Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
It’s nice isn’t it? Jesus loves the little children. We can all nod our head to that with approval. You won’t find many dissenters on that subject.
But what’s funny is when I went on the internet to look up the lyrics, there was a nice little app in the corner of the website asking if I wanted to send the song to my phone as a ring tone.
Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass.
In the same way, I think children’s ministries at church suffer much like this song.
It’s nice, we’re glad it’s there, and we approve of its existence. But, if we’re honest, there’s a dim cloud of banality about it and for most of us, the thought of serving there makes us go, “Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass.”
And if I’m truly honest about it, all the adults I want to impress with my Christian service are with all the cool kids in the sanctuary and would be unable to see or admire my sacrifice! As terrible as that was to admit – it’s kind of true. Sorry if I disappointed some of you out there!
It’s pretty common knowledge that one of the harder parts of children ministries at church is to get people to volunteer.
I’ll admit it. I never wanted to volunteer for it. In fact if it wasn’t for a very overworked children’s ministry leader who basically roped me and my husband into serving there within the first month of stepping into our now church home of eight years, I would have just passed it off as “Not my gifting.” Or, “I just don’t feel called to serving with the kids…”
Thankfully, we did get roped in. It just took us nearly eight years to understand the heart of God on something that many of us dismiss as a chore.
That said, the first Sunday school class we ever tried to teach turned out to be a complete nightmare, which, unfortunately, set the tone for us for the next eight years.
The lesson plan went out the window ten minutes in. (still kind of confused why we even tried at that age!)
Two and half to three year olds, in general, do not know what church is or why their parents have abandoned them for an hour and a half (forever) with terrified strangers who keep trying to tell them about a Jesus.
All I remember was complete chaos, about fifteen rabid toddlers, tears, binkies, a poop smell coming from my own kid but no opportunity to change him, and me wilting in a corner just wanting to go home.
I was a terrible Sunday school teacher with my husband doing the best he could taking up the slack.
After what seemed an eternity (an hour and a half), parents came back (in my mind) happy and rested and glowing after an amazing sermon and fellowship with adults. Some parents would give us eager looks, asking what craft project they had done while they were gone. Ha! Crafts? You mean the orange crayon your kid was stabbing into a picture of Joseph and his multi-colored dream-coat?
Some parents didn’t even look us in the eye. They just took their kids and left. I suspect that they knew how bad we were and just wanted to get their kids back and in safe hands. I couldn’t blame those ones. We sucked! Rarely were we thanked back then (we get thanked often and sincerely now, praise God!), and when we were, it was by other people who had been volunteered for the chaos. “We know,” their eyes would say. “We know…”
If that wasn’t bad enough, I once gave a kid fishy crackers that had a gluten allergy. The parent was very gracious, kindly explaining to me they wouldn’t die and there would only be a little explosive diarrhea to deal with later that evening.
There is no such thing as ‘a little’ explosive diarrhea.
So, yeah, naturally, I did not feel ‘called’ or ‘gifted’ to work with kids. And if I’m really, truly honest with myself, I might lean towards being one of those people who kind of don’t really like any other kids but my own. Terrible to admit, I know!
In all our eight years, we have never felt ‘good’ at it. We always just rather survived the hour and a half. I’ve never had the patience for crafts. Most kids still go home with nothing more than a picture they colored. If scissors or glue were involved in any way, it’s a sure sign my husband took over the crafts section that day. Sure, lessons were taught faithfully, but there was very little joy in it.
So, why didn’t we move on? Well, in those eight years, my husband and I learned a couple of things. One, children’s ministry is always short on volunteers. As bad as we were at it, we were needed. It felt good to be needed.
Second, after a few years, we got used to it, it became less scary and liking kids other than our own became more and more natural. Kids are pretty darn cute. It’s kind of hard to not like them eventually.
Still, there was never an excitement in it – just duty, until something began to shift about a year ago.
Last year, my daughter was just starting kindergarten and her teacher was overwhelmed with a 35 plus student classroom and desperately needed help. Most of those kids had never been in a classroom before and it would take 45 minutes just to get them to take off their backpacks and coats. Then, they needed to be shown where to hang them, where to put their folders, where to sit, how to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance, what hand to place over their heart, where the flag was, etc…
To this day, I remember one kid who refused to pledge allegiance because he thought it was so weird. “My family doesn’t do these things!” he stomped, folding his arms and frowning. And no, he wasn’t JW – he was just suspicious. Ha-ha! Love that kid.
Anyway, I was talking with my daughter’s teacher the Friday after the first week and because she seemed so defeated and tired, I decided to let her know that I was part of a prayer group and we were praying for her. She seemed truly touched, but as I walked out of the school, I felt the Lord say, “You need to be the answer to the prayer. You volunteer to help her until she’s caught up.”
Convicted, the next Monday, I told her I would help her four days a week until things started running more smoothly.
