Parental Advisory: What is your Child Learning in Sunday School?
“Hey Tanner, remind me of the ministry opportunities you have at your church again?” asked Andrew, who followed up his question with his warm, yet focused and expectant stare through his thin framed glasses.
“Oh, well, the primary help I try to provide is in organizing and planning different outreach ministries that our church seeks to get involved in.”
Andrew and I have grown to be closer in the later chapters of our seminary days, especially as we continually found ourselves vying for the same books and resources due to the similar nature of our research interests. After not seeing each other for a summer, and settling down into the same library table, we were catching up on life, a part of which included happenings at our churches.
After my response, I naturally asked Andrew, “Now, if I remember correctly, you said that you were thinking about considering a new service opportunity at your church when we spoke last time. Can you remind me what that was again?”
Andrew replied, “Oh, I was asked to volunteer to reach the early elementary Sunday School classes. It’s been… an interesting experience.”
I allowed for a reflective pause, and then took a gander. “Interesting in what ways? Is it the juxtaposition of being buried in your ThM studies, and then switching gears to teach small children?”
“No…” Andrew replied. “It’s been an experience because I’m throwing the Sunday School material out the door, and decided to write my own Sunday School curriculum.”
Leave it to the seminarian to look at a lesson plan, and to try to make it deeper, fresher, and better than it was before. Teaching flows through our veins.
Yet, as we spoke, this curriculum renovation wasn’t spawned out of a desire to place his thumbprint on his church’s pedagogy. Instead, it was because in just a few weeks span of teaching, he was horrified at the hermeneutical shortcomings of the Sunday School lessons. He was bewildered at how event, after event, after event in the Scriptures was reduced to a simple and cute moralism. And he was shocked at how the Lord’s word was surprisingly bereft of any sort of big picture focus on GOD.
As we conversed, we began to have a realization: Although not all Sunday School materials are the same, it is sad how many are out there that offer about as much spiritual nutritional value as bleached enriched flour.
Take for example, David and Goliath. Instead of the big picture being something like “God is faithful to His people and his covenants, and protects His people who trust and obey,” the message conveyed is “God helps you kill giants in your life,” or “be brave like David.”
So often, the message becomes “be like this biblical character.” Well… be like them how? Be like David in committing adultery? By, after a life of seeing so much of God’s faithfulness, disobeying and abandoning trust in God by taking a census to ensure that man’s conventions versus God’s can assure him victory in battle? Or, by feigning madness so as to escape imprisonment by his enemies?
There is SO much selectivity in terms of what we spoon-feed our kids. But my concern is not just that we censor the sins and short-comings of biblical figures that compromise the “biblical heroes” hermeneutic of these programs. What concerns me is that so long as human figures are the “heroes,” God is not. Children grow up and reach adolescence and adulthood thinking the OT is good for some battle scenes and as a helpful background for allusions and metaphors in Western literature. They lose any ability to read Scripture (specifically the OT) as the story of God, and His mission of redemption, as the “Big Picture” of God’s special revelation. Our children can handle so much more; why do we settle for nourishing them with so much less?
And not only does this kind of curriculum risk creating a spiritual nutrition deficiency, it also produces its own sort of Spiritual diabetes and diseases of affluence. In a Western culture so detached from persecution and danger, we don’t crave to read and to be amazed and captivated by God the transcendent hero, yet gentle and faithful lover, knowing that it is the spiritual sustenance that we need. Instead, we refine, process, sugar-coat, add preservatives, and market the wholesome lifebread of the gospel into what we think are more palatable and popular Twinkies, hoping the next generation find this more appealing than other consumer options.
Yet, as children become adults, they learn that life get’s tough, especially life when one professes to be a disciple of Jesus. And, when one “tries to be trusting and faithful like Abraham,” yet finds more suffering instead of a proverbial “promised land,” the bankruptcy of such feeble theology leaves him feeling cheated, lonely, and disappointed. His faith isn’t established and more deeply rooted in the biblical promises of God’s everlasting faithfulness. Instead, his faith in a “be good and experience good” paradigm turns to despair, and then to resentment.
Now, is poor hermeneutics and andro-centrc theology the cause of flight of young generations from the doors of the church? No. It isn’t the domino that is the root of our dilemma today. In a world where existentialism runs rampant and “authenticity” is the golden value, I’m sure that many who would have in previous generations passively and compliantly sit in pews their entire lives while still never surrendering their souls to Jesus, are not just taking the step to say “this isn’t me. I don’t really believe that. I’d be fake to pretend otherwise.” Furthermore, the issue of the locus of authority continues to strip Scripture of its power, and reassigns it to the heat of the individual. There are far more differences between the evangelicalism of our forefathers and the young person today than Sunday School curriculum.
Yet still, in light of these changes, pick up your child’s Sunday School hand out. Give it a read. In fact, read the passage they studied that week with them. Turn their eyes from the fingerpainting craft project, and turn them into the Technicolor and lifegiving world of Scripture. And, as you read, exercise your ability to discern the big idea of a given passage.