Sunday School Lament

This has been my schedule over the past weekend:

On Friday, my husband had to meet the day at 5 a.m. in order to attend an early-morning meeting.   I woke up with him (as usual), but couldn’t fall back asleep (unusual).

I had a 5:30 a.m. hair appointment (no, that’s no typo) on Saturday morning.   Saturday afternoon was a training workshop for our children’s ministry at church, followed by errand running and house cleaning.

We entertained guests on Sunday, and I needed to have dinner prepared and not cold before we left for church, so 5 a.m., I was preheating the oven to have everything in place.

On each of these nights, I went to bed at midnight or after.

It occurred to me, in hindsight, that while in college I slept 5 hours and sometimes less as a matter of course.   Fast-forwarding 20+ years, I can now maintain this schedule for about 2-3 days before I crash and burn.   Having said that, guess where I was on Monday?

Actually, I got up at my regular time and ran some errands for the business, then toyed with trying to be one of the first 100 people at a brand-new restaurant in town.   After seeing a line around the building 1 hour before the opening, I came home.   Then I realized that I was nowhere near in shape to begin our school week: I was still very drained, even after a cup of Starbucks decaf (a treat I allow myself when I’m out and about in the a.m.), and I found myself wishing that my head was screwed on such that I could untwist it and, in that way, relieve the booming pain.    In an unusual turn of events, I put my pajamas back on, climbed back in bed, and called off school—sort of.   I told the kids that yesterday was a reading day; this was a catch-up day on all reading assignments for this week.   From there, I crawled back into bed, completing all group and one-on-one reading from there, and getting up only as necessary.   I noticed that when the kids finished what they had to do, they all went back to sleep, too.   I think it’s safe to say that we all needed a rest, and I praise the Lord for growth in making the decision to do what was needed.   It wasn’t too long ago when I would have forced us all in fear of how missing a day might affect our year.   It’s silly to think about, but it’s the truth.   At any rate, we all got up today refreshed, and it shows.  School seemed to zip by, and all of the three of the kids worked quietly and quickly.   I even got a workout in on last night!

Though operating in a renewed body, my mind hasn’t left our children’s ministry workshop on Saturday.   As a bit of backdrop, we have taught an early teens class (13-and 14-year old students) for several years now.    It’s a tough age, and the dynamics under which we’ve taught, described in previous posts here and here, have not eased our burden at all.   Yet, our efforts have been fruitful, and because of nothing short of the good Lord, we have the class that we envisioned when we started: kids that are excited about learning, kids that want to be in class.  Our “alumni” class members still come back, and even sit in, with us fairly frequently to see what is going on during the time.   All of that has changed significantly in a matter of weeks.   Some of it is an annual change based upon what we call “Promotion Day,” when the kids transition from class to class based upon their birthdays.    We also had a major shift to accommodate a new program designed specifically for our 5th and 6th graders.    In a few quick conversations, we went from being teachers of the 13 and 14 year olds, to teachers of the 7th and 8th graders; in essence, we lost our 9th graders—those students who are generally 14 turning 15, who were with us for their final year.   We’re beginning again, with an almost entirely new group.

Change is always difficult, but I am actually looking forward to getting to know these kids and, prayerfully, making a difference in their lives.   My larger concern is the other differences that are taking place within children’s ministry, and not just at our church, either.

Our workshop on Saturday dealt largely with the impact of media—not just television, but also games, video, computers, and cell phones–on this generation’s children.   A number of findings were presented regarding the impact of these tools, and the potential impact to how we “do” church.   It seems that we readily accept the following as fact in the more “progressive” churches:

Adults, much less children, have little attention span for anything that is not highly visual and/or longer than one hour

Children are incapable of sitting down and concentrating on any one thing for more than 5 minutes

A book, i.e., a Bible is totally unnecessary in youth group ministry; more important supplies are games and glitz in order to keep kids entertained

For me, this is the first problem.    I don’t agree that this is normal, and I certainly don’t buy into the fact that I have to cater to this behavior within our classroom.   We’ve attended a number of children’s ministries at various churches, and what I see is disturbing—a lot of flashy light shows, loud music, and constant motion.    Somewhere in there is a brief, video clip-laden Bible study with no flipping of pages.   Worse yet, because the stage hasn’t been set for the children to sit and receive, they don’t.   (I am one generation from a church crowd where, if you got up in the midst of a sermon, you held up one finger and tip-toed quietly—I never figured out what that one finger was for).   Thankfully, there is an altar call and prayer at the end, but I can’t help but wonder what all of this means to someone who is still struggling with a decision for Christ.   In fact, I have read articles that suggest that kids are walking away from the lattes at youth services in search of the truth.   And here’s the kicker—where do you find truth if not in the church?    Here’s another statistic for you: most children leave the church between the ages of 13-18, never to return.   It’s just scary.

