I’m eight months in.
Eight months of 25 eight-year-olds. Eight months of word searches, object lessons, and games. Eight months of Bible stories, attendance sheets, and activity pages. Eight months of planning every minute so it doesn’t become like a scene from Lord of the Flies down in the children’s wing.
I am over halfway through my rookie season as a second grade Sunday school teacher. And over the course of these months, I’ve learned very, very much. But among the things that have become crystal clear to me is the face that teaching a children’s Sunday school class is extraordinarily good for your soul. And here are four reasons why:
1. You can only teach what you really know.
I’ve discovered when you teach second graders, you don’t have time for a lot of fluff. You had better know what you’re going to say, and you better say it in a concise, engaging, and understandable way. If you don’t, then you’re lost the room.
This is good for my soul because I am perpetually over-educated in my Christianity. I’ve read a lot of books, and own a lot more than I’ve read. But here, in the crucible of the second grade classroom, you find that your easy rhetoric and church-y vocabulary won’t get you very far. Instead, you have to know what you think you know to such an extent that you can easily and simply explain. This is one of the reasons why, I believe, that the German theologian Helmut Thielicke (a contemporary of Bonhoeffer) required that all his PhD students teach children at the same time they studied under him. I know for me, I can become so accustomed to a truth that I often don’t even think about its full implications any more. I just spout it off, and let the chips fall where they may.
That don’t fly in the second grade classroom.
2. Life isn’t as complicated as we tend to make it.
Which we do. We read something in the Bible and instead of simply doing what it says or believing what it states, we perform all kinds of linguistic and theological acrobatics to parse out every reason why our situation is unique and complicated. In the end, though, the question laid before all of us is whether we truly believe Jesus is who He said He is. And if we do, then we have no other choice but to willingly subject our lives to His ultimate authority. Case closed.
Children have not yet developed this tendency to overcomplicate every issue. They are still naive enough to think that Jesus can and will actually do what He says He will do. And every single week, when I along with the other teachers stand in front of these little ones and talk about who Jesus is and what He did, it’s a reminder to us that though we might be separated by decades, we are actually not all that different. We are all sinners. We are all in need. But we are also loved dearly by Jesus Christ.
3. You experience a little of the patience God is daily showing to you.
It’s hard to teach second graders. Really hard. Much harder than teaching adults. One of the reasons why is because of the great need for questions. It’s an endless series of reminders to raise your hand, to take turns, to not eat the glue stick… and that’s before you get to the lesson.
But here, too, is a reminder that in as much as we would like to think of ourselves as different than these children, God bears with our tendencies with an endless amount of patience. He’s patient as we ask the same questions. Make the same mistakes. Display the same defiance. Fail to understand the same principles, and then forget the ones we just taught them. Teaching children helps us see just the slightest glimmer of the amount of patience God has with His children, and then step back and marvel that He shows up every second of every day to do it all over again.
4. That which is of first importance is that which we need to be reminded of.
CS Lewis once said that people don’t need to be taught as much as they need to be reminded. This is part of the reason why Paul, when penning his letter to the church at Corinth, didn’t try to tread into new territory. Instead, he answered specific questions regarding specific issues at play in their congregation, but then as the book of 1 Corinthians moves to a close, he takes them back to the very beginning:
“Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received…” (1 Cor. 15:1-3).
After everything else, Paul took them back to what was most important – the truth of the gospel. Such is the case with these children. At the end of the day, the best thing we can do for them is to remind them over and over again of the gospel. And at the end of the day, that is what we need as their teachers, parents, and Christians in general. We, too, need to be reminded over and over again not of something new, but of something old. Not of a fresh message, but of the same one that is fresh in every circumstance. For we never in our age grow past the gospel – we only grow deeper into it. In teaching these second-graders, I find that as I am reminding them of what is first and most important, so my soul is reminded of the same thing.