The Blessing of Teaching the Children
Prior to and throughout my time of preparation for ministry, I had a burning desire to preach the Gospel. By that, I mean that I had a burning desire to preach the Gospel in the context of the gathered assembly in worship on the Lord's Day. Since I had not yet had adequate theological and homiletical training, the church I then attended wisely limited my teaching opportunities to Sunday school classes. For several years, I taught a seniors' Sunday school class as well as several elementary and middle school classes. Regretfully, at the time, I viewed these opportunities as relatively unimportant and failed to see the blessings that accrued from ministering to the elderly and to children in the church. Overlooking the importance of ministry to the children of the church is not something unique to our own day and time--it was actually quite common in Jesus' day. In Mark 10:13-16, we read:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
On numerous occasions, the Covenant Lord had to teach His own select band of disciples that children hold a vital place in His Kingdom. Far from being a burden or distraction to real ministry, they are the objects of the ministry of His word and covenant blessings.
We tend to look down on the call to work personally with the children in the church because it is, at times, more challenging to keep their attention, and almost all the time lacks the prestige and praise of men after which we so often sinfully seek. Eric Alexander once noted the importance of working with new converts and with children when he wrote:
It is one thing to be gladly willing to go out to attend meetings, or to take some prominent public part within the church of God; but there is a costliness in taking someone under your wing who is newly born—with all the awkwardness and weakness of the new born creature. The ministry of the man or woman in the church of God who is ready to take the newborn and to nourish and nurture them into growth and maturity is costly, but it is precious in the eyes of the Lord.
Several months ago, I began teaching some of the 7-12 year olds at New Covenant through The Westminster Shorter Catechism. As I have done so, I have been reminded of the multitude of blessings that accrue from teaching the children of the church the precious doctrines of the Christian faith. Here are four of the blessings that pastors and congregants can glean from working to bring the deep truths of the Scriptures to the ears of the next generation of those in the church:
1. The blessing of remembering the central truths. As we teach about the nature of Scripture, the Godhead, creation, providence, the fall, sin, the person and work of the Redeemer, the work of the Holy Spirit, the benefits of salvation, the church and eternity, we ourselves are reminded of what is of most importance to our own faith and life. The truths that we are to teach the children of the church are the same truths that must come home to our own hearts and minds over and over again. This is one of the great blessings of teaching the children of the church.
2. The blessing of growing in your ability to break down the deep truths. Another of the great blessings of teaching doctrine to the children of the church is that we have to learn to break down, rather than water down, the truth. We often underestimate what children can learn and understand. We also forget that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to give that spiritual understanding that comes from saving faith. However, we must learn how to communicate the deep truths of Scripture to the children of the church in a way in which they will be able to get their minds around what is being taught. The more we labor the break down the truth for the children of the church, the more skillful we become in breaking it down in other settings. I have found that when I am teaching children in a setting like a Sunday school class, it makes me more conscious of my need to do so for them when I am in the pulpit. The greatest encouragement that I have received in ministry has often been at those times when an 8 or 9 year old has come up to me to tell me that they have understood and liked something that I said in the sermon that morning.
3. The blessing of watching the children of the church process God's truth. A few weeks ago, as I was teaching about the fall of our first parents from WSC Q. 13--specifically about how Adam was supposed to protect Eve spiritually, why it was that Satan went after Eve first in order to get to Adam and how he tempted Eve to question God's goodness--one of the little boys in the class said, "Now I know why we say, 'Ladies first!'" Then, a little later, as we were talking about how God left Adam and Eve "to the freedom of their own will" (and that if He had left us to the freedom of our wills, in the same situation, we too would have sinned against Him) one of the girls in the class said, "Free will is so overrated!" In addition to the comedic value, these responses prove that young children are processing what they hear. Children are often listening far more attentively and thoughtfully to what is being taught in Sunday school than we imagine. I have repeatedly watched children in the church seek to apply what they are being taught to their surroundings and to their own lives. When we teach biblical truth to the children of the church, we become the recipients of the blessing of witnessing this.
4. The blessing of knowing that you are planting seeds of truth for life. By God's grace, we sometimes get to see fruit borne early on in the lives of those children to whom we labor to teach the truth of God's word. There are some who manifest soft and believing hearts and very, very young ages. It is rewarding to see God redeeming and spiritually maturing a child into whose life we have had the personal privilege of pouring. However, the reality is that we will sometimes--sadly even often--not see the fruit that God will bring forth in the lives of the children we teach in the church. Nevertheless, of this much we may be sure, we are planting and watering seeds in little minds. I sometimes envision the children of the church turning away from the Lord for many, many years--as was the case in my own life. I then try to envision all the truths that they were taught when they were 4 or 5 years old, or 9 and 10 years old, coming to the forefront of their minds in their adult years--as was also true in my own experience. While none of us wants to see the children of the church walk away from the faith, the reality is that many will. God in His mercy has often brought wandering covenant children to himself in saving repentance and faith by means of the truths that they were taught when they were very young. Whatever the outcome, we can rest content that God has graciously called us to plant and water seeds in their lives of children.
One of the most important and rewarding ministries we can ever enter in on is that of ministering the truth of God's word to the children of a local church. God has entrusted the children of believers to the care of both the pastors and congregants of a local church. It is our duty and privilege to prioritize ministry to these little ones. As we give ourselves to a prayerful and joyful commitment to teach them the central truths of God's word, we find that we are the recipients of unique blessings. What greater joy than to know that our God and Father has sent us to care for and nurture the children of His church. May He give us the grace to do so with earnestness and great care--for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.