Teaching as Spiritual Formation
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
When my friend who teaches has anxious dreams, it’s about her students at school revolting in absolutely ridiculous ways. When I have anxious dreams, it looks like calling volunteers for Sunday morning help, or showing up on Sunday under-staffed. Lucky duck that I am, I’m pretty much guaranteed all my dreams will come true.
I often frame my struggle with volunteer recruitment as a loss for children- a loss of their knowing and learning from the older brothers and sisters in their spiritual family, a loss of continuity, a loss of class offerings. Over the past year, though, I’ve begun to realize more fully that it’s not just the children who miss out, but the adults. If a critical mass of adults are not consistently spending time with the children of the congregation in the context of worship, the whole adult community misses out on the gift of their presence.
Articulating faith and worshipping with children has been the single most spiritually forming process of my life. I started helping with the 2s class when I was 8, so it’s been awhile. Exploring a text with children, hearing their questions, and listening to the Lord alongside them challenges me to put practical application and simple articulation to truths that I easily forget that I believe. No matter how many times I plan or run through a story, it’s not entirely uncommon for me to have a pause in my heart mid-lesson and catch myself silently renewing my faith.
Do I actually believe that Jesus raised the girl from the dead?
Do I truly trust that Jesus can calm the seas?
Do I seek the church with a doggedness that comes from trusting that God established her through a miracle of the Holy Spirit?
Initially, teaching is more exhausting than invigorating. I rarely have a lesson go as planned, and there are always a few awkward moments- hesitations, pauses, missing resources. The greater inconvenience, and the eventual catalyst for growth, is that it prompts internal spiritual work of the best kind. Some of this extends from working with any group of people who think and learn differently:
Why does that child’s question bother me?
Why am I feeling impatient?
What questions are they going to ask?
How do I thoughtfully engage a person who thinks differently so we can both learn more?
Other times, it extends from listening to the spiritual insights of children who Jesus himself said enter faith communities with simple and childlike faith:
How do I approach this application with the same joy as that child?
Where have I short-changed myself by making an issue more complex than necessary?
Ultimatums are rarely a good idea, and there are some very real reasons why some people shouldn’t serve in children’s ministries. I would argue that across a congregation, an adult spending time with the children of a church should be more the norm than the exception. Maybe not weekly or monthly, but in some intentional capacity beyond parenting their own children. God often calls people to ministry in ways that they don’t expect, and serving with children is not “missing out on church” but an opportunity to know the church and the God of the church more deeply and fully. Growing alongside children does more than introduce the generations to each other, it provides another angle or facet through which to know God more deeply.