I have felt a calling to ministry since I was sixteen. Almost the instant after I was baptized, I knew that my calling in life was supposed to be a missional one.

For a while, I was fairly certain that meant that I should be a missionary, probably overseas. As I got a little older and started to study theology, I began to consider church-based ministry. But these days, I’m a little unclear where I should go or what I should do.

Because my Christian walk and my beliefs have evolved significantly over the last eight years (I’m young — it’s a blessing and a curse), and especially the last couple of years, I’m glad I didn’t pursue some route through seminary or even directly out into the mission field. But I’ve gotten an education anyway.

I’ve been involved with children’s ministry since we moved to the area where we are now. I was teaching Sunday school for kids age four through seven and a Wednesday night class for second and third graders. My wife did much of the actual teaching (in college she was briefly an education major), but I was there for crowd control and on occasion I took the reigns and led the class.

It was exhausting. I think children’s ministry must be a microcosm of what a pastor has to deal with — everyone is needy, whiney, wants to color when you’re trying to teach and never remembers what you talked about last week. Or two minutes ago. There is no doubt in my mind that children’s ministry, whether you want to call it Sunday school or catechism class, is a calling.

I backed out of teaching Sunday school a couple of weeks ago, but I’m still teaching that same group of kids from the Sunday school class on Wednesday nights now. Sometimes I want to throttle them, but every once in a while the work is incredibly rewarding. Lately we have been working on scripture memorization, and one of the kids, who comes from a home with no religious background, has really shone through. Not only does she remember the verses, she comprehends them. And seeing her do that actually encourages the other kids to do well.

The biggest lesson I have learned from all of this, however, is that all of the talk within the emergent church about a “postmodern paradigm” is out the window. I can have all of the intellectual tantrums I want about provisional truth, but that doesn’t help me relate to poor kids that most of the town thinks of as white — or black — trash. When dealing with these kids, I have to put it in the simplest terms why they shouldn’t be lovers of violence (or violent video games), or why God is unhappy when they sin. God as Father is a hard concept to teach to children who don’t know their fathers. Two of the kids I have taught in the last year have seen their parents arrested on drug charges, and the father of a third one is currently in prison. They don’t care about meta-narratives, and chances are, coming from their backgrounds, they won’t. What they relate to is love, and someone paying positive attention to them.

That’s what Jesus did. He cared for people where they were. Sometimes that was as a part of popular or mainstream culture, and sometimes that was in the backwaters of Judea. Right now, I’m working with the children of the Judean backwater.

I don’t think children’s ministry is my long-term calling, but it has certainly been enlightening.