Charles H. Spurgeon lived from 1834 through 1892 and is known as “The Prince of Preachers.” He was the pastor at New Park Street Chapel in London for 38 years beginning in April 1854 at age tender age of 19. A prolific writer and preacher, Mr. Spurgeon authored over 3,500 sermons, numerous books, letters, and much more. He is most well known for his voluminous sermons, his commentary on the Psalms called “A Treasury of David” and his Mornings and Evenings Devotionals. Mr. Spurgeon was a master teacher, and he held a special place in his heart for children. He built an orphanage for boys and girls, promoted the teaching of God’s Word to young children, and generally held children in rather high esteem for his day and age.
At some point in his preaching career, Mr. Spurgeon wrote a small book titled “Come Ye’ Children” named after the well known scripture from Psalm 34:11. The book is subtitled “A Book for Parents and Teachers on the Christian Training of Children” and is recognized as one of the most valuable books ever written on the subject the Christian training of Children. It has been used in seminaries since Spurgeon penned it for instructing students on the conversion of children.
Over the next twenty-plus weeks, we will look in depth at this gem handed down to us from the “Prince of Preachers.” We will see that, although written over 100 years ago, Mr. Spurgeon offers timeless truths and practical ideas for teaching kids about Christ gleaned from the Word of God. I hope that through this rather detailed synopsis, a whole new generation of Children’s Pastors and Children’s Ministry workers will benefit from the biblical wisdom Pastor Spurgeon offers in this work over 100 years ago. I am passionate about working with children, and I have included many editorial comments in this synopsis which support or, hopefully, expand on Mr. Spurgeon’s original words. I have included a link at the bottom of each post to the original text for each chapter. I hope that will help you to distinguish between my thoughts and those offered by Mr. Spurgeon. With that said, let’s get started with Chapter 1!
Chapter 1 – “Feed My Lambs” – How to Do It
Introduction to Chapter 1
The very first words of this book set the tone for the chapters to come. Regarding working with children, Mr. Spurgeon begins with the admonition that:
“The best of the church are none too good for this work.”
Many people in our churches view working with children as a calling somehow less important than working with adults. This is true today, and it was true in the late 1800s. Rather than being regarded as a work relegated to those who are incapable of working with adults, Mr. Spurgeon points out that everyone should either work with children or cheer on those that do.
Feed My Sheep
This first chapter is built around a well known conversation between Jesus and the Apostle Peter following Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the heels of denying Jesus three time on the night of his arrest, Peter is confronted by the Savior:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” [John 21:15-17]
Peter was a clear leader amongst the disciples. Despite this, Jesus called on him to feed the lambs. Mr. Spurgeon points out the lambs are those young in the faith. This may include older individuals who are “babes in grace,” but it also clearly includes children. Like Peter, God commands us to look after his sheep. God also tells us the ultimate reward that comes through working with children:
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” [Matthew 25:40]
A Child’s Profession of Faith
Mr. Spurgeon moves on to discuss the phenomenon of kids coming to faith. This is a deeply debated topic today in Children’s Ministry, and the same was true for Mr. Spurgeon’s original readers. He offers the following advice regarding young believers in Christ:
“However young a believer may be, he should make an open confession of his faith, and be folded with the rest of the flock of Christ.”
Some people will doubt the conversion of young souls, and I believe it is important to monitor the spiritual development of young people to see if their confession of faith bears fruit. However, like Mr. Spurgeon, I believe that someone’s youth alone is not reason to doubt their conversion. As he astutely points out, it is significantly more likely that an adult, either through their selfishness or fear of punishment and death, is much more likely to make a false profession of faith than a child is out of their childishness.
Mr. Spurgeon has strong words for those who doubt the conversion of a Child:
“Oh, how much there is of brightness and trustfulness about children when converted to God which is not seen in elder converts! Our Lord Jesus evidently felt deep sympathy with children, and he is but little like Christ who looks upon them as a trouble in the world, and treats them as if they must need be either little deceivers or foolish simpletons.”
While we must be cognizant of our influence over the children we teach and be careful that they are drawn to God and his grace and not merely to our efforts to persuade, we should never question the ability of Christ to save even the youngest amongst us. To those of us who work in Children’s Ministry, God has given us the grace of feeding his lambs.
What Should Kids Be Taught?
In the next section of Chapter 1, Mr. Spurgeon provides a brief exegesis of the key verse by pointing out that the Greek word for feed in the phrase “feed my sheep” is quite different than the Greek word used for feed in “feed my lambs.” In “feed my sheep,” the word used for feed means to “exercise the office of shepherd.” This would include all aspects of that office including ruling, guiding, managing, keeping, accounting for, guarding and everything else a shepherd does for his sheep. The “feed” in “feed my lambs” does not include all of these different aspects of shepherding and simply means to “feed.” In other words, this passage instructs teachers that they need to fulfill the role of teaching children about the faith.
