Why Pay Attention to the Children?

I was seven years old when my first nephew, Barry, was born. Perhaps I was a bit giddy about my new status in life. After all, at such a young age I was Uncle Don.

As other children came along to enlarge my parents’ family – nephews, nieces, my own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – God put a love for them into my heart, a love that has never left me.

Our most recent addition is Baby Isabel, eight months old, the daughter of Zach and Lisa. Our love for her is nourished by means of pictures sent electronically to update us on her development through her first year of life. We will see her at Christmas.

And we have the promise that, come spring, by the mercy of God new love will come yet again, this time for the child of Ben and Charis.

My love never made me an expert in bathing or changing diapers or otherwise caring for the little ones’ intricate and earthy needs. In that category my best grade would be “awkward.”

But I loved to talk to them and rock them, and to get down on the floor with them and “communicate” with special sounds. Insofar as possible, I have followed closely the development of each of my children and grandchildren right into their adulthood.

This love for children seems to have been part of my calling in life. Back when I myself was approaching young manhood and my mother could see I was preparing seriously for the Christian ministry she offered me one word of advice.

In less than one minute she said, and never repeated it a second time: “Don, when you are a pastor do be sure to pay attention to the children.”

Even now her words remind me of Our Lord’s parting assignment to Simon Peter after the resurrection; Simon’s first task was to feed my lambs (John 21:15b).

Earlier, when his disciples thought Jesus too busy to pay attention to children, he rebuked them. He saw in the little ones what the disciples at the moment did not see: eternal worth and the need for love given wisely.

He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He then took time to gather the little ones in his arms and bless them.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a public school teacher with advanced training in early childhood development. She was recognized in the public system for her skill as a teacher and had exercised her gift with children in the church as well.

Speaking in the context of the church we noted the need of children to be recognized among the congregation – to be greeted and assured of a place – and their need to be protected. In today’s church, especially, well-planned systems of oversight must be put in place and followed.

But the comment that registered most deeply was that people who work in children’s ministries should be aware of the capacity of children under five years of age to learn.

Two-year-olds, she said, can be taught to sing a simple chorus. And three- and four-year-olds can take in well-told Bible stories. They can memorize short pieces of Scripture too.

Sunday school for the little ones can be much more than a nursery or a place for them to be entertained. To teach them Christian things at that age sets a good base for spiritual development later on and lays the groundwork for their personal response to the Gospel.

It is nearly 90 years since I was taken to my first Sunday school class. The few of us little ones were gathered around a dark oak sand table in the corner near the pulpit of the little church. The mirror facing upward in the sand became the Sea of Galilee. The teacher’s name was Elva Tisdale. She was loving and feeding Christ’s lambs.

Photo credit: Roger Davies (via flickr.com)

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3 thoughts on “Why Pay Attention to the Children?

  1. Your message, expressed so well, resonates with me, Pastor Don because I was only 9 years old when I was confronted with the Gospel and because the Parkdale Free Methodist church began as a Sunday-school, I had the attention of many adults who became ‘mothers and fathers in Israel.’

  2. It was just last week that my sister, Carol, and I were talking about our little FM church in Burlington IA. Our dear parents took us as infants and we worshiped there until our teenage years. I recently purchased two old, original, curved pews from ‘our’ church and had them sized, to use them in our family rooms. We talked about our aunt who always had the Sunday School in the basement. She would write the words of the songs she taught us..using big letters so the little ones could read..and we still remember some of those songs! She had us learn Bible verses, and at Christmas everyone had a small part to learn and recite in the program!. All such precious memories, and so thankful the children in that little church were never forgotten! I am so grateful for the Christian upbringing I had! Thank you so much for your articles every week, Pastor Bastian. May the Lord continue to bless you and Kay!

  3. Pastor Don,
    When you were our Bishop during our Brazilian and Nikkei Annual Conferences you would stay in our home for at least 2 weeks. Our children loved having you there. You would take a few minutes almost daily to sit in the living room with just them and tell them your stories. You made up a story for each of the 3 kids and that made them feel special. Today, all 3 of them love the Lord and I am grateful for your ministry to them. You were one of our favorite guests there in Sao Paulo.
    I still apologize for the time the bees chased us out of our lodge at the missionary retreat center. There must have been 200 of them in your bedroom. Kathleen was with you that time. That may have been the same trip that you took some fleas home with you to Canada on the airplane. So sorry.
    One of my favorite memories was of you singing so strongly the hymn in “Portuguese”. On closer observation of lip reading, it wasn’t exactly that language that you were singing but you fooled almost everyone.
    You remain one of my favorite pastors, beginning with my GC years,
    Beth Gallup Smith

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