I can agree that media is a tool—a tool that we can either choose to use for good or for evil.   I can appreciate that the days of packaged programs with neat, tidy endings don’t always fit the bill for today’s child, who has to deal with issues that never came my way until well into college years.    And yes, teaching Biblical discipleship doesn’t have to be boring.   We can do it in ways that are memorable and that leave kids with something to think about.   However, our oldest came home afterward with a simple, yet profound observation: “There is nothing wrong with just sitting down and opening a Bible and learning from it,” she says.   And though I think my children are special, I also see them as regular kids—self-absorbed, rebellious at times, yet willing to raise their own bar, if someone would just expect more from them.   Also, I can distance myself from some of what is reality for most because of homeschooling.   Our kids get the Word every day—just a Bible, just a discussion, no ostentation.    The words that are thousands of years old still resonate with power, still pierce the heart and mind, even when I’m at my most unprepared and unable.   Praise God that His Word is what it is, sometimes in spite of us.

So, like a number of youth programs that I’ve visited, we now have a mini-skateboard park, we have a night of Christian hip-hop, and we have youth-oriented services that tout game areas and the latest sounds.    What I wish I had is the answer to this question: when do we stop trying to be like the world and get back to overcoming it?

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5 thoughts on “Sunday School Lament

  1. I couldn’t agree more about your Sunday School lament. In fact, I would wonder…just like all of society texting and facebooking and sitting down to starbucks with our laptops, if when the church tries to speak the language of society (i.e. flash and speed and multi-media), I wonder if we really connect with the soul of a person at all and do one single thing to meet the deep longings placed there by God. Be still and know that I am God. Write these things on your foreheads and teach them to your children in your going ins and your going outs. (Loosely paraphrased of course.) It’s what the church (and families) are supposed to do.

  2. That is to say…just like society…I wonder if anyone is making any real connections when flash and speed and multi-media are the menu items of the day.

  3. AMEN! I had chills after reading this post. You have spoken so eloquently (as usual) exactly was has been on my heart for several years. If you have not read “Almost Gone” by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer I would highly recommend you get a copy soon (available here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Already-Gone-Book,6131,224.aspx). It is based on research that was done concerning those 85% of our children who walk away from church after high school or college and don’t come back.

    There is a lot that I could say on this topic that we have experienced first hand, but I won’t go into all of those details. There are many issues that are intricately woven together here. One of the biggest problems I have seen is that in many churches there is no one who is teaching the parents what their responsibility is and how to practically walk that out. In many cases parents depend on the church to fix the problems with their children or to lead them to Christ. They bring the children to church and the church thinks the children need to have fun or they won’t come back. Theology is watered down, children equate the Bible “stories” they hear at church with other “story” books they read at home or school, and children don’t believe the Bible is true when it says that God created the world and all that is in it in 6 literal 24 hour days because their teacher told them they evolved from apes over millions of years.

    One last thing and I’ll get off my soapbox 🙂
    The announcement was made to our congregation one Sunday a.m. that 6th grade children were now going to be part of the youth group. I personally think that is too young, but the clencher was in the reason the change was being made….because the public school system is set up this way! Why would God’s people make decisions to do things the way the world system does them? I am reminded that we all need to be on our faces before the Lord interceding for our churches and our leadership if we are going to turn this around.
    Blessings,
    Missy

  4. “Our kids get the Word every day—just a Bible, just a discussion, no ostentation.”

    Wonderful, Belinda! I agree.
    The Gospel is timeless and relevant to all. It does not need to be gussied up, tuned up, or revved up. It is supernatural (alive) and the Truth! A wonderful “tool” in the hands of those that know how to apply it.
    We are dealing with “Sunday School” issues here with my eleven-year-old that has just entered the youth department at our church (sigh). She is sitting with all ages of teenagers clear up to Freshmen and Sophomores in college for their opening sermon from the youth pastor. Is it wrong that I feel my daughter is getting more exposed to the world in church (Sunday School) than anywhere else??? I’m frustrated to say the least!
    Thanks once again for a thought provoking post.
    Blessings, Julie

  5. Wow! Being raised in the Quaker faith where there is only music on Christmas I have avoided churches that were loud and media filled. We have had issues with our Sunday school, but nothing like that. My kids that are in Sunday school are younger than the age you are talking about. Our children have bible study with the Bible (they fill in worksheets on the study), a craft project, praise and worship with a guitar, and snack time. I did not realize how fortunate we are in our current Sunday school program. I am so glad you are were you are able to give so much to children who really need you.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

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