I enjoy reading a variety of resources from people who I find to be honest voices in the world of church leadership and faith life. I don’t always agree with the people I read, and I wouldn’t always express things the way some do, but I find working through a variety of perspectives to be challenging and insightful. Today I want to highlight a few points from an article which is an example of one where author and I see the world differently on the subject of Sunday School. To be fair, the author of this article is highly successful and has worked at several churches that I greatly respect. Also, I have always enjoyed reading his thoughts and found them to be very good. We come from different places in our approach to spiritual formation and discipleship in church life, as I am an advocate of Sunday School and he has served in churches that have moved away from having a Sunday School as a part of their small group philosophy. Certainly, there are a variety of ways for churches to have deep spiritual formation programs. Churches in Southern California or South Sudan might not have what we think of as a traditional Sunday School model, and be growing deep disciples very effectively. In our context here at PSBC however, Sunday School is part of the church’s DNA and I believe is a very effective way to accomplish discipleship. For what it’s worth, I think the author of this article would agree, and not advocate churches everywhere abandoning Sunday School in favor of some other form of discipleship strategy. The key is the level of excellence with which you do something in your context that makes it effective in most cases.
We talk on a regular basis about qualities which, if present, assure that Sunday School W.O.R.K.S. Certainly there are churches in community contexts where Sunday School should be effective, but is not, because it’s done poorly. It may be those Sunday School experiences that have led some to want to move away from it. That seems to be the case with the author of this article, though I don’t know what his denominational background is. It’s the reasons why Sunday School does work, and makes a huge difference in people’s lives that drive me to be committed to it. In this article, the author highlights a few core values that are lost when churches abandon Sunday School. I would add to his list, but I thought that it would be interesting for you to see what he highlights:
Basic Bible knowledge
From Kindergarten on we had the basic Bible stories drilled into us. As much as I hated Sunday School, by the time I graduated I had a pretty good understanding of the basic scope and sequence of the Bible.
Connection with peers
My best friends growing up were the kids I went to Sunday School with. Part of it was affinity, part of it was age proximity and part of it was surviving an hour every Sunday together. Even though I hated Sunday School I actually liked going because my friends were there. I felt accepted and connected.
Relationship with an adult who (ideally) loves kids
Once in a while we would have a Sunday School teacher who taught because she really loved kids. I remember one teacher who hosted an Easter Egg hunt just for our class at a park near her house. That made a big impact on me. I also had another teacher who would come faithfully every week to our midweek class (our version of Boy Scouts) even though I was often the only one who showed up. (I was the pastor’s kid, I had no choice). He wasn’t a talented teacher or leader, but he cared about me. I didn’t have the maturity to recognize it at the time, but [he] taught me how to love like Jesus.
My Sunday School class is where I learned my spiritual heritage. We talked about the heroes of our tribe; missionaries who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Gospel. We learned the tenets of our faith and the nuances of doctrine the set us apart. Much of it was legalistic and some downright whacky, but I understood who we were and what we believed. The core that I learned in those classes is still what I cling to today. It is a basic part of who I am.
A church needs a primary vehicle for small group fellowship, organization that makes service easier, consistent small group Bible study, keeping up with one another, and connecting new people in a personal way. Without it, many crucial things that make the church what it should be are lost. Churches with different models than ours have sought to replace these qualities with other strategies. Some have been more successful than others, but we must focus on OUR responsibility to build fully developed followers of Christ.
It is unwise for us to measure our church health by the success, or lack there-of, in other churches. What matters to us is how effective we are at doing God’s work in our context.
I believe that our strategy is good and biblical approach. I see evidence everywhere that it is effective, and that lives are being changed through what we do. Sunday School is a rich part of our church’s discipleship heritage. Generations before us were faithful, and our task is to keep up the good work.
It’s also important that we pray for, and pull for other churches to be successful as well, even if they do it differently than we do.
The article I’ve referenced ends with this statement:
So am I suggesting we bring Sunday School back? Heaven forbid! I just think we need incredible intentionality around the elements we’ve lost. My fear is that we are raising a generation of children who love the entertainment we provide on Sunday, but have little understanding of the Bible, no close church friends, little connection to Christian adults (other than their parents) and a lack of knowledge about their spiritual heritage. In other words we have unchurched children growing up in the church.
Such a reality is a danger for churches who don’t have Sunday School, and for churches that do Sunday School poorly. Let’s keep working hard to make our discipleship strategy accomplish God’s work in a powerful way! In the end, its the personal care and hard work of the people who lead Sunday School that make it fun, memorable, cool for young people, and essential for grown ups. May God continue to bless the church with His presence through our service.