By Rachel Sinclair
Like many church volunteers, I often view teaching in children’s or youth ministry as a way to give of my time and serve my church community. When preparing a lesson, my focus is usually on how I can teach biblical truths to others, not how God is teaching that truth to me.
The more I serve by teaching those younger than me, however, the more God shows me how we, as church leaders, can learn from believers of all ages and backgrounds. Here are three lessons about knowing God’s truth and sharing the gospel that we can learn by serving in children’s ministry:
1. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
I was helping my mother with her second grade Sunday School class while she was teaching the story of Job. She had just explained how Satan wanted to attack Job because he was a righteous man who followed God, when a boy raised his hand.
“If God created everything, why did He create Satan?” he asked.
Hmm. That’s a tough one to think through as an adult, let alone to explain to a group of 8-year-olds! My mom briefly explained the Bible teaches God created the world and everything in it, including angels—one of whom was Satan. He also gave His creation the choice whether or not to obey and follow Him.
But beyond a condensed, simplistic answer, my mother told the boy something that adults need to understand as well: Sometimes there aren’t clear-cut answers to big questions, but that’s okay, because we aren’t God. There are some things we, as humans, can’t understand (Deuteronomy 29:29), but we can trust that God is just and good, and we can continue to seek Him through His Word and the Holy Spirit.
I’m sure you can think of other difficult teaching topics, like the Trinity, predestination and free will, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, etc. We don’t need to ignore questions because we don’t have all the answers, and we certainly shouldn’t be discouraged as teachers.
Just like children, we can wrestle with difficult concepts in Scripture while maintaining an obedient heart and sincere desire to learn.
2. Everyone’s contribution is valuable.
I’m always amazed at how you can watch a group of children and already see the God-given gifts they possess, even when they haven’t yet realized it.
Whether it’s the natural leader who can make others laugh, the thoughtful child who sits next to the visitor, or the faithful student who memorizes the key Scripture verse every week, children show us every individual has a gift to share with the group.
Now think about church life as an adult, where participation can often feel optional. There are designated leaders to teach and serve, and it’s easy to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why we can sit on the sidelines and watch rather than participate. Perhaps we feel that others are better equipped to serve, or maybe we don’t think people care about what we have to offer. How far from the truth!
Teaching children is a great reminder of how different—yet incredibly important—each individual is to the body of Christ. We have innate strengths that God gave us for a reason, and the Church needs everyone to contribute in order to grow together and serve God.
3. The gospel is powerful on its own.
Sometimes I feel intimidated before teaching because I realize the eternal importance of the gospel. What if I’m not able to articulate biblical truths in a way that kids understand? What if I’m not prepared for some of the questions they ask?
Too often I become so focused on my own abilities that I forget an essential truth: Christ is the author and perfecter of salvation (Hebrews 12:2). I’m responsible to obey and serve how the Lord calls me; I’m not responsible for how others receive that message.
There are times when I thought I’d failed as a teacher, but God was at work in the hearts of those I was teaching. For example, on a mission trip to Latvia, we had one 3-year-old boy named Olaf who wouldn’t sit still. He was really too young to be in the class, and our team had to have one to two volunteers chasing Olaf at all times.
However, when we asked the students to recap yesterday’s lesson, Olaf raised his hand and began babbling in Latvian. When he concluded his story, we looked at the translator, who said, “Well, Olaf just told the whole creation narrative in near perfect detail.”
We were shocked! While we were concerned that Olaf was distracting other child, God was working to implant truth in this young boy’s heart.
In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul explains that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel—not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” Sharing the gospel is not about our personal strengths; it’s about the strength of the message of the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). What a relief!
Whether you’re going through the motions of planning another Sunday School lesson or you’re afraid to step forward and lead the next generation, be encouraged that God is at work in His church in people of all ages.
And oftentimes, the teacher becomes the student.