I’ve been an officer in the OPC for over two decades, which means I have done my share of Sunday school teaching. It’s part of the job description. I have taught on books of the Bible, on doctrinal standards, theology, church history, you name it. And all of this to adults, of course.

But about a year ago I ventured into unfamiliar territory—teaching four- and five-year-olds. What possessed me, you ask? For one, I had a growing conviction that the men of our church should pitch in to teach the young’uns. Also I thought it would be good stewardship for me to familiarize myself with the curriculum that our denomination promotes. Finally, we had a shortage of teachers, and I thought that an elder condescending to take on this lowly task might set a good example for others. The idea struck many in my church as comically implausible. Not least my adult children, who long suspected that my patience level with children in the church registered fairly close to the standard set by W. C. Fields.

Despite my impressive Sunday school curriculum vitae, I underestimated what was in store for me. I can’t say I wasn’t warned by the teacher’s manual from Great Commission Publications, which gave me plenty of warning: the kids in my class would have only five–ten minute attention spans (a wild overstatement, I am convinced), they are literal and concrete thinkers, they are curious and talkative (you think?), and they tire very easily (or would that refer to the teacher?).

Still, I was convinced I had this covered. After all, there were just five kids in the class. The superintendent even secured for me an assistant, whom I tried to wave off so as not needlessly to burden. “No imposition at all,” she insisted, “I am happy to help you. Oh, and yes, you will need me.” Five minutes into my first class, a young pupil announced it was time for her bathroom break. My assistant took her hand, smiled at me, and escorted her out of the classroom.

While the teacher’s manual promised that I would be “enlightened and enriched” in this experience, I set a different goal: survival. Compared to teaching adults—I can yak about anything for forty-five minutes—this was work. One problem was the curriculum, which was either feast or famine—too ambitious or restrained in its combination of teaching and activities. So I learned critical clock management techniques. With time running out, I employ a hurry-up offense through the lesson with the precision of a Tom Brady. With time to kill, there is always another chorus of a song or a review of catechism questions. And if I am really desperate, I pull out the crayons. What kid doesn’t like to draw?

An experienced teacher underscored for me the importance of addressing students at their level. So I consciously make efforts to bend down to make eye contact. Those ungainly and ungraceful exercises reinforce the bitter reality that knee replacement is in my future.

I committed my share of rookie mistakes. One day I set out to teach the kids a song to the tune of a familiar nursery rhyme. I practiced diligently the night before, to the amusement of my wife. But when it came time to lead the singing I could not recall the tune. My co-teacher drew a blank as well, which prompted one five-year-old to observe: “well, this is awkward.”

A particular struggle was to keep lessons focused on one simple take-away every week. Something like, “God created a wonderful world that we see and touch and smell,” or “God gives us grace to trust and obey him.” I strive to keep my words simple and my sentences short. This is hard to do. But what is not hard is telling whether I am getting through. Adult students disguise their boredom. Kids can’t hide it.

If the challenges proved daunting (and don’t even get me started on the crafts), the rewards were even greater than I imagined. “Hi, Mr. Eutychus!” (or something similar) my pupils holler when they see me every Sunday. Two weeks into our class, a conversation with a friend before evening worship was interrupted when a young girl ran up to me and gave me a big hug that nearly knocked me over. My friend’s jaw dropped, and I proudly explained that she was among my “posse.” I image these kids a decade or so from now, nervously seated before the session and stumbling to make a credible profession of faith. I am heartened to think that one improbably friendly face will serve to put their minds at ease.

More than shaping me as a teacher, my tenure among the pre-schoolers has prompted reflections on my life as a learner. The things I share in common with these young saints were brought home to me in public worship a few weeks ago. A paraphrase of Psalm 113 offered this thanks to the Lord:

Yet I may love thee too, O Lord,
Almighty that thou art,
for thou hast stooped to ask of me
the love of my poor heart.

This is the doctrine of accommodation on which Calvin has written so eloquently. “For who even of slight intelligence does not understand,” he asks in his Institutes, “that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness” (1.13.1).

Stooping and lisping. Short sentences and simple take-aways. Isn’t that the essence of verbal revelation? If you study textbooks on Christian education, you will find one consistent theme—Jesus is the “master teacher.” I have no argument with that label, but I do with the logic behind it. Explanations range from Jesus’s way of confounding the wise to exposing the proud, or confronting stubbornness and pride, or appealing to emotions. These explanations only serve to flatter ourselves, and they overlook the obvious: Jesus knew how to stoop and lisp.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

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Ordained Servant: December 2015

Women Theologians

Also in this issue

Nurturing Theologically Rich Women’s Initiatives in Your Church

Bound for the Promised Land by Oren R. Martin: A Review Article

For the Glory of God by Daniel I. Block

The Crisis of British Protestantism by Hunter Powell

Preaching by Ear by Dave McClellan: A Review Article

In a Feed Trough Born

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