In the mornings after dropping off the kids in the drop-off lane at school, I would then park and have a devotional time, reading a little from the Word and praying. Let me just interject here and say that I don’t normally have morning devotions – AT ALL. It was only before I helped at school. Mostly I prayed because I felt so unequipped. I know! Silly isn’t it? How hard can it be to make copies and staple papers? Okay, well I’ll concede about that one copier that always jammed but anyway, there I was trying to mentally prep myself for a few moments when something happened. I don’t know what you call it – a very strong visual thought? A daydream? Anyway, I got the impression of Jesus rubbing his hands together excitedly, pacing back and forth and saying, “Come on! Devotion time is over! Let’s go see the kids!”
An excited and joyful Jesus; it was a theme that would keep popping up for the next year.
Suddenly, I was filled with eager anticipation, and with a grin on my face, I hopped out of the car and practically skipped to the kindergarten class! I don’t think I ever felt that way about kids – ever. Even after all my previous years volunteering in my son’s classroom or in the children’s ministry at church.
I remember looking around from the school parking lot, watching the kids stream into the school, adult crossing guards making sure the kids crossed the street safely, teachers out greeting the kids with smiles, a pat on the back or cheerfully by name. And I remember it was as if I could see it all from His point of view and I just knew deep down, He was pleased by it.
Is it perfect? No. But it was still good and it pleased Him.
I can’t tell you the joy I felt when I went to volunteer, knowing that Jesus was there, practically dragging me out of the car so we could get started. I felt a love for everybody, every kid – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, no religion – it didn’t matter, he wanted to bless them.
So, for the next year, I regularly volunteered in my daughters’ classroom. Again, I wasn’t the best at it, there were other parent volunteers much more capable and regular than myself, but every time I parked my car before heading in the classroom, I got that same impression of Jesus chomping at the bit to get started. Things also started changing at church too. We started getting more into the lessons, I had a love for the kids I never had before and it didn’t feel so much like a chore. I was even beginning to look forward to the Sunday’s we volunteered.
Still, we weren’t remarkable in any way as we served. Lessons were taught faithfully, some kids listened, and some didn’t. But, more than that, I think they were beginning to feel, at the very least, loved.
But it wasn’t until the last few months that we really had an Aha! moment.
Despite multiple verses that confirm the Lord’s love for kids, like:
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10
“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Psalm 8:2
“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “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 9:36 – 37
But, the big Aha! came when visiting my in-laws in California. We usually drive down and believe me; the only way we could ever survive the 16 hour drive without going completely nuts is by listening to audio books. My mother-in-law, who is familiar with the long drive herself, also listens to audio books and gave us the audio book ‘Heaven is for Real’ to listen to on the way home.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it’s the heart-wrenching story of a small town pastor and his family’s ordeal of watching their almost four-year-old son, Colton, die from a misdiagnosed burst appendix. That story alone is worth the read, but the twist comes after their little boy miraculously recovers and begins to tell them about his visit to heaven he had while under anesthesia.
It’s an incredible story, but one of the things that really stuck out to me and my husband on the drive home was that the little boy, Colton, had a message that apparently Jesus wanted him to pass along to his dad, a pastor of a small church in Nebraska. And that message was, “Dad, Jesus wants you to know that he really, really loves children.”
Colton, repeated this message often, so much so, that Todd, his dad, told him (I’m paraphrasing), “Okay! We get it! You are off the hook! Message received.”
Todd then went on to write that this had changed the way they view children’s ministry and has invigorated those that serve the kids at his church.
Well, we were invigorated too! It felt like a confirmation of what I had been hearing from the Lord in the previous months about children’s ministry and kids in general. Before listening to the book, my husband and I had been half-heartedly tossing around the idea of serving in a more permanent way with the kids. And that maybe our job serving with the kids was important and that we should try to get better at it and take it more seriously. You know, ask God to give us His love for them, help us to see them through His eyes and praying for each kid that comes through our class once a week.
Basically, not being so half-assed about it.
But, life and things would get in the way and we’d soon forget about it only to feel guilty the next week when we remembered.
So, yeah, the story of a little boy in some small farm town in Nebraska rekindled that small, smoldering fire and gave us hope.
I wish this story were different. I wish it hadn’t taken us years to figure this basic stuff out, that yes, it pleases God when we serve kids and it turn we get to participate in something very dear to Him.
So, to the dozen or so people who read this blog, I know I’m just preaching to the choir. Most of you participate in the children’s ministry and probably half a dozen other ministries on top of that. But my hope is that this somehow encourages you. I know most of you are tired, and you got little ones who can be taxing enough all week long and then by the time Sunday rolls around you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is lock yourself up with toddlers for an hour and a half.
But just know that what you are doing is very, very dear to our Lord’s heart.
For those not active in children’s ministry, I hope only to make you jealous!
So, I’m going to leave you with some pictures! Pictures that I think might capture how God views us when we serve our little ones.
Aren’t we all just kids ourselves in God’s eyes, doing our best to care for our little brothers and sisters?
Are we perfect? No.
Are we a bit clumsy at times? Yes.
Wouldn’t we rather be playing with kids our own age rather than caring for our younger siblings? Probably.
But it blesses Him to see us try.