“Let the little children come to me.” It’s what Jesus said to his disciples after they tried to prevent children from distracting Jesus while he taught. Often, in children’s Bibles, Sunday School coloring pages, and renaissance paintings of this story, the little children depicted with Jesus are sitting calmly, docilely, on his lap and at his feet. They gaze up at him with adoring eyes. They are at peace.
This past August, I joined the Abundant Life Fellows Program as the Bible Club Co-Coordinator. Along with Jonathan Knabe, I lead Bible Club three times a week at Johnson Elementary, where we extend the invitation Jesus offered children in three of the gospels (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, and Luke 18:15-17) to elementary school kids living in the Prospect neighborhood.
THE REALITY OF WORKING WITH CHILDREN
Teaching the kids about Jesus rarely looks anything like the rosy paintings of children flocked at Jesus’ feet. Many of the kids struggle to sit still. They’re distracted by each other, the view from the window, and their own mental chatter. Often, they want to go home.
It’s a spiritual battle to share God’s word, without doubt. The work of helping kids learn to listen to and respect each other is a tough one. Engaging them when they’ve just gone through a full day of school is a challenge. As someone who’s never led a classroom of kids before, the learning curve sometimes feels like an insurmountable mountain.
But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” I imagine those Hebrew kids tussled on their way over to him, that there was some pushing and shoving before they sat at Jesus’ feet. They came to Jesus, tripping and shouting, eager to say what was on their minds, slow to listen to what Jesus may have had to say, anything but the peaceful representations we’re used to seeing.
It’s easy, in the classroom, to be tempted to see our role in Bible Club as primarily behavior management, the way the disciples probably saw their role in keeping the kids at a distance from Jesus. It’s easy to look at the number of times we’ve made it through an entire lesson plan and get discouraged. It’s easy to hear kids say they’re bored and don’t want to be there and wonder if God is present.
RECOGNIZING GOD’S PRESENCE
But He is. He’s present in the way the kids sing out His praises with gusto each time Jonathan leads them in worship. He’s present in the way their eyes open wide when they realize their words or actions have hurt their friends. He’s present in the way they want to help out and participate in leading class and in the prayers that they say before Bible Club starts. He’s present when they’re sharing about how God has blessed them and their families. He’s present as Jonathan and I learn to teach, to discipline, and to love the kids. He’s present in ways I don’t see, and we praise Him.
He’s present in all of this, because He’s ultimately the one inviting the kids into His kingdom, not us. And so we pray that each Bible Club session will be a time when God’s name is made great and seeds of His kingdom are planted. We pray–even more than we pray that the kids will sit still and respect each other–that they will come to know and love a God who loves them no matter what: on their craziest days, their best-behaved days, and their saddest days, too.
I have lots to learn from these kids, and they’ve already taught me so much: new playground games, my own weaknesses, and how lovely and wonderful it is that God loves us no matter how unruly we can be. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re encouraged to know that God invites you to come to Him–for the first time or the five-hundredth–and remember He loves you no matter how hard it may be for you to sit still at His feet.