more independence and freedom than children of previous generations, with less supervision and few close relationships with adults.

Everyone is busy with all of the concerns of life, which leaves children to be raised by the church, the school, and the Internet. Children are more involved with screen time than relationship time. With all of these complications of this generation, children still need and want an encounter with God.

Have you ever sat in a church and noticed that as the musicians begin to play the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” something wonderful happens? All of a sudden, from all corners of the church, a sea of little people filled with excitement and joy are observed running out of the pews. They are on a very important mission. The mission that they have chosen to accept, is to go and listen to the children’s story.

They are an army ready and willing to serve. When the question is asked, “Who wants to pray?” Many hands go up. Those children are eager to pray, participate, and listen to the story. What else can they do? They can share the stories with their friends, soften hearts, share a smile, and show love.

They are ready for the mission. Jesus, who looks at the heart, rather than the outside appearance, told His disciples in Matthew 19:14, KJV, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

The children are the future of the church and they need training. When should this training begin? Now! Ellen White in Child Guidance, p. 36, states, “Too much importance cannot be placed on the early training of children. The lessons that the child learns during the first seven years of life have more to do with forming his character than all that it learns in future years.”

The church has two responsibilities. First, to love one another, and second, to go and preach the gospel to all the world—nurture and evangelism. “We must in our work not only strike the iron when it is hot but make the iron hot by striking. Slow, easy, indolent movements will do nothing for us in this work. We must be instant in season, out of season. These are critical times for work”—Evangelism, p. 647.

The mission field is sitting in the local churches eager to hear God’s Word, have an encounter with Jesus, and is ready to share the gospel. The Savior is waiting to enter their hearts and they are ready to let Him in.

“It is during the first years of a child’s life that his mind is most susceptible to impressions either good or evil. During these years decided progress is made in either a right direction or a wrong one. On one hand, much worthless information may be gained; on the other, much solid, valuable knowledge. The strength of intellect, the substantial knowledge, are possessions which the gold of Ophir could not buy. Their price is above gold or silver”—Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 132.

Children are valued by God and they must be led to discipleship. Because children think, grow, and learn differently, there must be some intentionality as age-appropriate programs are planned for them. It is important to model God’s unconditional love while teaching them biblical Christian values. We need to nurture their growth in harmony with the blueprint that was designed to teach the children. Let us continue to work with the children for God, understanding that their lives are marked with a purpose. #Childrenmatter.

Marlene Alvarez is the Atlantic Union Conference associate director of education, early childhood education and care, and children’s ministries.

This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of The Atlantic Union Gleaner magazine, page 7.