New Vision for an Old System

I grew up in the church. More accurately, in the Sunday school. That was the requirement; worship services were optional.I was the kid every Sunday school teacher dreads. In the Kindergarten department I stood up when everybody else was sitting down, and vice versa. I talked when we were supposed to be silent. And when we were supposed to talk or sing I didn’t. It was so bad that at one point it was suggested to my mother that I might be retarded.

Somewhere around the fourth grade I was held back. I think I’m the only kid in the history of Sunday school who ever flunked. It was because my friend Jim McLean and I caused so much trouble. We had to be separated: he was put up, I was held back.I’m the kid who didn’t put his money in the offering. I bought candy on the way home. I’m the one who remembers the Junior Superintendent week after week going over the verse in James: “Be ye doers of the word and not hears only.” I had no idea what the lady was talking about. I first remembered hearing the gospel at the Billy Graham rally at age 15. I had attended catechetical classes and joined the church when I was 12.

Yet I’m committed to the Sunday school. Even though in many places it’s an anachronism. And for the most part kids like me don’t attend any more. Still it’s the one church program more people attend on a regular basis than any other. Sunday school and the worship service are bound together in the minds of many.

Some churches have focused on the small group or the house church but often the missing ingredient is the children. How are they nurtured? In places where children, especially older ones, attend Sunday school while parents are in worship, the missing ingredient is worship. (That’s become a significant problem where there are simultaneous Sunday school and worship schedules.) The children don’t experience God’s people of all ages coming together to enter the presence of God.But if Sunday school doesn’t do any more for others than it did for me, what’s the point? That’s a powerful argument.

What is needed is a fresh vision for that venerable institution. Maybe run it on a semester system with significant breaks so that there is a clear beginning and end. Perhaps use it as a means to mentor young people or develop high school students as mentors (which would give teachers and leaders a whole new area of responsibility).

I acted out in part because I felt horribly inferior. I wanted attention and chose the best way I knew to get it. By God’s grace things have worked out well for me. But it could have just as easily gone another way. I was on my way to becoming a bum.

Too many Sunday school teachers are going through the motions-not putting much into it, not expecting much to happen in the lives of those who come. That might be the biggest thing a fresh vision would address. We all want to be part of something significant. To think that what we are doing is worthwhile. And what is more important than to help set the direction of a child, or a teen, or an adult toward the Kingdom of God? Teacher it could turn your life upside down.

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Bob knows training! He has conducted hundreds of seminars across the country as Training Coordinator for CEP. He trains others to do the work of training. His experience is surpassed only by his concern for those struggling with the load that they carry as workers in the kingdom. Bob is a graduate of Covenant College and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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