At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them.
3 “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Some would call Jesus’ illustration in this passage, out of the box thinking. I refer to it as lateral thinking. No one in the crowd was thinking of children or of being childlike as being the greatest of anything. The question was, “Who is the greatest in heaven?” Most thoughts would have been on being good, doing the righteous deeds, obeying Jewish law. The people around Jesus on this day would have been thinking surely one or all three of these will be included in Jesus’ answer.
Instead, Jesus calls a child over and has the child stand in the midst of the group. Then He said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Notice, He doesn’t address who is the greatest. He is saying, your thinking is all wrong. You are not focused on what the kingdom is about. It appears His questioners were concerned about social status in heaven. With this simple and plain metaphoric illustration, Jesus causes each one to abandon their original thinking.
Parents to pastors to CEOs can use lateral thinking. We all lead in some capacity. Learning to practice lateral thinking and deploying lateral thinking to those whom we lead is of great value and will bring success in family as well as business and ministry.
Lateral thinking requires metaphorically using a similar pattern of thought to convey one’s message. More than a simple metaphor, lateral thinking requires each listener to engage the higher order thought processes of the mind. This engagement will configure the illustration (metaphor) to the subject at hand.
Placing this child center stage and making His statement, Jesus literally obliterated the normal thinking of His day. In His day and culture, women, much less children, were not considered in levels of greatness or leadership. Until this very moment, this was not a conceivable concept. Yet, because this master teacher, Jesus, so simplistically laid it out, the mind of every person present began to construct the concept, what it meant, and what the kingdom of God looked like.
Jesus did not say you must become children. He said, unless you change and become like children. Like is the key word upon which the thinking now shifts. What is a child like? How are they different than adults? What about a child would gain him entrance to heaven and not me? Every person in earshot is now thinking along these lines.
This brilliant use of lateral thinking by Jesus not only changed their thinking processes, it would have brought humility to those who thought through the idea. Once you realize the needed change Jesus is referring to, humility would certainly come into play realizing as adults we have abandoned the practices of children to which Jesus is referring.
Learning to use lateral thinking to create a new, more operative mindset, will always lead to more effective productivity and a growing disciple. Thinking outside the box is good. Taking it a step further to using lateral thinking will build stronger, growing disciples.
George Yates is a Church Health Strategist assisting churches, organizations, Pastors and individuals to reach their full God-given potential.
Metaphor = a word or phrase denoting one kind of object or idea used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.