I’m a teacher…. I love teaching young people. It’s amazingly difficult, frustrating, and rewarding all at the same time. As I’ve grown up in my faith and in my love for teaching, I’ve also come to believe the best way for a Christian (teacher or not) to spend their life is by pouring into children. Shocking statement…I know. But I believe it to be true!!
Sometimes seen as a stepping stool for greater ministry work, the reality is that working with children is the greater work. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in the way he teaches about children and what he teaches in parables. In one parable, the owner of the vineyard who calls workers throughout the day, highlights why we should be excited for the opportunity to work with those called in the first hour of the day (read as…those who become Christians at an early age).
Here are a couple reasons:
1- The best work of the day is done early in the morning. Those who were called by the owner of the vineyard in the first hour are able to work for the master the longest. They start earlier and have the chance to accomplish more. When the master is God, and the work is for the kingdom, while difficult and painful, the work is always to our benefit! The master doesn’t need us to work for Him… He lets us work because He knows it’s for our good. The things that we do for the master bring him glory and they also benefit us. So, in the simplest terms…the more opportunity to work for the master, the greater the blessing is for us. Those who come in at the 11th hour…the end of the day…still receive the same reward at the end, but they can never make up for all the missed opportunity to work for the master. They sit idle and are not blessed by their labor for the master.
What an opportunity it is to be able to work with young people, who are still in the first hour of their lives. If our focus is glorifying God and advancing His kingdom, we should be actively pursuing those who have the greatest opportunity to commit themselves to the master’s work…. none better than those in the first hour of life!
2- Those who join the work in the first hour will have greater potential for more long lasting impact on the vineyard. Not only are they able to do more work for the master, but the quality of their work will, at the end of the day, be better. A worker who has been trained up from the beginning will become skilled and useful. Their habits, thoughts, and efforts will be tailored to maximum effectiveness for their master. But the laborer who joins at the end of the day, while still being able to contribute, will be limited and hindered.
Not only do they have less time to work and develop the necessary skills (maturity) to contribute in the same ways as a worker who came in the first hour, they will be hindered by all the extra time committed to tasks that aren’t from the master. All the idleness won’t be useful in equipping them or preparing them for the task. They will have to unlearn bad habits, laziness, and unproductive thoughts to commit themselves to the real work of the master. Of course, God is wonderful, and even the lazy worker who has come in the last hour will be rewarded and can be useful…in spite of missing the benefit of working for the whole day and the usefulness that comes with training and growing up in the task.
A real life practical example I’m living through is…. Learning Spanish! I can learn new languages…. I’m sure of it! But I’m hindered by two primary things that will never allow me to learn a new language as well as a child. Numero uno… my pride inhibits my ability to practice enough to learn quickly, and numero dos… years of training my mouth to move in certain ways will ensure that I’ll always have an accent. My son, as he learns Spanish, doesn’t have these same problems…at least in the same way I do. He practices freely because he hasn’t let his pride grow like mine, and his pronunciation is better because he’s only spoken his first language for a few years. I think the same principle is true with the effectiveness of the worker in the vineyard. How much better it is to come and be trained up in the work in the first hour, instead of the 11th hour!
It seems like it would be much better for the master to gather all the workers in the first hour, but who are we, as servants to question the plans and generosity of the master, who always knows what is best. Although not explicitly stated in the parable, research has shown that most laborers for the Lord, those who are chosen and called to the work, come in the first hour. In fact, an overwhelming majority comes in the first hour, while only a small percentage comes in the last hour.
No matter when we come, a few truths are important to remember. We come because first, the master came to us. Regardless of the hour, we stood idle, doing nothing. Our impulse to join in the work came from the call of our master.
Secondly, when we come, regardless of the hour, early or late, we are to come as those who come in the first hour. Come like children – “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God.”
I believe the best way to spend our lives is by pouring into children, but it’s also the most difficult for many people. Probably impossible to prove in any quantitative way, as I’m sure it is difficult to minister to unreached indigenous populations, and others entrenched in sin and damning religious traditions, etc. But many languish in the work with children and look for greener pastures – ministries that are more fulfilling.
It’s true that most Christians come to saving faith early in their lives, but as those leading children to faith we often don’t value it as much as leading an adult to faith. The angels may rejoice over one sinner that repents, but often times for us, if that sinner is a child, its viewed as a half victory. But if our grown neighbor came to faith then we’d be more inclined to let loose and celebrate with the angels in heaven. I’m guilty of it and I believe many more working with children are as well. Its wrong, and its prompted by sin.
There are a couple reasons why we fall into this sin:
1- We doubt the sincerity of their faith. We look at their youthfulness and their simplicity of thinking and think about all the things they don’t know, and then we judge them. With their lack of wisdom, intelligence, experiences, and lack of everything compared to us, can they possibly have the same saving faith that we have??? Of course they can!!
The master calls to work many in the first hour of the day. Additionally, scripture supports the reality that our intelligence and world wisdom doesn’t somehow increase the likelihood of finding true saving faith. If anything, it hinders it (1 Cor 1:19). We aren’t to look at young believers who have supernaturally been given saving faith, and judge them. We are to look at young believers, and simply be like them – humble, obedient, and believing. Who is more likely to profess a faith that isn’t true and genuine, a child or an adult? Scripture paints a clear picture that it’s the latter not the former. See the life of the Pharisees.
2 – The second reason we fall into this sin is because, often, we don’t get as much satisfaction out of a child coming to faith as we do an adult. We value a lost soul differently than God. The angels rejoice over the repentance of any sinner, regardless of the hour they’ve come to the vineyard, because they know that God values every soul with unlimited and eternal worth. It is no greater victory to win an adult to Christ than it is to win a child. As I mentioned before, while the souls are of immeasurable value, there is clearly no comparison in which can potentially contribute the most to the work of the kingdom.
What a blessing it is to be a teacher, to work with children, and to every day tell them about Jesus!!
– Casey Herring, founder of GEM
Casey and Meg Herring met overseas in Brazil while serving as teachers. They fell in love, got married, and now have two precious sons, Oliver and Elijah, and a baby girl Adelyn Grace. Casey received a B.S. in Secondary Education from Western Oregon University and an M.S. in Global and International Education from Drexel University. He has 13 years of teaching and leadership experience. Casey is currently serving as the CEM Director in Mexico.