By Rick Willis
“I can’t do that. . . . I’m oriented to leading adults.”
The children’s ministry coordinator at Southern Heights Christian Church in Lebanon, Missouri, was recruiting volunteers for a new rotational program on Sunday mornings, and he had challenged me—a man in his 60s—to get involved with the 2- to 5-year-olds.
The concept was new to us: one hour of continuous activity broken down into 15-minute segments (or stations), with kids rotating from a lesson, to crafts, to snacks, and to music. Two people would lead the children from room to room, with volunteers at each station managing the activity.
I’d wandered through the children’s wing before on my way to “adult” activities. I’d seen crafts being assembled. I’d briefly watched children tracing their hands, drawing stick figures, and gluing craft sticks. I’d smelled the cookies. I’d heard children singing “Jesus loves me, this I know” at the top of their lungs. There was evidence of learning.
But, to tell the truth, I’d never been particularly patient with unruly small people who are categorized as “preschool.” A 3-year-old who can’t bear for mom to leave and then cries for a half hour, disrupting the classroom, wasn’t my idea of how to spend Sunday morning. I suppose I was guilty of thinking this work was better left to moms and teenagers.
But on those trips through the children’s area I witnessed the impact of the program on the kids, and it slowly made an impact on me. My wife was already involved by working in the nursery or helping as a rotation leader. Years earlier, when she taught a more traditional class for 5-year-olds, I had helped. She taught the lesson and I was the “bouncer,” keeping order as best I could. It was an interesting experiment, but it was years ago. (Those 5-year-olds are grown now.) I’d moved on to more mature students. Theoretically.
Yet part of my own growth was a slow realization that many adults in the church remain “preschoolers” in terms of their spiritual maturity. At a discipleship workshop recently, I learned that Juan Carlos Ortiz referred to it as “the perpetual childhood of believers” (not intended as a compliment). Those who have been around the church for a while know it’s true. Far too many adults have accepted the “I’m saved and it’s a done deal” mentality and float through life with little evidence of being a disciple of Christ.
It occurred to me that striking at the root of this problem, by working with our young kids, might be a step toward a solution. If we can create a mind-set of learning, and then acting on this learning, this trait might follow them into adulthood. So maybe, just maybe, this was a ministry I should help with.
I’m 67 years old, an elder in the church, and enjoy the interaction of teaching adults. But now, on Sunday mornings between 9:00 and 10:15, you’ll find me on the floor with a lesson book telling preschoolers the story of the Israelites eating manna, of David passing the torch to his son Solomon so he could build the temple in Jerusalem, and of Jesus giving sight to a blind man. After a 10-minute lesson, I might ask children for suggestions for what to draw hanging from a tree in the Garden of Eden. “How about a potato?” one child suggests. “Doesn’t a monkey hang from a tree?” asks another. Then, finally, “I think there was a snake hanging down.”
Yes, figuring out how to get that snake out of the tree is a lifelong process. So, on Sunday mornings, I try to be animated as we retell a Bible story, and when the lesson causes a light bulb to go on for a young student, it does my heart good. I love it when they see me later in the hall, grab me around the leg, and smile at me. You know what? I’m smiling too.
Rick Willis is an elder who loves seeing maturity occur in people of all ages.