Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sunday School??

So what is the point of Sunday School? In 1780 Robert Raikes and Thomas Stock established the first Sunday school for the poor and orphaned in Gloucester in 1780 (there was Sunday school before this, however Raikes, and Stock are recognized as the originators) the purpose was to, “Teach reading, writing, arithmetic and catechism to the 'deserving' poor (McGill University).” In less than a hundred years the number of kids attending Sunday school rose from 200,000 to 2,000,000.
Why did Sunday school do so well? Because it met a basic need of society at that time. “The Sunday schools caught on quickly and were effective because they were simple, became a diversion for the children, and a means for parents to socially elevate the family as a whole. They were often also a means of education for adults, who occasionally attended the schools; children were actively encouraged to take lessons and books home to share with their parents. The Sunday school also became an important hub of social interaction for a class of children and parents who were rapidly moving away from small, close-knit, rural communities to large, over-populated, urban centres. Lastly, the schools taught catechism to a population that, until that time, only learned it via a rote memorization system with the priest reciting the Lord's Prayer one line at a time, once a week, during the service (McGill University).”

Sunday school was a success because, it gave poor kids something to do, it educated, and gave whole families a time of social interaction.

Another purpose for Sunday school was to give children something to do. Sunday was often the only day that these children didn’t have to work, and as a result the streets were crowded with kids who were busy fighting and swearing. So Sunday school was an evangelistic tool used by laypeople to reach out to the non-Christians.

Clearly our world has changed since the industrial revolution, which begs the question what about Sunday school today? Clearly we are an extremely educated society where every child has the opportunity to learn how to read and write. We have hundreds of programs that teach kids about God, and Sunday school is certainly no longer a place where parents and kids interact together on a social level with other people. So the old goals of Sunday school no longer apply to us today. Are we beating a dead horse by trying to keep Sunday school alive? I believe that as long as we keep Sunday school the way it is today the answer is yes.

It is interesting to see that once youth are of the age where their parents let them decide if they want to go or not many of them stop coming until they are married and have kids of their own to bring. We force our kids to come until they can choose for themselves and then they stop, until they have kids, and then they force their kids to come until… To me this is a pretty fair warning sign that Sunday school no longer meets the need that it used to. There are churches all over North America who are seriously questioning the value of Sunday school, as they should.

Does this mean that there is no longer a need for a program on Sunday mornings for kids? No, but I think that it is time for a radical shift. I have trouble seeing how a ministry that is hurting across North America is bringing God glory. It seems to me that when a ministry is on track and bringing people to Christ there is excitement and growth, it has been a long time since I’ve heard those two words used in the same sentence as the words Sunday school.

McGill university


Brad and Karla said...

AMEN!!! i agree with you with my whole heart. kids don't want to come because a) it is early, b) their parents make them and c) another day of SCHOOL!! so what can we do? that is the big question. when you find out, let me know. thanks

Matt Giesbrecht said...

okay, so here's my bit:
This specific information had no real place in my knowledge before, however, I am not the least bit surprise. Here's why:
During my third semester at Providence College, which I've just completed, I had many, many talks about the post-modern church (a.k.a. "the emerging church" as it is becoming more commonly known as)and the topics that pertain to it.
One specific and obviously HUGE topic in regards to the emerging church is that of relativism. For anyone oriented with any sociological studies, you'll know that this is the mind set that there is no absolute truth. Just the truth of each individual matters, no matter the differences of others. We see great evidence of this in our country this very minute. You must know about the controversial issue of homosexual marriage and/or clerical ordination inside parliament and Canadian church denominations.
What do relativists say? "What's true for you is true for you, and that's alright. My truth is what's right for me." Is that what Christ taught during his three year ministry on this earth? "I am the the way, the truth, and the life..." Jn. 14:6. What is it that the Scriptures say about homosexuality? It is detestable-Lev. 18:22, an indecent act- Rom.1:27, and is disallowed in the kingdom of God- 2 Cor. 6:9.
Is it just people outside of the church who claim relativist values? No. In North America today the church has within its own walls people who claim that everyone, no matter of faith or creed, is saved and will enter Heaven (the belief in Universalism). A large handful of Christian biblical scholars interpret scripture passages regarding homosexuality as a matter of exclusive Jewish Law, or an act tied to some sort of idol worship. These people called "Queer Theorists", being biblical scholars are, I believe, very influential in the church today.
These Christians are picking and choosing which part of Scripture to believe, and the non-Christians choose what seems beneficial to them alongside. It's no wonder the Church in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing steadily.
So, regarding the situation in Sunday Schools today, here's a question: Would you WANT to go to Sunday School and learn about this wonderful God, this Great Lord, merciful Saviour and Redeemer who loves you and wants a relationship with you, but on the condition of HIS ABSOLUTE TRUTH -- when you have the freedom to CHOOSE which truth you are associated with?

Nathan said...

I sort of understand your point, however, I am not arguing that we should change the message of Sunday School. I believe that it is our responsibility as Christians to bring light into the darkness of this world. My point is that Sunday School (the way it is now) no longer effectively ministers to the lives of children. You said that there are “Christian relevists” who say? "What's true for you is true for you, and that's alright." I have bit of a problem with the way you painted every one with the same breath. There are many Christian pastors and professors and lay people who are struggling to find a relevant voice in society. These are people who strongly believe in Jesus and believe that He is the way and the truth and the life. However, they realise that the Church no longer effectively ministers to the world around them and so they are seeking ways to minister to the people around them in new and creative ways (the guys from xxxchurch are a prime example) It is true that there are some people who have abandoned the search for truth and have sought to make the church relevant by closing their eyes to sin and letting people pick and chose what they want from the Bible. However, this is neither what I am suggesting nor what a lot of post-modern Christians are doing. I would consider myself to be a post-modern Christian and I can only hope that when I look back at my ministry I will be able to say that I was a relevant youth pastor who found effective ways to minister to the lives of youth. In the same way I hope that we can find new ways to change the format of Sunday school so that we can more effectively bring the gospel message to those kids.

Matt Giesbrecht said...

Understood! Great point. I've forgotten that my subtleties may come off a bit strong. I hope you know that I wasn't trying to paint all Christians the same way.
Yes, within the post-modern church there are many (if not most) who have an authentic love for Christ and have visions to bring His light into the darkness in this world. That is the emerging church. Change in methods, not message, is how it must deal with post-modern thought. I was merely giving the example of some a major societal issue that is at the Church's front door in this culture.
I hope someday any true follower of Christ can say that they have been a relevant servant of the Word. In this new value system it is essential to do Sunday School differently so that any relativist thinking can be replaced by God's Absolute truth.Thanks for your words, Nate!