by Jessica Eckert
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
Humility is a common thread woven into the stories of three long-time NextGen ministry volunteers (shown, from left): Melody Stoltenberg, George Sze, and Michelle Buck.
Michelle moved to the Milwaukee area about six years ago from St. Louis. She has three adult children and works as a corporate tax accountant. On Sunday mornings, you’ll find her nestled in the Kindergarten classroom, graciously welcoming families and teaching their children all about Jesus.
Melody and her family have been at Eastbrook for almost twenty years. She has three grown sons, and has served in many service roles with both adults and children. She thoroughly enjoys her role as a special education aide at a local school in this season, and spends Sunday mornings teaching babies and toddlers at our church.
George and his family have been at Eastbrook since “the Maryland School days” in the 1980’s. He recently retired from his vocational job and is taking some time away from serving to discern what’s next for him. In the past, you may have encountered him teaching fifth grade students how to dig into Scripture.
These committed adults, along with many others, pour their hearts and souls into Sunday School classes, and have learned a thing or two from those smaller in stature along the way. Pull up a kid-sized chair, grab a snack, and get ready for some anecdotes of God working in and through the lives of a few veteran volunteers.
What are your earliest memories of Sunday School?
Melody: As a child in my own Sunday School classes, I remember learning Old Testament stories. They created in me a wonder and a desire to ask questions that shaped my growing faith.
What spurred you to serve in the NextGen ministry at Eastbrook Church?
Michelle: When my children were young (in St. Louis), there was a need, so I stepped into it. Now that my children are grown, I have the time and space to teach. I think it’s so important to have teachers to be able to keep classrooms open so parents can be in service and the children can have the Word of God brought to them at their level.
George: I became a helper in my son’s class and then followed him up the grades. God called me, I followed Him in obedience and did my best. It’s been a privilege to serve as long as I have. There are lots of memories.
Melody: I started when my sons were in school. I distinctly remember Dawn [Schuessler, Eastbrook’s Preschool & K4 Coordinator] asking me to help. I filled in where I was needed without a question.
What age groups have you served?
Michelle: I am in the kindergarten classroom every week. I like to provide consistency for the kids and the parents can trust who is watching their kids while they are in service!
Melody: Over the years, I have taught a range of students, ages three through third grade. Again, I help where I’m needed and right now that is in the nursery.
George: For many years I taught fifth grade at Eastbrook. I really loved that age group. They are pre-junior high, on the verge of the next season of childhood, and they are still curious and wanting to learn. Right now, God led me into a season where I retired from my job and am taking time off of serving in the Sunday School classroom to ask God what is next for me.
George, as you look back on your experience and work with God to decide what’s next, what is something that stands out to you about your teaching experience?
George: It is encouraging to see students who were in my classes years ago who are now adults. They will address me by name and remember the things that I taught them years ago. It goes to show the impact you can have as a teacher and I’m thankful for the ways God used me. It’s a great feeling!
Over the years, what has been your mission as you’ve discipled kids?
Michelle: It’s about so much more than reciting Bible verses. I love to engage the kids in small group and large group time physically to make the Bible less intimidating. I may have them wear costumes or act out the Bible story to learn in different sensory ways and repeatedly so that each story builds a foundation for their faith. I like to say it is being Jesus in skin to people—treating others well, modeling what’s being taught. We are leading children to Christ at the heart level.
George: Instilling a love for the Word of God is the motivation I have, so that seeds can be planted. I know that I may not see the harvest, but God is faithful and He is working. It’s not about what I can do, but what God can do. I hope they fall in love with Jesus. I do my part and trust God with their lives.
Melody: I desire to love on each child as Jesus did in the Bible. I like to meet each child right where they are at to welcome them into the Kingdom of God. I like to provide opportunities for them to have ownership within the classroom through clean up, helping with teachings, and welcoming friends who are slow to warm up. I like to lead by example. It’s a joy to experience the wonder within the teachings and that comes by being intentional and present.
What is one way you saw God at work in the classroom?
Michelle: I have seen kids so excited for God that they lead their parents to Christ! God is powerful!
George: God has put a love for the Bible in my heart and He has given me the opportunity to see fifth graders learning to love the Word, too. Sometimes the kids know more than me! It is amazing to be humbled and to see God growing someone else’s faith in big ways.
How has God used your service to impact your own family?
Michelle: My sons followed me into serving in the kids’ ministry. I never forced them — they saw me doing it for so many years and volunteered themselves. That’s always beautiful to see a heart of service reach the next generation.
Melody: Similarly, each of my sons became helpers as they became older than the grade my husband and I were teaching. It was a family affair.
What have you learned as you’ve ministered to kids?
Michelle: I’ve learned a lot from the kids. You can have a lesson prepared, but then a child asks a question and it causes you to think about a passage and dig deeper into Scripture. There are so many Christian ideas and concepts that I understand as an adult but when asked to put those concepts into words that a child can understand, I learn something new along the way.
George: I’ve learned that it can’t be about me. It’s not self-seeking. It’s about the kids’ development and planting seeds that can hopefully grow into a strong faith.
Melody: God has shown me to look less at my timetable and more at the needs of children. It has been beautiful to be in the moment with the children and see their “aha” moments. This only comes when I am led by the Spirit and don’t rush the learning.
If you were to talk to a prospective volunteer, what advice would you give?
Michelle: You don’t have to be a teacher to do it. You only need a servant’s heart, to like kids, and have patience. Parent helpers are the best!
George: The most important thing is to have a servant’s heart and serve with the gifts He’s given you. It can feel intimidating to start out as a teacher, but coming alongside someone and helping can be a great way to start. You’ll find it’s not babysitting — we are impacting kids for eternity!
Melody: As I know from my own experiences, taking care of yourself first makes it possible to be present with the children. Volunteer for what is feasible for your time by looking at options to help: days, service times, evenings, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly are all options available. Be sure to volunteer in an area that will utilize the gifts God has given you. Feel free to explore opportunities before making a commitment. You won’t regret it. ■
Praise God for being the One who disciples us as we walk in obedience to Him! He is the Good Shepherd and it is an honor to be used by Him to uplift and lead others into loving relationship with Christ our King!
Let’s pray for:
- Michelle and her kindergartners in Sunday School that their faith would be strengthened
- George and his discernment and obedience to follow where God leads him next
- Melody and her NextGen littles that they would know the love and comfort of their Savior even now
If you would like to serve in one of our NextGen ministries, from working with littles in the Nursery or Preschool, to serving as a Buddy for a child with special needs, teaching Kids’ Sunday School, working with choirs, or volunteering with our Middle or High School kids, take a first step by filling out the NextGen Application online at eastbrook.org/nextgenapp. Looking to talk to someone on our NextGen team? Reach out to NextGen Pastor Laure Herlinger; firstname.lastname@example.org, 414.228.5220.
August 29, 2023
August 29, 2023