"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me'" (Matthew 18:1-5, NIV).
Sometimes it can be difficult for churches to fill the positions of children's Bible class teachers. It can be a difficult job. The younger children may need diapers changed. The older children may have questions that could never be answered in a mere hour. It can be a thankless job. Parents may never express appreciation. A church may never recognize the contribution that the teacher is making (although the Contact Church has always been good about showing appreciation to teachers).
However, a children's Bible class teacher has a great responsibility and potentially profound influence in the lives of children. When a child becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, he or she may not even remember that the Bible class teacher was the first person to introduce him or her to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. He or she may not recall that the teacher first explained such concepts as faith, repentance, baptism, prayer, heaven, hell, atonement, or propitiation. How many people would not be Christians today if not for children's Bible class teachers?
For years, Janet has taught Bible classes in the Jenks Church and the Contact Church of Christ on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. For the past 6 years, she has taught the children at the Normandy Apartments while I have taught their parents and grandparents on Monday nights. In her honor (and in honor of others like her), I am posting a portion of Harold Shank's Children Mean the World to God:
I never ran away from home, but I readily identify with...loneliness, vulnerability and despair. The confusion mounted in my mind throughout my sixth grade year. Finally the Church of Christ VBS came around again. The teacher was a nice gray-haired woman named Mildred Stutzman. After VBS, Mildred took me aside. I couldn't figure out why she wanted to talk to me. I was just a kid from the neighborhood who went to VBS every summer. She explained that she also had a sixth grade class on Sunday morning. It met in the same room. Some of the same children that were in VBS were in her class. She invited me to attend.
I remember being amazed at what Mildred was asking. In the grand scheme of things I wasn't important. I was the naive child who never went to church. But I was struggling with the God question, wondering where I would get answers. Then came a voice asking me to come to a place where those questions might be discussed. God heard my cry. He answered it with Mildred Stutzman...
So I started going to Sunday school and staying for church...
Two years later, with a great deal of thinking about the God-stuff in between, I told the preacher, "This is what I want. I want Jesus in my life and I want my life in this church." I became a Christian.
Today, Harold Shank is one of the most influential leaders among the Churches of Christ and a Bible professor at Oklahoma Christian University. It all started with a children's Bible teacher named Mildred Stutzman reaching out and teaching an ignorant little boy about God. The most amazing thing is: This is happening all the time in Sunday schools, Wednesday night classes, and urban ministries around the country and around the world. Often, we miss seeing it, because it takes time to see believers develop.