I was inspired to write this article by something that a young man shared with me in a men's books study meeting early this morning.
He reminded me that I had been one of his teachers in children's ministry in our church many years ago. He admitted that he wasn't a model student, but now that he's older, he's really grateful for all of us who had served him in that way. He said he now realizes that it did make a difference in his life.
John Piper, in his book, Don't Waste Your Life, says that if we endeavor to "gladly live our lives in order to make others glad in God", our lives may be challenging or even hard at times, but our joy will be full.
I think Dr. Piper has hit on the essence of joy in the Christian life.
Making children glad in God
One of the things we can do before and during retirement is to make a difference in the life of another person. There are lots of ways to do that, but in this article, I'm going to talk about one in particular: Making a difference in the lives of children by making them "glad in God" by participating in Children's Ministry in your local church.
Yes, children – right there in your own church. You don't have to go to another city or to a foreign country, although God will certainly call some to do that – you can minister to children right where you live.
As I look back on my own life, one of the most joyful things I have been privileged to do has been to teach in the Children's Ministry in my church. I'm currently teaching seven-year-olds and hope to be able to continue to do so in the years ahead, even when I'm "retired" and for as long as I am able.
We may retire from a full-time job/career, but I don't think God wants us to ever retire from serving others, especially in the context of our local church.
Of all the areas of joyful serving that are available to us, I think Children's Ministry is especially "gladdening" (to use Piper's word) because it gives us the opportunity to have a part in directly impacting the lives of children for the sake of the Gospel with the ultimate goal of making them "glad in God."
I wasn't always glad in God
I didn't grow up in a Christian family. However, my mother did require that my brothers and sisters and I go to a little Open Bible Church in our neighborhood. We attended Sunday school and Children's Church there for several years. I stopped going sometime before my teen years, and in the years following, I totally rejected the Gospel and became a "professing" atheist. (I wasn't really – it was just one of the ways that I tried to suppress the truth of the Gospel, the seeds of which had already been planted in my heart.)
But by God's amazing mercy and grace, I became a Christian at the age of 19 while sitting alone in the front seat of my car at a stoplight at midnight on a Saturday night while listening to a Christian radio talk show targeted at young people. In those wondrous moments – and this is something I will never forget – much of what I had been taught and observed as a child at that little Open Bible Church welled up from my heart and replayed in my mind as a vivid recollection of the Gospel truths I had graciously been given and had seen lived out there, truths that had ultimately helped bring me to Christ.
So why do I mention my own conversion experience in this context? Well, I believe it was those basic Biblical truths about God and the Gospel, given to me at that little Open Bible Church by loving and caring teachers, and then reinforced by several others throughout my high school and college years, that God used to soften the hard ground of my heart so that His gracious gift of salvation could eventually take root.
Could he have used other means? Of course, and it certainly wasn't the only thing that he allowed into my life, but it was one of the most impactful.
Still at it
The main reason I still serve in Children's Ministry is because I truly believe it has eternal significance in the lives of children. God can use you and me, regardless of our ages, in ways that we may not even realize, to touch hearts, to plant Gospel seeds, and to water what has been planted so that, in God's time, the glory of salvation will appear in a child's life.
I have been teaching off and on for many years. During that time, I have come to know and love many of the kids in my church. Some of them are adults now and I see them serving in the church with their own children. What a joyful and gladdening thing to see!
There is much joy to be found in ministering to children – their smiles and laughter, and their curiosity and enthusiasm are just some of the things that make being around them such a blast. Then there's the thrill of helping a child learn something new about God, or just helping them better understand something they have already heard or read. How wonderful it is to see the smile on a child's face when he or she grasps some simple truth about the nature or character of God or the glorious hope of the Gospel.
I'm almost 64 years old now, and sometimes I wonder, "can I still be effective in teaching, even as I get older?" (And even if I become a little senile, I'm not sure if the kids, or anyone else for that matter, would even notice.) But then I think about a widow named Mrs. Nauman who was one of my teachers back at that little neighborhood Open Bible Church. I'm pretty sure that she was in her 70s or 80s at that time. By God's grace, I hope to still be teaching or serving in other ways when I'm that old, if they'll let me.
How teaching children can make them glad
There are a number of ways that teaching children can make them "glad in God", and these can add to our joy as well. Here are just a few:
- It leads to their eternal gladness and joy. That's the end game – we want them to be at the wedding feast, at the great celebration of the new creation. Their eternal salvation and eternal joy in Christ is what we're after and teaching in children's ministry is one of the things that God can use to that end.
- It helps them make sense out of life. Understanding who made the world – what he planned and what went wrong and his glorious plan to fix it – can help explain to children what they see and experience in this word. And it's the only thing that can give them real hope.
- It gives them a great opportunity to accept Christ. Kids tend to be more receptive to the Gospel than at any other age. When they're old enough to understand it, they're old enough to be saved by it. Teaching them the Gospel gives them an opportunity to believe and trust in Jesus.
- It helps them avoid some of the unfortunate consequences of sin. Most parents – Christians and non-Christians alike – try to teach their children right from wrong. Only God's grace can change their hearts, but understanding something about God's holiness and the consequences of disobeying him can help guide children in the right direction. When children understand the sacrifice that Jesus made to purchase their forgiveness and salvation, they will be more likely to follow a better path.
- It helps counter-balance strong worldly influences. There are lots of harmful influences in our society and they seem to be getting stronger and stronger. Kids need godly influences to tip things the other way.
- It helps them to learn to trust and respect Godly adults in a safe context. Sadly, child safety is an increasing concern in our society. By building relationships with godly adults in a children's ministry context, children learn to have friendships with adults they can trust and who can have a positive influence on their lives.
- It can help them learn to get along with and love other children. Most children have brothers and sisters they love, but the second greatest commandment is to love their neighbor. Teaching them to get along with adults and other children, some who may be very different from themselves, helps them to learn to relate to and serve their neighbors. That can be modeled for them and it can be taught as a way of life as part of children's ministry.
- It is fun – for you and for them. God invented fun and he did it for his glory. I think God wants children to have fun in children's ministry. Not that fun and entertainment is the primary focus, but it's okay to have a little fun. We all know what a hoot kids can be sometimes.
- It can encourage kids to want to come to church. If children enjoy children's ministry, they will want to come. If they come to that, they may be encouraged to come to church, not just when they are young and with their families, but when they are older as well.
- It helps them make new friends. Encouraging children to make friends and build on their current friendships is a positive thing. Some of the friendships they make in the church will be the best they will ever have, and some may even last a lifetime. (I have seen couples get married who were friends as children in the church.)
- It gives them special memories. I shared some of my memories of children's ministry when I was a child and the impact it had on me. You may be able to do the same. By getting involved, you could be one of those special memories!
What about you?
Perhaps you're thinking: this sounds like a great idea, but how do I get started? Well, if you've been involved in children's ministry before and want to get back in the game, just contact your church leaders and ask how you can serve. Perhaps you can start by assisting in a class, or even substituting from time to time.
There may be some special training and background checks that your church requires (mine does), but don't let that hold you back.
You also don't have to be an expert or experienced teacher. Just be yourself. Spend some time with an experienced teacher and talk with them about what they do. Or observe them in a live class setting.
If you have a real heart for the kids and want to help them learn and experience the things of God, they will recognize that. The main thing is just to get in the game and trust God to help you – you'll make others glad in God, and you'll be gladder too!