Just last week, my son, Cale, came home from church with a big grin stretched across
his face. “Guess what, Mom? Today, Mr. Norm gave me my nickname!”
Getting a small group nickname is just another way of Cale’s leader saying “I see
YOU! I notice what makes you TICK and I love it! You belong HERE.” So even if the
nickname is Stretch—as my long and lean son proudly told me—he claimed it with
pride because it was given with much affection!
Mr. Norm has been Cale’s small group leader for more than 5 years now. This man
is a steady fixture in my son’s life. And I’m glad for many reasons. One of the main
ones is that Cale is quiet and (for the most part) well behaved. Which means that at
school and at church, it’s very easy for him to blend in to the background and feel
Thankfully, Mr. Norm has learned Cale’s different bents and quirks over the years—
he knows when to push and when to pull. Education researchers call this “theory of
mind”—when a teacher or mentor can watch their students closely enough to see if
they get something or are confused, to figure out what motivates and interests them,
and to keep them growing.
We have a sweet picture that not only lives in Cale’s room but in my mind. It’s a
shot of Mr. Norm with his hand over Cale’s heart, baptizing my son in front of many
Cale may not say as much as other more out-going kids, but he didn’t hesitate when
we asked him who he first wanted to tell about his decision to trust Jesus and follow
Him the rest of his life. “Mr. Norm.” And later, when we asked, “Who do you want to
baptize you?” He responded without a bit of a pause—“Mr. Norm.”
When the big day arrived, with family and friends gathered to celebrate, I remember
noticing many of the kids being baptized that day had passed through Mr. Norm’s
four year old class years before. He still remembered their names and greeted them
with a smile. But what Cale will remember is someone that cared enough to show up
every week to laugh with him and the others, to tell him about Jesus and what the
Bible has to do with his everyday, outside of church life.
He’ll remember that Mr. Norm paid a special driver to get to another airport and just
barely make an international flight home, because he didn’t want to miss out on the
honor (his words) of baptizing Cale and welcoming him into our church family.
As a parent, I’m expected to love my kids and be there for them. It’s part of my job
description. But when others are there for my kids, it stands out.
One gesture from a small group leader can result in priceless pay off. It can be as
small as a nickname or as grand as an international flight. In the end, committing
to one group of kids—someone else’s sons and daughters—for at least one year,
hopefully more, can make a world of difference. It did for us.