The Children's Shepherd (Synopsis of Come Ye' Children – Chapter 4)
In this chapter, Spurgeon examines several personality characteristics and qualities necessary in a successful worker in Children’s Ministry worker. He does this loosely based on the life and characteristics of the apostle Peter. By my count, he lays out 13 different characteristics and qualities needed to succeed in Children’s Ministry. Let’s have a look at each one.
1. A WARM HEART
First, and perhaps foremost, working with kids requires a warm heart. Kids are instinctive creatures, and they are instinctively drawn to those people whom they sense have a true affection for them. Kids will sense if you are not comfortable with them, and they will not be comfortable with you.
“Children delight to gather round a fire, whether it be on the hearth or in the heart. Certain persons appear to be made of ice, and from these children speedily shrink away: congregations or classes grow smaller every Sunday when cold-blooded creatures preside over them. But when a man or a woman has a kindly heart, the children seem to gather readily, just as flies in autumn days swarm on a warm, sunny wall.”
Spurgeon notes that Peter had a warm heart and personality. What kid wouldn’t be drawn to a full grown man willing to jump out of a boat fully clothed? As workers in Children’s Ministry, we must long to have and demonstrate a warm heart towards the children we are teaching. We must relate to them, play with them and enjoy life alongside them.
2. EXPERIENCE TO SHARE
The second characteristic requisite for work in Children’s Ministry is experience. And, by experience, w are specifically talking about experience in their Christian walk. As Spurgeon adeptly points out, Simon Peter was a man with great experience to share. He knew his own weaknesses. He knew his conscience. He knew sin, and he knew what it meant to be forgiven. Moreover, he knew humility and repentance.
“Experience lovingly narrated is suitable food for young believers, instruction such as the Lord is likely to bless to their nourishing in grace.”
Children need the benefit of experienced Christian leaders who can share the great joys and the pains of their own Christian life. Kids need the benefit of learning from our mistakes and the lives of experienced older Christians who can share their fears, their sorrows and their stories of how God has worked in their lives.
3. A WILLINGNESS TO LEARN
In order to work with children, we must constantly feed ourselves. In this way, we will stay equipped to feed the lambs. This includes regular attendance at teachings and sermons where we can hear the Gospel and learn the Word of God. Many times, especially in smaller churches, it is easy for those who work in Children’s Ministry to completely skip “adult church.”
“When the Lord calls a man to a work, He gives him the preparation necessary for it… First be fed, and then feed.”
Returning to the story of the morning following his resurrection when Jesus commissioned Peter to feed his sheep, Spurgeon notes that Jesus first fed the disciples breakfast then commissioned Peter to feed his sheep. It is impossible to fill kids with the knowledge of God when our own tanks are empty.
4. A HUNGER FOR CHRIST
Learning in and of itself is commendable. However, an effective Children’s Ministry worker must hunger primarily for the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Spurgeon notes that Peter was most prepared for feeding Christ’s sheep based on the time he spent in fellowship with Jesus. Spurgeon offers the following advice:
“I commend to you the study of instructive books, but above all I commend the study of Christ. Let Him be your library. Get near to Jesus. An hour’s communion with Jesus is the best preparation for teaching either the young or the old.”
In our hunger for knowledge, our main course must always be the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
5. A WILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE IN SELF-EXAMINATION
In an earlier chapter, we looked at the verses in which Jesus commissioned Peter to feed his lambs. They are found in John 21:
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]
The Lord asked Peter three times whether or not he loved him. On the heels of his denial of Christ, this process was painful for Peter. It involved some painful self-examination on Peter’s part but ultimately left him better prepared to feed the sheep.
Likewise, those who work with children must be willing to peel away the protective layers that we surround ourselves with and engage in the painful process of self-examination. Spurgeon explains:
“It never hurts a true-hearted man to search his own spirit, and to be searched and tried by his Lord. It is the hypocrite who is afraid of the truth which tests his profession: trying discourses, and trying meditations, he dreads; but the genuine man wants to know for certain that he really does love Christ, and therefore he looks within him and questions and cross-questions himself.”
Any Christian should be constantly evaluating themselves to discern those areas where God would like them grow. This is especially true for those who work with Children and should model that process for them.
