Photo by Lukas Robertson on Unsplash
My inner struggle with Sunday school…
(Edited 29th January 2019)
Confession time – for a while now I have felt deeply dissatisfied with the concept of Sunday School. To the point where I am beginning to wonder whether we should scrap it completely…
There you go, I said it.
Please don’t get me wrong – my team is fantastic and we are teaching some great content creatively (as is the case in many places). However, here is a sample of the regular inner dialogue that’s been playing inside of my head …
(1) I can’t help feel gutted by the lack of engagement from the majority (not all!) of the group, most (not all!) of who would rather not be there at all but ‘its better than sitting in church’.
“Paul, maybe you are doing it wrong! Make it more fun and they will want to come!”
(2) I think the young people I have spoken to about Sunday school can see its true, often unsaid, purpose better than we do – ‘its better than sitting in church’. Could Sunday school simply just be childcare whilst the adults ‘do church’?
“Paul, it’s more than just childcare, we get to teach the Bible to young people!”
(3) But is a short slot on a Sunday morning really sufficient time to ‘school’ young people in the Bible or even the basics of discipleship, let alone come alongside them for pastoral support, prayer and general befriending?
“Its part of a larger process of discipleship, we also need to be encouraging and equipping parents as their kids primary disciplers, engaging them in the life of the church and organising additional mid-week activities to nurture faith”.
(4) But what if ‘teaching the Bible’ is the wrong focus? Jesus discipled young people not through a systematic curriculum but through on-the-job training, applying theology and scripture to the disciples concrete experience.
(4b) Youth work after all is a discipline which has as a core value – informal education. Why then do we call it Sunday SCHOOL? And why do our rooms often resemble that of a formal classroom? Informal education would look much more like Jesus’ approach, sharing experiences with young people and leading them to reflect on them!
“Ok, good point – but we still need to do something with them on a Sunday”
(5) Why? What if removing young people from church to a convenient side-room actually does more damage then good! Surly it embodies the idea that they are not full members of the worshipping community and therefore need to be side-lined.
“But Paul… they need age appropriate teaching!”
(6) Maybe, but also maybe not… children and young people are primed for learning, they are also well practiced at it spending everyday doing it at school. Arguably they are better learners than most adults! It might also be that young people are more capable of grasping theological truths than us. Jesus after all did say ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). I think when it comes to children we need to therefore stop talking about ‘teaching them down at their level’ and instead think about raising the bar to their level. Do we need more interaction, discussion, games, practical application and creative presentations going on within the main service? This would have the potential to engage everyone of all ages and learning backgrounds.
There we have it…
Sunday school = Low engagement, childcare, an insufficient time to do anything really meaningful, formalised rather than authentic discipleship, sidelining young people and preventing us from raising the bar of learning in our services.
My purpose in raising these issues is simply to put them out there so we might explore them together. I plan to write a series of posts following this one to begin to reflect more deeply on these issues. I do strongly believe that these are issues that need to be talked about. We are living in a crisis where if you are a young person you have a better chance surviving the titanic than staying in the church. What we are doing isn’t working and the answer can’t simply be to do what we are doing better. Even if we had the best and most well resourced Sunday school ever, these underlying issues remain. We need a shift towards shaping new contexts that make faith plausible for the long haul. I am increasingly doubting whether Sunday school is one of these.
To be continued…