I love that most people at church don’t know what my job is, but pretty much everyone at work knows I teach preschool Sunday school. Though I’ve been fortunate to teach the Bible to children, teens, and women, I’ve found the most theologically enriching ministry in a room of 3-year-olds.
In my class I’ve answered questions about baptism, the creation of angels, and God’s motives for killing almost all the animals in the flood even though they hadn’t sinned. I’ve listened with amusement as every single class of children has absolutely no problem believing that their older siblings are sinners, but completely refuse to admit they sin. I was most stunned when a 4-year-old boy asked if Jesus made Adam and Eve (otherwise known as when a preschooler asked about the preincarnation of Christ).
My favorite class is the last one of the year. The kids get a bubble machine, and we get to hear them teach what they learned. Clamoring over one another to answer the questions, they explain creation, the fall, and its effect on our hearts and relationship with God. We go through the lives and lessons of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, each demonstrating something about God, something about us, and something about God’s promises for his people. And then they get to Jesus. They tell about his birth, death, and resurrection, how he is the only possible Redeemer and the One who defeated death.
They finish with the material they learned the preceding two weeks—the doctrine of the Trinity (although they don’t know the words “doctrine” or “Trinity”). I let them shout the responses, because when you’re only a year from wearing pull-ups and can explain the Trinity, you get to use your outside voice. They make it clear to everyone in a 50-foot radius that there is “one God” who is “three persons,” who are “God the Father, God the Son—whose name is Jesus—and God the Holy Spirit.” They finish by declaring that God is “all these persons, all the time, all the way, but always just one God who always has been this same God and always will be this same God forever!”
Then come the bubbles.
Jesus was not lowering the soteriological bar when he made clear to his disciples that children may access him and asserted that a childlike response is the essence of saving faith (Matt. 18:3; Mark 10:14–15; Luke 18:17). Yes, kids have toy time and snack time, and I’ve had my fair share of messes to clean and arguments to officiate. But mostly what we do is teach the Bible to people created in the image of God and for whom God cares a great deal. They just happen to be really young.
Now, unless I’m friends with their parents, the children forget who I am within two months of moving to the next class. This felt weird for years and made me concerned they must not remember what they’d been taught. But remember that little boy who asked me about the preincarnate existence of Christ? His name was Job Kemp, and he was one of the children who forgot about me. And then about a year and half later, I was hugging his parents at his memorial service. We all knew Job was with God, because during his brief but fierce battle against cancer, he consistently articulated and demonstrated saving faith in a God he loved and trusted.
I don’t understand God’s plan for Job’s life. But I’ll never forget receiving a note from his mom that though he had forgotten me, he had never forgotten what he’d been taught.
Learning from Kids
Jesus made it clear that we should look as an example to a child who possesses saving faith. And Job Kemp is my example. Jesus said to come as a child does, and a child comes as Job Kemp did—understanding and trusting what was concrete, not being distracted by non-essentials, and following Jesus with joy.
I’ve learned much from godly, adult believers in my life, but I learned the most about following Jesus from a blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy who ate his snacks with his right hand while propping up his tired head with the other, who loved doing puzzles, and who always made it first to the Batman car at toy time. The same little boy endured suffering, lived for months knowing he would be leaving his family, and yet persevered in trusting in the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17).
Jennifer Lyell is the author of The Promises of God Storybook Bible (B&H, 2019), dedicated to the children and families of her church and in loving memory and honor of Job Kemp, to whom God has kept all his promises! If you preorder the book at any online retailer on September 24 and send the receipt to www.PromisesofGodStorybookBible.