6. A HEART FOR KIDS
Above all else, this process of self-examination should focus on examining how loving we are. The best preparation for teaching children involved 1) a love for God; and 2) a love for kids. This is after all the greatest commandment:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Matthew 22:37-39]
The Bible is clear that love is of paramount importance and any efforts we make which are devoid of love are fruitless:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. [1 Corinthians 13:1-3]
Spurgeon makes a poetic application of this principal to working with children:
“…for the best preparation for teaching Christ’s lambs is love,—love to Jesus and to them. We cannot be priests on their behalf unless like Aaron we wear their names upon our breasts. We must love or we cannot bless. Teaching is poor work when love is gone; it is like a smith working without fire, or a builder without mortar. A shepherd who does not love his sheep is a hireling and not a shepherd: he will flee in the time of danger, and leave his flock to the wolf. Where there is no love there will be no life; living lambs are not to be fed by dead men. We preach and teach love: our subject is the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can we teach this if we have no love ourselves? Our object is to create love in the hearts of those we teach, and to foster it where it already exists; but how can we convey the fire if it is not kindled in our own hearts? How can he promote the flame whose hands are damp, and dripping with worldliness and indifference, so that he acts on the child’s heart rather as a bucket of water than as a flame of fire? These lambs of the flock live in the love of Christ: shall they not live in ours? He calls them His lambs, and so they are; shall we not love them for His sake? They were chosen in love; they were redeemed in love; they have been called in love; they have been washed in love; they have been fed by love, and they will be kept by love till they come to the green pastures on the hilltops of heaven. You and I will be out of gear with the vast machinery of divine love unless our souls are full of affectionate zeal for the good of the beloved ones… Love, and then feed.”
The above quote is rather long, but I think it effectively makes the point. Love is critical to teaching children, and without. The Bible says, “God is love.” [1 John 4:16] Consequently, because God is love, love is ultimately what we are trying to teach our kids, and it is impossible to teach love if you don’t have it. Those who work with kids must love them for God’s sake. Spurgeon goes as far as to suggest that if you do not have a love for children, you should leave Children’s Ministry to those who do!
7. A WILLINGNESS AND ABILITY TO FEED
After establishing that we have love for children, we must then demonstrate an ability and willingness to feed them. Children, like adults, must be fed. Spurgeon advises:
“Every sermon, every lesson, should be a feeding sermon and a feeding lesson. It is of little use to stand and thump the Bible and call out, “Believe, believe, believe!” when nobody knows what is to be believed… There must be doctrine, solid, sound, gospel doctrine to constitute real feeding.”
Anything less is a waste of time:
“Getting children to meet in the morning and the afternoon is a waste of their steps and yours if you do not set before them soul-saving, soul-sustaining truth.”
Children’s ministry is not simply about keeping kids busy or teaching them how to behave. It is about imparting the very word of God into their hearts. This is something that I feel quite strongly about when it comes to Children’s Ministry. I think far too many adults sell kids short in terms of their ability to grasp and understand the truth of God. If we never challenge kids with the meat of scripture, we will leave them only able to nurse on the milk, and we will have failed them. It is so much better to challenge them and spend the extra time needed to impart deep biblical truth than to merely convey a cursory understanding of scripture.
8. A SPIRIT OF HUMILITY
Spurgeon describes working with kids as “humble, lowly, unostentatious work.” He points out that those called to work with kids are not afforded much fan fare. This is, of course, not true of all churches, but it is true of many. Spurgeon reminds us all that even if their brethren do not know their names, God does:
“So in the case of many a faithful teacher of young children; you hear but little about him, yet he is doing grand work for which future ages will call him blessed. His Master knows all about him, and we shall hear of him in that day; perhaps not till then.”
Work in Children’s Ministry is not about accolades and prestige. It is about the kids. It is about God’s kids!
9. A SENSE OF CAUTION
We must be extremely cautious in ministering to the children. You cannot feed them whatever you would like. Kids are very impressionable, and you can easily poison them with bad teaching.
“If men are to take heed what they hear, how much more should we take heed what we teach.”
Teachers are held to a very high standard in scripture:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. [James 3:1]”
I have written on this topic in an earlier post called The Scary Prospect of Working with Children. As teachers of impressionable youth, we must be doubly careful that we are not misleading them or teaching them anything other than the truth of God. We will, after all, be judged by a higher standard. I offer this as a caution both to those called to Children’s Ministry and to parents dealing with their own children.
