Last Sunday I led the elementary children’s Sunday school, which meets at 9:30 during the adult worship time. Their parents were in the sanctuary, and I was with nine children down the hall in Room 19. Our Sunday school director planned the lesson and put out the materials. We were to make angel mosaics out of thin pieces of foam, glue and bits of colored paper.
I read the children a Bible passage from Matthew 28 about angels, and we talked about what angels do and what they might look like. Then I set them to work cutting out their angels from the foam pieces and gluing the little rectangles of colored paper on them. Some of the children decided to draw on their angel too. A couple of the glue bottles didn’t work, but an older child helped me unclog them. With 15 minutes left in class I took the children outside to the playground. At 10:30 their parents came to find them there.
Bishop Will Willimon has strong opinions about children and church. He thinks children’s sermons are a dumb and patronizing practice. He also doesn’t like the way some churches (ours is one) segregate children away from their parents in worship. I am told churches do this because parents want to be able to drop their children off in church school while they worship. Willimon says children will never learn to worship that way and will be less likely to be in church as adults. As a child I didn’t attend church at all, but I grew up to be a pastor, so maybe I am the exception that proves his rule. I don’t know. I would have to know more about children’s spirituality to assess his thoughts on children in church.
But I do think it’s important for children and pastors to interact with one another. This is especially true for male pastors, whom I have noticed tend to leave the church’s children to female educators or female pastors. I’ll teach Sunday school again on July 25. And next week I will be deeply involved in our annual Vacation Bible School where I teach the Bible lesson for the older children. In the fall I will teach a 6th grace Bible study at our midweek program for children. I’ll also eat dinner with them — you learn a lot by eating with children.
I don’t have children of my own at home. That may be an additional reason it’s important for me to be involved in the lives of children in these ways. Children teach me at least two things. First, they teach me to be open to life. Healthy children are open and receptive. The love to play and use their imagination. These qualities are important in the Christian spiritual life. Children remind me that the kingdom of God is before all else something you receive, not something you build through your own effort. Jesus urged us to receive the kingdom like a child.
Second, children teach me that life can be dangerous. Children need supervision, which can be exhausting for adults. But it’s necessary because children haven’t yet had enough experience to discern and identify the things that can harm them. They need protection. They remind me that I may not always know what is best for me. I must pay attention to my heavenly Father who has laid out the best way for me to live.