This week I made a mistake. I didn’t take the question of a child seriously.
It was hump day–that blessed Wednesday of Vacation Bible School (VBS) week when I, who am clearly not called to be a teacher, can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love VBS. I love children. I love teaching children, even if I don’t have the gift. And I take very seriously my ordination vows which command me to instruct the children in matters of faith. I treasure their questions. And I treasure my time with them.
But, as I said, it was hump day. And I was in an un-airconditioned room on a very hot and humid day. By the time the third graders made it to my room for the Bible lesson, I had already been through the lesson with the oldest group of kids and was working on a nice sticky sweat in that sweltering classroom.
I told the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and as I recounted the story from memory one of the little girls piped up with a question: “How do you know these things?”
My response was flippant: “Well, I”m the preacher, so it’s sort of my job to know these things.”
Another little girl looked at me with obvious confusion and said, “What’s a preacher?”
One of the adult workers helped me out by comparing my studies of the Bible with the children’s studies in school. The kids seemed content–but as the week has closed out and in true introvert-esque fashion, I find myself reflecting on the events, I realize I never actually answered the question the little girls were asking.
Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:27-28, CEB)
It seemed everywhere Jesus went people were rolling their eyes and wondering what made him think he had the right to teach the things he taught and to do the things he did.
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? What makes him think he preach to us?
Isn’t this just another country bumpkin from Galilee? What makes him think he can teach us Ivy Leaguers?
And on any given day people are asking us, as believers, by what authority we are doing the things we are doing–they ask it in any number of ways. They ask it when they question us about whom we vote for, what issues we support, how we feel about divesting in Israel, or our opinions on Muslims. They are ask it when they want to know how we feel about welfare and the poor, what we’re going to do about the extreme number of underage refugees entering our country, or how we feel about the gay rights movement. They ask about it in a million ways, big and small.
On Wednesday, two little girls asked about my authority. These are two little girls who do not regularly attend church, but do frequent specialized children’s ministries at both of the churches I serve. At one, we hold an after-school program one day a week and average about 80 children from kindergarten through fifth grade. At the other, we reach out through programs such as Vacation Bible School.
These two girls have gotten to know me the past two years in conjunction only with children’s ministries. They don’t see me in my robe. They seldom see me in a collar, and even if they do, they probably have no clue what it means. They know me only as a woman who shows up for events like this, prays with them, and teaches them some short little lesson and hopes they understand the finer points of Christian theology.
On this day, these two little girls wanted to know how it is that I know all these stories I teach–but I can’t help but think that they were wanting to know something a bit more–something they are too young to be able to verbalize. They wanted to know how it is that I know about these characters who lived so long ago with long and funny names, about the strange people living in strange places in the world they probably have not even begun to learn about in school. They wanted to know how I was confident that these stories about strange people and strange places had so much to do with how we are supposed to live our lives with God today, in this place.
It came out in a simple question: “How do you know these things?”
And my response was to not take her seriously.
When my answer raised more questions than it answered, I didn’t even try to explain.
That was my biggest mistake this week.
I didn’t take a children seriously.
It’s a mistake we make all the time. Children say the darndest things, they make us laugh, they give us hope for the future (and sometimes they make us wonder about the future), but in the end we generally don’t take them seriously.
As Christians we should, though. We should be making children our top priority–it doesn’t matter whether we think we are gifted in working with children or not, in the end, children are our last chance. They are our future, and if we don’t nurture them, teach them, and guide them now, we are all going to be lost.
And it all begins with understanding that question that was asked with so much innocence: “How do you know these things?”
Our authority doesn’t come from books or years spent in classrooms. It is not in diplomas and certificates. It doesn’t come from our positions in churches or schools. It doesn’t have anything to do with our biological roles.
Our authority comes from the same place Jesus’ authority came from–that’s the first thing we need to learn when dealing with children. God has trusted us with a precious gift and given us the chance to bring up a whole new generation of workers for the Kingdom of Heaven.
But first, we need to take them seriously.