When we hear the disciple’s question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt.18:1) we tend to judge them harshly. How humbling it must have been to have Jesus place before them a little child and say, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 18:3-5).
The disciples were ambitious. They expected to be honored. Hadn’t they left their previous vocations and families to follow Jesus? And so, time after time they raised the question of status even up to the evening of the Last Supper in the upper room.
Like those first disciples, many ministry leaders tend to take themselves too seriously. Children take their play seriously, but not themselves. Consider Michael Quoist’s thoughts from his book Prayers for Life. (He writes as if God is speaking.)
“I don’t like old people unless they are still children.
I want only children in my kingdom, youngsters– twisted, humped, wrinkled, white-bearded—all kinds of youngsters, but youngsters.
I like children because my likeness has not yet been dulled in them.
They have not botched my likeness.
I like them because they are still growing, still improving.
They are on the road. They are on their way.
But with grown-ups there is nothing to expect anymore.
They will no longer grow. No longer improve.
They have come to a full stop.
It is disastrous–-grownups think they have arrived.”
It seems to me that expectations of kingdom leadership must be constantly brought in line with child-likeness. Not childishness or infantilism, but unpretentious willingness to grow and change.