Sunday School. These words stir up a variety of emotions, depending on the crowd. Some look back on Sunday School with fond memories of flannel graphs and cotton-ball sheep crafts, while others remember little more than having to sit still for yet another morning – as if sitting through school five days a week wasn’t enough. As I continue to grow into my role as a children’s pastor, I can already see these opinions of Sunday School formulating in the children in our ministry. Some of them just love going to Sunday School and would come regardless of what curriculum we might choose; others already seem to be completely turned off to the idea of Sunday School. Growing up, I have to admit that I was in the group who loved Sunday School. I loved hearing the Bible stories (Yes, I was a fan of the flannel graph), and working on the coloring pages and cotton-ball sheep crafts. Having such fond memories of Sunday School has always caused me to wonder why anyone wouldn’t enjoy Sunday School; however, the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that there are several reasons that Sunday School might not be a favorite for every child.
1. Calling it Sunday School makes it sound an awful lot like the Monday through Friday routine. The idea of “school” does not necessarily conjure up positive emotions in every child. Some may deal with bullying or struggling to fit in, while others might not fit the mold of the “good student” that many teachers have in their minds. What can we do for these children? How can we make Sunday School something that they eagerly anticipate?
2. Sometimes, Sunday School seems to be exactly the same as children’s church. Why bother showing up an hour early for the service or stay and hour later if the kids are doing essentially the same thing in both children’s church and Sunday School? If we aren’t working to distinguish between the two, then I can see where this is a legitimate argument. What is the difference between Sunday School and children’s church? How do we make each meaningful in distinctive ways?
3. Sunday School is just another stretch of time where the kids have to sit still. Kids have energy and lots of it. It doesn’t take a whole lot of observation to figure that one out. As a kid I remember watching fidgety kids in school and at church and wondering, “Why can’t they just stay still and listen?” It is difficult to understand the wigglers in the room if you aren’t a wiggler yourself, but what is easier to understand is that each child learns differently – whether by reading, listening, singing, moving, or any number of ways to intake information. How can we help make the valuable lessons taught during Sunday School accessible to all learners?
So how do we respond to some of these issues? Here are a few of my initial thoughts:
1. I’m trying out several new ideas this year, one of which I think address the first issue. To be honest I hadn’t thought about the negative aspects of having the “school” label attached to Sunday School until just a few weeks ago. It seems that I read an article somewhere that posed the question, but, regardless of where the thought originated, it really got my wheels turning. I started to search the internet for ideas. Maybe Sunday School didn’t have to go by the same moniker it had been given for goodness knows how long. After some digging around, I stumbled on the name “J.A.M. Time,” which stands for “Jesus and Me.” Not only does it sound fun, but it conveys the message that, while we are also learning about Jesus, Sunday School is about developing a relationship with our Savior. J.A.M. Time might not be the perfect name for your Sunday School program, but I think it is an exciting and welcomed change to our program.
2. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the distinctions between children’s church and Sunday School ever since I was offered the position of children’s pastor. In my mind, I knew that they had different purposes, but was working on articulating what exactly those differences were. Since that time I have come to the conclusion that I believe that the purpose of children’s church is to be just that: a children’s version of church. I don’t believe that the children should be learning something completely separate, detached from what the adults are hearing in the service. My goal in children’s church is to convey the same key point that the senior pastor is making in his sermon, but do so through games, activities, creative story-telling, and so on. Sunday School, on the other hand, is a time to teach our children how to take ownership of their faith. This is accomplished through learning about Bible stories (so they know and understand the basis of their faith and beliefs), learning books of the Bible (so they can grow to read the Bible on their own), memorizing Scripture (so they have God’s word ready in their hearts), and more. Will there be some overlap? Sure, but the distinction is still there.
3. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not much of a wiggler, but I have a growing appreciate for the wigglers in my life. I think that children, especially wigglers, benefit from movement, but more importantly variety, which is what I think we have found in the curriculum we have chosen for the fall. Our J.A.M. Time starts off with large-group activities, ranging from music to skits, object lessons to games. Then, the children break off into grade-level groups for small group discussion, activities, and prayer. Then, we all come back together at the end for project time, where we will be working on ongoing projects to serve our church and/or community.
Sunday School might not have been a favorite for all of our families, but it is my hope that by addressing some of these key issues we can show our children that Sunday School can be an amazing time of fun and meaningful learning.