33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37

What is the significance of receiving a child in the name of Jesus? A child is like soil, full of potential – for both good and evil. What is sown in a child in his formative years will grow and reproduce in adulthood. Above all the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, a child needs love, acceptance and a safe place to be himself so that he can learn and grow in the four dimensions of his being, in body, in spirit, in favour with God and men. To deny a child these basic needs is to leave his soul vulnerable to the intrusion of the enemy.

Why did Jesus draw His disciples’ attention to a child in the context of their argument over the pecking order in the kingdom? Was it because, once again, they had not grasped the essence of true leadership? Their underlying focus in this on-going contest was selfish. They wanted to make their own mark on this kingdom, wanting to have a position in the limelight where they could have influence over the realm and its subjects. Jesus made it clear that the only influence of value was their willingness to create enough space in a child’s life for him to grow to his full potential.

What does this mean in the context of the church? Although Jesus used a child as an example of someone with no rank or significance in the scheme of things, “child” can refer to any person who has been side-lined by society. Everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their potential in a safe zone where he is free to be himself without being afraid of criticism, judgement or rejection.

There are two contexts where this is possible – in the home and in the church. This can only happen in the atmosphere of unconditional love where those in leadership are willing to set their own position and interests aside in order to develop the potential of those in their care. This kind of greatness is unconscious and unsought and is the result of, not the reason for leadership.

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Luella Campbell

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