I went to a funeral today. It was for the man who taught me the Lord’s prayer. Mr. Taylor graduated to heaven at the age of ninety-six. He spent more than thirty-five years—over one-third of his life—teaching Sunday School.
When I was nine years old, my mom started taking us to church. She would drop me off in the church basement for class with the other children. They all came from intact Dutch families. Mine was neither intact nor Dutch.
A sticker chart hung on the wall, just inside the classroom door. Mr. Taylor would greet me there with a hug every Sunday, turn to the sticker chart and say, “Well, Jennie, are you ready to tell me what you’ve learned?” And I would rehearse my progress in the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6:9-13.
He listened with pride twinkling in his eyes. Each sticker earned was progress towards a Sunday School prize. After our Bible recitation, he taught us a Bible story. Mr. Taylor was the first to introduce me to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the disciples, and Paul.
Every year, on my birthday, Mr. Taylor would call me. Upon answering, he did not say hello but dove right in, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jennie, happy birthday to you!” Then, “Have a great day today. Goodbye!” He called all the kids—and many adults—in our church every year. He was the kind of person that made sure to call you on your birthday.
And that’s all I really knew of Mr. Taylor until his funeral.
Long Obedience over Coffee and Bagels
In the memorial service, I learned that Mr. Taylor didn’t become a Christian until his 40s or 50s. As a believer, he had coffee and a bagel with our pastor every week. And every week, they’d talk about the Bible. Mr. Taylor loved the Bible. He read it, memorized it, cherished it.
Not only did Mr. Taylor have a deep faith, but he was faithful. The pastor reminisced how he never missed a Sunday. Though his wife never accompanied him to church, he was always, always there. Though he was in poor health—even when I first met him thirty years ago—he never missed a week. Though his hearing failed, he had to walk with a cane, and his strength was clearly waning—he was faithful in his obedience to God.
I agree with the eulogy—Mr. Taylor heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matt. 25:23) when he met Jesus. He is a striking example of a long obedience in the same direction. He never grew weary of doing good (Gal. 6:9).
What a normal guy, I thought throughout the service. He was a World War II veteran, a dad, a husband. He was simply faithful—to God and to his church—and the Lord ministered to others through him.
What if we—as ordinary Christ-followers—followed in his footsteps? What if we, who are normal and unexceptional, simply pursued faithfulness? Here are some ways we might apply the fruit of Mr. Taylor’s life to our own.
Your theology doesn’t need to be fully developed to serve the church
The pastor performing the memorial service chuckled that Mr. Taylor would often get fixated on a doctrinal issue and have a hard time conforming his ideas to the truth. Though he was late to the faith, he gave himself over to the body of Christ. Despite being a work in progress, he readily invested in kids. The pastor and elders allowed Mr. Taylor to serve the church in a capacity that he could steward well. He had a passion for teaching children and the church supplied the tools and curriculum for him to do that. Neither the church leadership nor Mr. Taylor insisted on him having everything figured out before he served the body. Theology matters, but it need not be perfected before you can serve.
Give yourself over to discipleship
Knowing he was indeed a work in progress, Mr. Taylor committed himself to be shaped by the Word of God, the people of God, and the Spirit of God. The pastor said he especially loved the Beatitudes and Psalm 23 and committed them to memory. He would wake up at night and read his Bible or pray for people in the church. He never skipped his weekly bagel and coffee with the pastor. Though he was old enough to be the pastor’s father, he submitted himself to his pastor’s spiritual leadership. He was ready and available to engage in discipleship, even with someone substantially younger than him. Giving yourself over to discipleship has no universal age or experience requirement.
Fix your eyes on Jesus
Mr. Taylor was a sweet example of a man who pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). The pastor’s eulogy implied that he had a regrettable past. And I saw with my own childhood eyes that though he had a wife whom he adored, she did not accompany him to church. His difficult past and present circumstances did not prevent him from pursuing Christ daily and worshiping with others weekly. Neither should we allow our past or present situations to rob our affections for Jesus.
Be a bridge for newcomers
As a child of divorce and a home where Christ was not honored in my early years, crossing the threshold of a church felt strange to me. I had a dad at home that questioned Christianity and mocked religion in general. Those repeating the Lord’s prayer with me in Sunday School had dads in suits and moms with Bibles under the arms. Yet Mr. Taylor always greeted me with a hug and eager anticipation to hear my progress in memorizing Scripture. I was different, but he didn’t treat me like I was different. A smile and a greeting to newcomers goes a lot farther than you might think.
Small acts of kindness leave a great impact
We all chuckled when the pastor reminisced about how Mr. Taylor called almost everyone in the church on our birthdays and serenaded us over the phone. He gave us each the same small gift—a phone call that showed he knew us, remembered us, and celebrated us. When I looked around the sanctuary and saw a hundred bobbing heads, it was clear that this small act shaped the culture of the entire church. Christ-like kindness may feel small but can have a sweeping effect.
Spiritually parent others
My Sunday School leader was the spiritual father of hundreds. I know many of those in Sunday School with me are now missionaries and ministers, teachers and police officers, engineers and salesmen, moms and dads. We each carry with us the memory and imprint of a man who didn’t rest until we each had Matthew 6:9-13 memorized. Mr. Taylor’s thirty-five-year investment in children’s Sunday School bear’s a rich legacy: there are hundreds of us who know the model prayer of our Savior because of the faithful plodding of our Sunday School teacher.
Ordinary Means for Extraordinary Ends
Our good and gracious God redeems, inhabits, and glorifies himself through normal people, just like Mr. Taylor. The Apostle Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (1 Cor. 4:7-9). Mr. Taylor’s kindness and habits and love of the Bible and the God who wrote it revealed Christ to me, the hope of glory (Col.1:27). The simple, unsophisticated ministry of this very normal man, led me to know and love Jesus.
Mr. Taylor didn’t have formal Biblical training or a Christian pedigree. He didn’t have a fancy church or a state-of-the-art kids’ ministry. He had a sticker chart, a flannel graph, a patient and persevering personality, and a warmth towards children. Mostly, he had a desire that we know the Lord! He was God’s very ordinary means for extraordinary ends: making us kids alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.