10. PERSISTENT AND PERSEVERING
The process of teaching and discipling children is not something that you can turn on and off. It is, in Spurgeon’s words, “continuous work.” Any parent can attest to this, but the same is true for those who work with and teach children. Discipling kids requires time. It means giving up a week each summer to help out with Vacation Bible School just to spend more time with the kids. It means staying in on Friday night to make sure this weekend’s lesson is as good as it can be. It means staying after the service to chat with that kid who’s having a rough time in school or whose parents are going through a divorce. And, as Spurgeon points out, it’s even means a lot more than that:
“Lambs could not live if the shepherd only fed them once a week. I reckon they would die between Sunday and Sunday; therefore good teachers of the young look after them all the days of the week as they have opportunity, and they are careful about their souls with prayer and holy example when they are not teaching them by word of mouth. The shepherdry of lambs is daily, hourly work. When is a shepherd’s work over? How many hours a day does he labour? He will tell you that in lambing-time he is never done. He sleeps between whiles just when he can, taking much less than forty winks, and then rousing himself for action. It is so with those who feed Christ’s lambs; they rest not till God saves and sanctifies their dear ones.”
As I spend more and more time helping with the kids at our church, I find myself investing a lot more of my day in it. I find myself praying for the kids in my class both individually and corporately. I find myself watching TV looking for examples I can incorporate into a lesson. I find myself reading kids books and listening to kids music so I can be familiar with their culture. And, I find myself much more aware of how I lead my own life as an example for those I teach. You never know when little eyes are watching and little ears are listening.
11. A HARD WORKER
Work with children is a labor of love, and it must be labored at in order to be successful. It involves studying lessons, finding fresh approaches, looking for the perfect words, instructing, and impressing truth. It requires both time and hard work! Spurgeon says:
“Nothing so exhausts a man who is called to it as the care of souls; so it is in measure with all who teach—they cannot do good without spending themselves.”
If done right, Children’s Ministry is hard work!
“You dare not rush to your class unprepared and offer to the Lord that which costs you nothing. There must be labour if the food is to be wisely placed before the lambs, so that they can receive it.”
I find that a good gauge of how well an event or a class went is how tired I am afterward. Don’t get me wrong, God uses those times to fill my spiritual tank, but emotionally and physically it can be exhausting. I often feel like if I’m not tired afterward I haven’t left enough of myself in the lives of those kids!
12. A GOOD SPIRIT
All of the characteristics and traits listed above must be done in the right spirit. Spurgeon expounds on this point:
“And all this has to be done in a singularly choice spirit; the true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion; he is gentle, and yet he rules his class; he is loving, but he does not wink at sin; he has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp; he has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom. He who cares for lambs should be a lamb himself; and blessed be God, there is a Lamb before the throne who cares for all of us, and does so the more effectually because He is in all things made like unto us. The shepherd spirit is a rare and priceless gift.”
For those blessed with the gift of shepherding children, we should always remember to thank God for the privileged.
13. PASSIONATE ABOUT THE SALVATION OF KIDS
Finally, a good Children’s Ministry worker must be passionate. Spurgeon describes him as follows:
“…he would gladly die to win souls; he pines, he pleads, he plods to bless those on whom his heart is set. If these could but be saved he would pawn half his heaven for it; ay, and sometimes, in moments of enthusiasm he is ready to barter heaven altogether to win souls, and, like Paul; he could wish himself accursed, so that they were but saved. This blessed extravagance many cannot understand, because they never felt it.”
I have shared many of my own observations this week within the synopsis. So, instead, I simply offer up the following prayer to my God:
“Heavenly Father, I thank you for the opportunity to work with your kids. I pray that you would work through me to let your light shine to the kids in my (really your) classroom. I pray for an ever increasing love for those kids that would allow me, like Paul, to pray that they would be saved even if it cost me my own salvation. Lord, I pray that I could say that prayer and truly mean it deep in my soul. I pray for your wisdom God to shepherd your flock. Help me to always remember that everything I do is first and foremost for you. Lord I pray that you would help me to share my struggles and my joys in you in order to live out an authentic Christian life in front of these kids. Lord I pray for a humble spirit and a hunger for you. Above all else Lord, I pray that they would come to a saving knowledge of you. In your precious Son’s name I pray. Amen!”
Links to Complete Text
If you’re interested in reading the complete text of “Come Ye Children,” it can be found on at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc.htm
The complete text of Chapter Four can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc04.htm
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