Ministry to Children, the Ultimate Privilege
By Zoe S. Erler

A wise friend once told her, “If you want to be in awe of God, make a child your tutor.” For Sue Jakes, outgoing children’s ministry coordinator for the PCA’s Discipleship Ministries (CDM), that statement has reminded her why she was first called to serve the littlest in Christ’s kingdom. 

“The little ones have been tutoring me for decades, and there is so much more to learn,” she says. “In the trials of my life, I have found his healing balm in a room filled with children as I taught them what I needed to hear and learn again myself.”

Jakes admits that her retirement after 20 years at CDM comes on the heels of one of the severest trials of her life, with the sudden and unexpected death of her eldest son and the unanticipated illness of another son. 

“It’s been a year of loss,” Jakes says. 

But as she reflects on this past year and on several decades of raising four children alone after her husband abandoned her, she is convinced of the sustaining goodness of Jesus to her as she repeated the truths of Scripture to children in seven different church Sunday Schools, and as she worked alongside those in children’s ministry through her role with CDM (formerly Christian Education and Publications). 

An Unexpected Start to Ministry

She didn’t always have such an interest in children. In fact, she says it was the birth of her eldest son that awakened her to the church’s calling to love and disciple the children. She says she actually had gotten a master’s degree in education and English from West Georgia College, hoping to avoid teaching those under the age of 13.

“I was surprised by God at the overwhelming love I had for my child and the sense of responsibility that I began to embrace one day at a time.”

Since her first time teaching Sunday School at First Baptist Church (Forest Park, Georgia) in 1970, Jakes has been filling her “treasure box full of stories” of God’s work in the lives of children. One that has lodged itself in her memory was of a little girl named Meg, who always seemed bored in class. Jakes wondered if Meg simply didn’t like her or if there was just a hard heart yet untouched by the work of the Spirit. 

Jakes didn’t always have such an interest in children. It was the birth of her eldest son that awakened her to the church’s calling to love and disciple children.

After months of praying for Meg, the little girl showed up one day brimming with thoughtful responses to Jakes’ questions, and even offered a smile. After class, Meg’s parents pulled Jakes aside and asked, “Has Meg talked with you yet?,” wondering if their daughter had yet told her teacher she had received Christ. Jakes said that the three rejoiced together in the work of the Spirit in Meg’s life.

Over the years, Jakes has had the privilege of seeing several such children grow up and join her in the work of children’s ministry. She even admits that some of the most difficult kids she “ever wrangled on Sunday mornings became the best wranglers I ever knew.”

For Jakes, “Teaching and serving the children, alongside those who were children just yesterday, is the greatest joy in this ministry. You know you have participated in God’s great calling to ‘make disciples’ when you see those disciples making disciples.” 

“Something that I will never forget about Ms. Sue is the confidence that she had in me, placing me into positions of leadership in the children’s ministry starting when I was only 15!” said Gina Gunia, who still volunteers in children’s ministry with Jakes at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “Without hesitation, she allowed me to lead the five- and six-year-old group at VBS, something I would have never imagined being able to do at that age, because of the potential she said that she saw in me to lead them well.”

“I have been given two genuine passions,” Jakes says, “Jesus, and a belief that it has always been his plan to build his kingdom in and through the little children.”

Jakes was hired in 1987 as a regional trainer and later became CDM’s children’s ministry coordinator in 2002. Through this position, she gained a platform to invite in and encourage others to join Jesus in this type of kingdom building — one that requires a deep sacrifice of time and comfort. 

“We are very blessed in the PCA to have hundreds of faithful servants who are prayerfully committed to seeing a generation of strong Jesus men and women raised up from the nursing babes in our churches,” she says.  

At the same time, Jakes points out that the pull to retreat from in-the-trenches gospel-centered ministry to children is a temptation that many churches face.

“There are many activities, callings and causes which can consume our time, money and energy in this world, but nothing is as powerful, life-changing or eternal as telling God’s story to the children … This kind of world-changing discipleship does not happen with rotating volunteers one hour a week, or by parents who are so easily entrapped by a culture full of lies that church becomes merely a sideline. Look at Jesus. Tell His story. Follow his example. Lay it all down and lead a little child to the cross.”

According to Stephen Estock, coordinator for CDM, Jakes’ contributions to CDM include the creation of the children’s ministry team, a collaboration of children’s ministry leaders, and the development of the curriculum “Teach Me to Worship” and the children’s ministry certification program.

“I am thankful God gave me the opportunity to serve with her,” Estock said. “She has taught me so much about the blessings of God’s covenant love and faithfulness from generation to generation.”

Even as Jakes transitions away from her role with CDM, she continues to serve at Westminster as the children’s director and as a Sunday School teacher.

“As the PCA continues to see numbers in our nurseries, we must ask the right questions. Who is going to tell them? Who is going to show them? Who is going to love them? There is only one right answer. All of us — the church. The next generation — they are watching and listening and will become who we are.”

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