LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13 (CSB) is Susan McClanahan’s favorite verse and one she strives to live by. She can admit though it hasn’t always been easy to remember over the years.
McClanahan will be retiring this year after serving 41 years as the Director of Preschool Ministry at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.
“The director before me had asked me to come and do it,” she said. “I originally said ‘no. I can’t do that. It’s not a part of my personality,’ but the director said, ‘yes you can.’”
So, Susan started part-time, filling in here and there. Eventually, that director retired, and Immanuel approached her about taking over so she did.
She recalls a devotional she read about Moses back in 1986 that she still has and pulls out from time to time. It highlighted Moses’ protest to let God use him at first, but how he gives in and allows God to use him, and we all know what comes of that.
“It just showed me that God can use anybody,” she said. “Any ordinary person, which I feel like I’m the most ordinary person there is. If you’re just willing to let go and do it. And that really meant a lot to me. Like yes, He can use me even though I haven’t been to seminary or even college. I feel like He’s been guiding me all this time.”
When you’ve done ministry as long as she has, there are bound to be plenty of people and families whose lives you’ve impacted. Seeing kids, she ministered to years ago with their own families and raising their kids is such a joy.
“It’s amazing to see them, and I can’t tell you, since I’ve announced my retirement, how many people have told me so many kind and loving words. Even this year, at VBS, I’ve seen some of my kids bring their kids to VBS and just, seeing them in that role and seeing them want their kids to know Jesus and they want to them to be involved is just the most important thing,” she said. “It’s just amazing. The years that God has allowed me to build relationships with these families. So many of them have said that ‘you instilled it in me and now I’m instilling that in my kids, and we just thank you for that.’”
Something she’s been doing a little longer than working at Immanuel is Vacation Bible School (VBS). McClanahan celebrated her 50th year of doing VBS this year.
“I’ve it done more than 50 years because my oldest daughter was just a little girl when I started and she just turned 54, but I didn’t really keep track back then,” she said.
When she started, VBS was two weeks long; something we can’t really imagine nowadays.
“It was just so simple back then,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing two weeks now though. Not in the world we live in.”
While it might be four to five days instead of two weeks now, not much else has changed with the core foundation of VBS.
“We still want to get the kids in God’s house and teach them about Jesus,” she said. “That’s never changed and never will.”
Immanuel’s VBS this year was Olympic-themed and had 50 kids make decisions of faith, while 58 decided they wanted to follow in baptism.
Something that’s unique to Immanuel is that Susan and another leader sat down about four years ago and decided to write out their own curriculum. They’ve been rotating through that ever since. Susan notes that this year was probably the best year yet.
“If it wasn’t for COVID, I probably would’ve retired already,” she said. “I think God really just blessed me since this is my last VBS on staff because it was just wonderful. The excitement from the teachers; I think they were just excited to get out. But the volunteers all had joyful and sweet spirits all week. The kids had the best time ever too.”
While she might be retiring, McClanahan says she could never see herself not volunteering somewhere.
“I feel like I’m going to take some time away because I know whoever comes in will need time to do whatever God has in store for their ministry, but I don’t want to stay away too long. I don’t know what He has in store for me, but I hope it’s with kids and that it keeps me busy.”
McClanahan never saw her life leading where it did, but she credits everything to God and always strives to point everyone toward Him.
“I just try to encourage people that if you have an opportunity and God’s tugging at your heart, you’ve got to take it,” she said. “I feel like when I first started there’s a lot of things I could’ve done differently, but it’s not you doing it. It’s the Lord doing it through you. He grows you over the years if you just listen to Him.”