Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sunday School and Establishing a Faith Foundation

Establishing a foundation of faith for our son is a top priority for my husband and me. Parents really only have a short time in their child's life where they are the chief influences. Most parents who are attempting to establish a faith foundation are a part of a faith community and consider Sunday School and Vacation Bible School to be important parts of this foundation. Having been a youth minister I have planned and have been a part of many different aspects of Christian education and have always found Sunday School to be an interesting aspect of Christian communities. On a whole I have always been against Sunday School when  occurs during worship service. When a pastor friend of mine shared the article I Wonder IF Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids on Facebook today it got me thinking about the "issue" of Sunday School again.

I wanted to share the article because it inspires good questions to ponder.

  • Is Sunday School really doing good things for our children or is it setting them up to see the Bible as a story rather than as the word of God? 
  • Does Sunday School only teach our children to "be good" so that God will bless them? 
  • The bigger question for me however is: does Sunday School really prepare our children to live by the word, teach them valuable skills for continued self study/spiritual growth, and build a foundation and familiarity with worship? 
Although. I do not agree with all of the theology in this article I do wonder about the negative affects Sunday School may have on our kids. I will also admit that I struggle with the idea of Vacation Bible School (VBS) as well. I will explore these topics further below but first here is the article:

I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids posted on Beliefs of the Heart 

My Personal Reflections on the Topic:

My personal faith journey did not include attending Sunday School or V.B.S. I can remember going to Sunday School a handful of times when I was a kid but I almost always attended services with my mom and grandma. I went to and was active in youth group in my teen years. Summer church camps were a huge part of my faith experience and journey both as a teen and as an adult (I will also add that I met my husband at church camp). When I was in college I was a part of the United Methodist campus ministry which also led to my becoming a youth minister for most of college. I did go through a time of seeking an exploration in college and can admit that I was not a professing Christian for a short time in college before I became a youth minister but I think this period of questioning was what strengthened my faith. Ironically, during my questing phase I did not stop attending functions with my faith community. They were still my foundation in terms of community and support. Some of them may not even know I went through this phase.

When I was a youth minister I remember being really shocked at the expectation that I was to teach Sunday School during worship service so that the youth had "something they could connect to on Sunday morning". I was really surprised by this attitude. I was also confused, as teenagers, I felt they should be able to be in worship, especially if they had gone through confirmation. Many of those youth never attended worship, they only attended Sunday School. Their whole lives they had never learned to sit through worship. It felt uncomfortable and awkward to them. They were unsure of what was supposed to happen or what was expected from them. I know many churches create "contemporary" services to "hook" the young people but I have to be honest; I think our kids have a bigger problem than music with worship. I think our kids don't know how to worship. I think they don't feel comfortable in worship. Granted there are many different ways to worship but one has to have plenty of exposure to various forms of worship in order to find one that feels right for them. If we are sending our children off to Sunday School, how are they going to know this?

I realize that many churches have problems with children in worship. They worry about children being disruptive or distracting. To this I say: they will never learn how to behave in worship if they are never there! We shouldn't be surprised that young adults lose faith and stop attending church. They haven't been attending church, they have been going to Sunday School. Of course worship feels uncomfortable for all intents and purposes it is a new experience for them. They may know their parents have been in the sanctuary worshiping but they haven't experienced their parents worshiping. If they are not with you, you are not teaching them by example. Children need to see you do it in order to learn it as an example.

If Sunday School's purpose is to keep the kids occupied while the adults worship we are doing our children a great disservice. The curriculum being taught may be the least of our worries. As parents it is our job to teach our children to love and worship God. Sending them off to Sunday School is asking someone else to teach them these things.

While we are on the subject of curriculum I might say that it is very important that as parents we know how the Bible is being taught to our children and what they are being taught about the Bible. If we are sending them to Sunday School and not talking to them about what they learned we are creating a separation between our faith and our children's faith. Were your children taught the same theology you want them to learn? Was the story over simplified or presented in a Comic Book hero style? Did your child understand the lesson and how to apply the lesson to their everyday life? These are the kind of questions we should be asking when we pick our kids up from Sunday School.

Recently, I was talking to a friend who was telling me about the VBS program she sent her 11 year old child to this summer. The group he was in was named "The Goliath Men". This struck me as odd. I asked her why they had that name? Did the boys pick the name or was is assigned to them? Do they know who Goliath is? This made her curious so she asked her child and he asked his group leader. All the groups were named after popular roller coasters because the theme of VBS was Facing your Fears with God. To be fair I did not attend this VBS or talk to any of the leadership at the event; but I was really flabbergasted and a little upset with this explanation.

This seems harmless I know but to me VBS and church activities should be a time when kids get to LIVE IN THE WORD because all the rest of the week they live in the world. I would never want my son thinking that Goliath was cool. Goliath was an egotistical bully and an enemy of Israel. David, however, was a youth who used a child's toy to conquer Goliath. David used brains over brawn and faced his fear, trusting that God had his back (1 Samuel 17: The Message Version). I personally don't care if my son can name a single roller coaster. I do, however care that he can name the ordinary people in the Bible who did great things when they trusted in God's master design and will for their lives.

 While Sunday School and VBS may be a time for children to relate to God on their level, it is important that we as parents continue the conversation and lessons being taught to them at church. Building a faith foundation does not happen only on Sunday morning, it happens everyday all day long. We build it by setting examples for them in our actions and words. We build it in our conversations with them, the songs we sing, and the books we read to them. We build it by teaching them to worship, to pray, and to praise. We build it by doing it with them, answering their questions honestly, and letting them know that we too have questions.

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