My wife and I decided to teach the primary class in our Sabbath School program at the church this fall quarter. As the pastor, I must confess I have thought on more than one occasion that "I am too busy with more important things" at the church than to teach 3-7 year-olds. Yet in the few weeks we've been in there, I have been reminded how important time with the lambs can be.
For consider some of the lessons the Lord is teaching not them but me:
Explain the Scriptures simply - Our church is memorizing Psalm 40 this quarter, and I have been singing it (poor kids!) and then having the children fill in words when I pause. As the psalmist speaks of God bringing him out of the pit, one line says the Lord brought me "out of the dungeon mire." When I asked what "mire" was, one girl said, "That's the store where Mommy shops." We laugh at these things, but I have had adults who have had no Scripture training make similar comments. Pastors and teachers need to work hard to explain the Scriptures simply. When I asked them if they would like to be down in a deep, dark hole filled with icky mud at the bottom, a resounding, unanimous "NO!" filled the classroom, and they took another step in their understanding of salvation. This brings me to the next lesson God is teaching me.
Tell stories with excitement - It amazes me how these children, wiggly after sitting in church for 90 minutes plus, hungry for lunch, excited to be with their friends, will grow quiet as you tell them a Bible story with enthusiasm. Huge grins develop as you show them different animals God created. Eyes widen in horror as you tell them about Cain killing his brother Abel. Hands shoot up in the air to answer questions. I have been reminded how at the Banner of Truth Pastor's Conference I attended last May, Pastor Stuart Olyott of Wales had a sanctuary of grown men captivated by his child-like telling of gospel stories of Jesus. Whether preaching, leading family worship at home, teaching Bible studies, counseling or evangelizing, there is nothing like a parable or story to bring truth home. Is that not how the Bible is written? Is that not how Jesus preached?
Don't dim enthusiasm for prayer - Adults have much to learn from children when it comes to prayer. The children, unencumbered by tradition and protocol, pour out their little hearts in honest prayer. These can range from the humorous, little details of life such as "Please help Jack's daddy's green car go faster" to those with eternal-weight in them like "Please help Daddy come to church like he promised." Why is it that the simple prayers of children or young believers always excite me as I listen, but so often the petitions of older believers, including my own, lull me to sleep? Where is the faith to ask God to meet the details of life as well as to conquer the impossible?
Rejoice in small, tangible blessings - The children were absolutely fascinated with the pet lizards we brought to class (a visual for "the creeping things that creep on the earth" from Genesis 1:26). They ran, held hands, and shouted during a walk around the block as they pointed out what God has made. A couple of crackers and juice have been received like some great banquet is being served. One gal joyfully took out of her purse a walnut she had found on a walk with Daddy in order to show the class. Every week they give their offering for a Compassion child in the Philippines with tremendous excitement and joy. Yes, it helps we collect it in a toy dump truck (I kept forgetting to get a basket), but still how often my heart is dull to the daily blessings God sends my way by the truckloads. Rejoicing with the lambs is helping me see God's green pastures more clearly.
Show affection warmly - My wife has no problem with this. She is a nurturer, and how quickly these young ones run to her for a hug or a lap to sit on. And how quickly, once they know and trust you, they want to show affection. I, on the other hand, have often been too reserved during my ministry to extend a hug or show affection. As one young fellow, who is not my own child, crawled on my lap this week to help me tell a story, I saw how these young ones are breaking down my resistance and are confirming something I've been feeling in my bones as I am becoming an older pastor. God's people need the personal, fatherly touch, be it a heart-felt handshake, a welcoming hug, hands laid on in prayer, or a sympathetic pat. Certainly boundaries of propriety exist that must be carefully maintained, but we need also to be careful not to be overly constrained. We are, are we not, the body of Christ?
So if you hear me getting really excited when I pray, get surprised by a hug from me, or just come upon me looking at a walnut with fascination, now you know why. I have been playing and learning with the lambs, and "out of their mouths pour forth God's praises."