Mr. Spurgeon asserts that teaching children the faith involves principally teaching them “the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel.” In his words, this requires that they have “Divine truth put before them clearly and forcibly.” In a society where many adults are not taught the doctrines of Christianity, is it any surprise that kids are left behind all the more? As parents and teachers, our job is to impart to truths of Christianity into kids and help them to make those truths there own.
Many will argue that children are not capable of grasping many of the doctrines of Christianity. To that I would say, “Give them the chance to surprise you!” Given the chance, you might be surprised at what many kids are capable of. Mr. Spurgeon offers a more forcible assessment:
“If there be any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher’s conception of it than of the child’s power to receive it, provided that child be really converted to God. It is ours to make doctrine simple; this is to be a main part of our work. Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great want of the child’s nature… Blessed is he who can so speak as to be understood by a child! Blessed is that godly woman who in her class so adapts herself to girlish modes of thought that the truth from her heart streams into the children’s hearts without let or hindrance.”
One of the joys and the struggles of working in Children’s Ministry is taking the complex concepts of Christianity and finding a way to impart them to children of all ages. Rest assured that there is no better way of ensuring that you truly understand a doctrine than trying to reduce it to something a child can understand without losing the weight of the doctrine in the reduction.
Children desire to be taught. Mr. Spurgeon makes the analogy between spiritual growth to physical growth. As a growing individual, a child requires more food than one who is already grown. Ask the mother of any teenage boy! Likewise, a child growing spirituality needs extra spiritual food than one already established in the faith, and our job as parents and in Children’s Ministry is to provide it. Children need to be fed, and during the impressionable period of youth, it is important that they be filled up with strong solid biblical food. If not, they will find something else to fill up on, and the consequences can be eternal!
The Reward of Teaching Children
Mr. Spurgeon concludes Chapter One with a look at some of the benefits of working with children. First he points out how profitable the work is in God’s kingdom by explaining that one converted later in life has less time left in which to glorify God. However, a child who comes to God early in life “may have fifty years of holy service before him.” While Spurgeon does not minimize the joy and grace involved in older converts, he offers this practical advice on why efforts at teaching and converting children may have a greater impact on the kingdom of God.
He also points out how beneficial working with children is to those of us who are blessed enough to have the opportunity to do it. He explains:
“It exercises our humility and helps to keep us lowly and meek. It also trains our patience; let those who doubt this try it; for even young Christians exercise the patience of those who believe in them, and are therefore anxious that they should justify their confidence. If you want big-souled, large-hearted men or women, look for them among those who are much engaged among the young, bearing with their follies, and sympathising with their weaknesses for Jesus’ sake.”
These are encouraging words in an area of ministry that can be tiring both spiritually and physically!
As someone who thoroughly enjoys his calling to be involved in Children’s Ministry, I sometimes have trouble relating to those who want nothing to do with it. Don’t get me wrong. I think other people are called to things other than Children’s Ministry, and that is what God has for their lives. There is nothing wrong with that. What I am astounded by is people called by God into this work who ignore that call for any number of reasons. Make no mistake – the stakes are high, the rewards are amazing, and the glory to be had for God is immeasurable! That said, those of us in Children’s Ministry (a mission field unto itself) would do well to remember the words of Luke 10:2:
“And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” [Luke 10:2]
Rather than trying to convince those who do not really want to be involved to volunteer in Children’s Ministry, we should regularly pray that God would send workers who want to be involved in the spiritual growth of kids. Although a certain critical mass is necessary in order to manage a classroom of children, I would much rather work with people who are enthusiastic about working with children and can convey the excitement of the gospel than people pulled into the service. It is hard to demonstrate the excitement and joy of the gospel to kids when you are not excited about being there in the first place!
My second observation has to do with idea of teaching kids doctrine. This has become a bit of a passion of mine. As adults, I think we frequently underestimate the ability of kids to comprehend God’s truth. It was, after all, our Lord Jesus Christ who said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:16]
The gospel truth is simple enough for kids to understand. Our job as teachers is not to ignore the harder doctrines and truths from the Bible but to do the hard work to find ways to explain them to kids in such a way that they can understand them! We are ambassadors of God to:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” [John 17:17]
We cannot simply ignore parts of God’s word just because they are hard to teach to kids!
Links to Complete Text
If you’re interested in reading the complete text of “Come Ye Children,” it can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc.htm
The complete text of Chapter One can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc01.htm
Chapter 2 – Do Not Hinder the Children: NEXT TIME>>