On any given Saturday evening, you can find me reading book after book to a group of one year olds, picking up Cheerios before they get eaten off the floor and blowing bubbles like it’s my job. I get to teach foundational truths of the Bible—God made everything, God is in charge of everything, God is good, Jesus came to save sinners and God wants to talk with us—using simple sentences, cute illustrations and a lot of repetition. I get to sing and dance, build block towers and put together puzzles, all while giving moms and dads the opportunity to participate in corporate worship without worrying about what their little ones are doing.
I serve with these kids each Saturday night not just because I love kids (although I do) or because the church needs volunteers (although it does) but because serving allows me to participate in the mission of the church, increases my own faith and is preparing me for the future.
Living On Mission
Average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more is generally agreed to constitute a “megachurch,” and if you consider all five campuses of The Village, we could form a megachurch with just our Next Gen attendance. Many, if not most, of these kids are not yet believers in Christ, making them the largest group of non-believers consistently attending our church. The opportunities for gospel-centered multiplication abound in Next Gen Ministry. The Village believes that parents are called to be the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives and seeks to partner with parents and equip them for this good work. From our very littlest babies, we are praying for their salvation and seeking to establish a foundation for the rest of their lives.
Serving with kids this age is an exercise in consistent prayer. We’re asking Him to save young kids, and He is doing so.
My own life is marked by this kind of gospel-centered foundation. I was born on a Sunday and was at church with my parents the following Sunday. I am so grateful for the Sunday school teachers and AWANA leaders who, alongside my parents, pointed me toward Jesus from the very beginning. Of course, I had ups and downs in my spiritual growth and I’m still growing toward maturity, but by God’s grace I always knew where to turn when life got difficult because I’d been taught nothing else. I may not have a defining moment in my story where I hit rock bottom and Jesus turned my life around, but I know that I was sick with sin and an enemy of God before Christ rescued me and sent His Spirit to give me a new, healthy heart. I long for this to be the story of more children who grow up here at The Village.
Serving with kids this age is an exercise in consistent prayer. In these classrooms, we teach truths from the Bible, sing songs based on Scripture and pray, pray, pray. We’re asking Him to save young kids, and He is doing so. When I hear stories about two year olds telling their parents, “God wants to talk with us,” or four year olds reciting Bible verses from memory, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness to draw us to Himself, regardless of age.
Growing In Christ
I’ve often heard that one way to know if you really understand something is to try to teach it to someone else. Sometimes it’s good for us as adults to return to simple definitions we understood as a child. When we say that God is wise, we mean that He knows what is best. When we say that He is loving, we mean that He does what is best. And when we say that He is faithful, we mean that He always does what He says He will do. These simple truths remain true, even as we grow and understand more and more of who God is. When I find myself struggling through a difficult situation, these simple definitions help me cling to the truth. This is part of the reason creeds and catechisms have had such importance throughout church history. They use simple definitions and summaries of doctrine to lay a solid foundation for belief.
One of the most common mistakes I see others making, and even make myself, is reading the Bible as if it’s about me. “What am I getting out of this passage?” I’ll ask myself, and it isn’t a bad question, but if the answer is all about me, it’s a bad answer. In Kids Village we teach that the Bible is from God and about God. Period. Yes, it includes instructions for us and there are certainly many applications we’re supposed to make, but God’s Word is first and foremost about Him. As we know Him more, we love Him more, we trust Him more and we obey Him more. This is true whether we’re two or 82. We will never learn all there is to know about the Lord.
Building Relationships for the Future
Serving in the church has been a great way to begin building relationships—with kids, parents and fellow volunteers. While I have floated to other classrooms when needed, I’ve been serving most often in the one-year-olds classroom for the last three years. The kids I first held and changed the diapers of are now having conversations with their teachers and memorizing Scripture (and using the bathroom all on their own!). I’ve been able to see these kids grow and change. I know what toys or books each kid likes, how long they usually take to calm down when getting dropped off is hard and who needs to be reminded not to eat the crayons. They may not be able to say my name yet, but I love getting to serve with the same children week after week.
While it’s been great to serve consistently and build these relationships, there’s also almost never a week that goes by without having someone new in my classroom. Especially in a room of one year olds, there’s a wide range of not only personalities, but levels of development among the kids. I’m learning how to juggle kids with separation anxiety, those who can’t walk yet and the ones who want to climb on (and jump off of) anything and everything. We’ve got adopted kids, foster kids, only children and ones with any number of siblings. The Lord began to draw my heart toward fostering and adoption when I was a teenager, and I believe that He is using this time serving the church to equip me for that ministry. The nature of foster care is such that these children experience brokenness from a very early age, and every child responds to brokenness in his or her own way. Learning to navigate a variety of kids and their emotions and behaviors is equipping me to handle whatever kind of children come my way in the future.
As the people of God, we’re called to be His ambassadors in this world (Matthew 28:19-20). Sometimes that means going on mission trips to a foreign country. Sometimes it means sharing the gospel with a coworker or neighbor. And sometimes it means serving the church by praying over babies and telling Bible stories to kids while their parents participate in corporate worship. Next Gen Ministry is a mission field, and as I spend my Saturday nights wiping noses and building block towers, God is building a biblical foundation for the kids in our church, and He is using them to help me grow.