The Legacy of 3 Pastors Who Encouraged Discipleship of Children

I have loved reading and hearing stories about the impact of three influential men who died recently. I know there are many more faithful pastors who have blessed the children, but losing these three in the same week has encouraged all of us to think about the legacies of Steve Smallman, Harry Reeder, and Tim Keller. I’m struck by the stories that include the impact on the children in their churches. Stephen Smallman’s communicant’s workbook has been used by over 400 children in my own church. I’ve seen pictures of Harry Reeder visiting children during VBS (tastefully dressed as a frog). And Tim Keller has been a champion of The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones that has blessed children and adults in our churches. B.A. Snider, Sue Jakes, and Bethany Belue have written a little about what it was like to be in ministry alongside these pastors.

B.A. Snider—I first met Steve Smallman in 1993, when I was hired as the children’s director at McLean Presbyterian Church where he was the senior pastor. I have two stories that I want to share about Steve who was a wonderful pastor to serve under. First, Steve would often walk down the children’s hallway between services on Sunday morning and look across the Dutch doors at the people serving in the nursery and preschool rooms and thank them for being there. Do you know what that does for your volunteers to be noticed by the senior pastor and to thank them for their ministry and service? What a blessing!

Secondly, as Katie mentioned in the opening paragraph, Steve was the author of Understanding the Faith which has been used in hundreds of PCA churches to walk our covenant children through communicants’ class. So, the impact of that one book has ushered thousands of our covenant children to make their public profession of faith and become communing members of their local PCA church. The background story on this book, however, shows Steve’s love of children knowing Jesus and joining the church. For thirty years at McLean PCA, he personally taught the communicants’ class of 6th graders. Over the years, Steve told me that the Session would try to get him to give that responsibility over to someone else, but Steve always resisted, saying that this was his time to get to know the kids on a deeper level and to have a relationship with these new young members of his congregation. What a blessing to these children to come to know and love their pastor. Thank you, Steve.

Sue Jakes—I first came to know Harry Reeder when his wife Cindy and I were asked to train and then serve on the very first team of Regional Trainers for CDM (then CE&P) in 1987. Our team prayed together regularly, and through Cindy’s prayer requests, I came to love the ministry at Christ Covenant in Charlotte, encouraged by all that they had done and were planning to do toward the discipleship of the church’s children. Years later Harry preached at an MNA Mercy Ministries Conference and shared the powerful story of the impact that the disabilities ministry had had on him upon his arrival at Briarwood. These words sparked the conversation, meetings, and fund raising that began Engaging Disability, the great resource now benefiting so many of our churches’ children’s ministries. CDM never hosts a conference without offering their resources. And finally, Harry called me to record podcasts with him several years ago. He wanted to interview me about a life struggle that I had experienced firsthand.  I asked if we could spend five of the ten recordings discussing the topic about which he was passionate and then use the last five “Conversations with Harry” to discuss the discipleship of the church’s children. He agreed. He loved Jesus, His Church, and His Church’s children. Thank you, Harry.

Bethany Belue—I met Tim Keller in 2008 when I had purchased a one-way ticket to NYC. I went with two suitcases and a lot of dreams to embark on a new adventure of working in children’s ministry at the church he had planted and pastored, Redeemer Presbyterian Church. His preaching changed me, his words of wisdom discipled me in my faith, his kindness and humility impacted the way I lived my life. He reminded me regularly through his teaching that I am more sinful that I could ever dare dream and yet more loved that I could ever imagine. He taught passages of Scripture in a way that made me see the gospel more clearly than I ever had before. He lived out what he preached and was a steady voice for so many in NYC and around the world.

I’ll never forget when I was on stage to officially be introduced as the new children’s director. He put his arm around me afterwards and said quietly, “You know, Bethany, what you are called to do is way harder than what I am called to do.” It made me laugh, but looking back, it’s just another reminder to me of his humility and the way he saw people. He appreciated his staff and he saw the greater Church. He knew that the calling to children was important!  Although he wasn’t personally discipling the children in the church, he was discipling those who were investing in the children, and those people were being changed by his teaching.  I was being changed, and the Lord used that to impact the next generation. I look back on my years serving at Redeemer and can think of so many ways the Lord used Tim Keller to change many lives from the youngest in the nursery to the oldest sitting in the pews. The ripple effect of Tim will continue for years to come. He spent his life telling others about Jesus, and now he gets to be with Him face to face. What an incredible life Tim led and what an incredible eternity he will have. Thank you, Tim!

This blog post was written by Katie Flores, BA Snider, Sue Jakes, and Bethany Belue.