A Child-at-Heart Reaching a Child's Heart

You do not realize the length of time I have waited to use this next portion
of scripture:

After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. —Acts 28:1-2 (ESV)

I am from Malta, but not the island. Rather, good old Malta, Montana. I am Orvin Solberg, the pastor here at Elim Lutheran Brethren in Malta. What a joy it is for me to have been asked and allowed to serve in the church that I’ve attended since a child in the early 1960s. In this position, I have had the honor of doing many things: visitations, funerals, sermons, and fellowship. But, one of the unique things I get to do is disciple the youth of the next generation. My wife Thea and I have the great privilege of teaching middle school students in our Confirmation class, and let me tell you, it brings both of us great joy.

God is faithful and he hears and answers our prayers. We have prayed for a strong youth ministry here at Elim and God has greatly blessed us. God uses his people in so many ways to bring about his purposes. Shari Solberg is a dedicated force in this ministry at Elim. Shari calls parents of students, and spreads the word about our Wednesday evening program. In another way, there initially was only one girl in our sizable Confirmation class. She might have felt awkward as the only female in the group, but she joined anyway and invited her friends. And they came! Wow! God used this one girl wonderfully.

To be a leader in youth ministry, it is helpful if you have a child’s heart, and that has not departed from me, even at 66 years old. My childhood memories are of how stiff and rigid some teachers seemed. Keeping Confirmation light-hearted and fun benefits the students’ engagement, yet even in fun we can still learn about God’s great mercy, grace, and steadfast love. As we study the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism in class, we start with questions #228 and #229. The first speaks of the “New Birth” and what it is. The second asks, “In what way does the New Birth affect you?” We start there, because many people, including adults, may think that being a Christian simply means going to church.

Nearly every week I write up my own quiz and give it to the students after we have a time of prayer. Since I develop my own questions, it’s much easier to retain that child’s heart. I typically start with a spiritual prompt, such as, “In your own words describe the New Birth.” And I follow up with a fun question like, “Do you like bananas better than pickled pigs feet?” I know it sounds silly, but you should see how the students relish taking these tests. When we make it enjoyable to learn, it creates a desire for the students to come back again and again.

Here is another question: “We know the last book of the Bible is Revelation, but what is the book just before Revelation?” That’s followed by, “How do you spell the word ‘impossible’?” You should have seen the reactions on that occasion. One student leaned over and asked another, “What does he mean by this?” It’s very easy to spell a word you can see on the paper in front of you!

Over the years, I have purchased many candy bars for Confirmation. One evening, one of the young boys looked over at me as he was enjoying his pop and candy and said, “You know Orvin, you could save a lot of money if you stopped buying so many treats.” I laughed and said, “I know I could, but I won’t.” This simple interaction gave me a perfect opportunity to share Jesus’ parable of “The Shrewd Manager.” The moral of the story? If we were as dedicated to accomplishing our objectives as the world is to accomplishing theirs, we would be reaching out to many more people.

I ask that you readers keep these youth in your prayers. It is a great joy to disciple the youth of the next generation, and it brings joy to the entire church body when we see them return eagerly each Wednesday.

Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
—Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

Orvin Solberg is the pastor of Elim Lutheran Brethren Church in Malta, Montana.

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