September! Wow! Let the Fall schedule begin. Around America, especially within traditional, mainline churches, that means the return to multiple services and to some from of Sunday School.
Sunday School? Really? Isn’t that a relic from the past? Aren’t all the children playing sports on Sunday? Aren’t sports the new educational tool to teach our youth American values? And the Bible, it’s so boring. Who would want to spend time hearing those old stories anyway? Take this story for example.
Nine-year-old Jeremy’s mother asked the boy what he had learned in Sunday School. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he and his engineers built a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters to call in an air strike. They sent in bombers to blow up the bridge, and all the Israelites were saved.”
“Now, Jeremy, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked.
“Well, no Mom, but if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it.”
Or think about the angst this child experienced as he tried to understand the creation story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.
In Mr. Al’s kindergarten Sunday school class, he was teaching how everything in the world was create by God, including human beings. Little George was particularly interested in how Eve was created from Adam’s rib.
Later in the week the 5-year old’s mother found him lying down as though he were ill. She asked him, “George, what’s the matter?”
George replied, “I have a pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife.”
Who would want their child to struggle with such an issue in our day and age. Sunday School.
Over the past 18 years, the National Council of Churches has conducted a study titled, “Teaching and Learning in American Congregations.” Rev. Joseph V. Crockett, Ed. D. is the key author of this research. Here is its description.
“Teaching and Learning in American Congregations” is a part of the Faith Communities Today 2015 (FACT2015) series of reports that focuses on the state and work of congregations’ educational ministries in the United States.
The 2015 Faith Communities Today survey is the fifth national project in a series beginning in 2000 and includes surveys in 2005, 2008, and 2010. The survey series totals over 32,000 responses from randomly sampled congregations of all denominations and faith traditions in the United States. The 2015 study contains responses from 4,436 congregations.
If you want to read the study and its findings you can do so at www.FaithCommunitiesToday.org.
What is the short version of the findings? Sunday School ain’t what it used to be. In fact, in many mainline churches it has dropped by 75% or more in the last 50 years, if it exists at all. Sunday School?!
So, what difference does this make? Let me share a couple of many thoughts:
First, America has and many within our nation still see us as a Christian nation. However, without knowledge of Jesus Christ, who he is, where he came from, what he taught, how he lived, how he died, how he lives again, etc., there is no foundation for that title. Like many people I know, we will become Christian in name only and the nations of the world will label us “hypocrite.”
Second, when acts of violence are done in our schools, on our streets, in our homes, we have no moral recourse. We will not have taught and therein learned that there is a God to whom all people are accountable. We will have never heard the words of Jesus that we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We will have missed the Sunday School less of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Narcissism would become the law of the day causing the pain we see on the faces of classmates, soulmates, family and friends as individuals act in solely selfish ways.
Sunday School isn’t and must not be the real issue. The real issue we must address is how do we Pass on the Faith as my friend, The Rev. Al Schoonover, would often say. How do we pass on the faith upon which our nation was founded? How do we pass on the faith which has shaped and molded so many of our lives? How do we pass on the faith that was so important that Jesus came to us and lived it and taught it and died for it? How do we pass on that faith?
This was the original goal of the Sunday School movement…to pass on the faith. The goal…the vision…the need remains the same. If we are to continue our Sunday School programs we must become more assertive in getting children and adults to participate in those programs.
Grandparents need to be assertive in inviting their grandchildren
Parents need to buck it up, get out of bed on their only day off, and set the example by going to church and either leading or participating.
Teachers must work at engaging the children not simply passing on knowledge. This takes some work because the children we teach today are not the same type of child as we were in our younger days.
In addition, if we are going to pass on the faith, we may need to be creative and push the boundaries of church programming orthodoxy. One of my members said, “Why don’t we set up a chapel at Sunday soccer games? Many children and families are already there! Jesus left heaven to come to earth so we might know the good news. Why don’t we leave the church and go to the fields so children can hear the good news as well?”
Oh, I could ramble…and maybe I have been. Let me conclude this blog with a thought from William Mancini in his book, Church Unique. He said:
We need the vision to raise our sight to see the why behind the program to begin with. Without seeing the more compelling why, we cultivate masters of how.
We need to remember and celebrate the WHY we do what we do!! Programs like Sunday School are not sacred. Passing on the faith is.