It wasn’t until college that the scales finally dropped from my eyes and I began to see the Bible as one large story of God’s grace and redemption through Jesus; a story that spans the Old and New Testaments and is interwoven throughout every character, every story, every chapter and every book of the Bible.
Before that point, the Bible was (to me) a large collection of different stories with important moral lessons. I saw a common theme of God’s forgiveness and mercy, but I didn’t really see how everything pointed toward Christ and his atoning death on the Cross and his glorious resurrection.
I don’t necessarily blame my church or Sunday school teachers. I think it wasn’t really until I truly accepted Christ into my life that the Holy Spirit gave me “eyes to see” and helped me connect all the dots that I’d been missing before.
I can, however, say that in many Sunday school classes I attended as a child, the point of the lesson was often a moral one, not the gospel of God’s grace.
Tony Jones at Patheos.com writes on this very topic. He responds to a post on Beliefs of the Heart which mourns the Sunday school lessons that teach little ones to be “good little boys and girls.” These lessons, says Jones, completely miss the point.
Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum. You’ll find:
Abraham was faithful, and God made him the father of a nation. So be faithful like Abraham.
Joseph was a good little boy (unlike his “bad” brothers), and God made him Prime Minister of Egypt. So be good like Joseph.
David had a pure heart (unlike his brothers), and God made him King of Israel. So have a pure heart like David.
Esther was an obedient girl. God made her Queen of Persia and she saved God’s people. So be obedient like Esther.
Finally, if we fail to be good, Jesus will forgive us (a “P.S.” tacked onto the end).
What’s so bad about these Sunday school lessons?
Nothing really. Except that they lie about God, they lie about these “heroes of the faith,” they lie about the Bible, and they lie about the gospel. Apart from that, they are pretty good. Oh, they also create “younger brother” rebels and “older brother” Pharisees.
Is the gospel our central theme, or is it a “PS” tacked onto the end?
Is this your experience with Sunday school? How to we avoid simply giving moral lessons, and instead give our children weekly reminders of their brokenness and Jesus’ gift of redemption?
Whitney Hopler shares a few great tips for this. In her article, “How to Keep Your Youth Ministry Focused on Jesus,” she urges teachers to keep the focus on Jesus:
Break down misconceptions that kids in your youth ministry have about Jesus so they won’t be deceived and will be ready to hear and respond to the truth about Him. Teach kids critical thinking skills. Encourage them to ask questions rather than just accepting concepts they encounter about Jesus, holding those concepts up to the light of biblical truth to see whether or not they’re reliable.
I’m convinced that children grow up and leave the church in part because they’re not being confronted with their true condition- that they are desperately broken and in need of Savior. Instead, we’re often taught that if we just pray and ask and try hard enough to be brave like David or obedient like Esther, then we will be a good “Christian” approved by God and given a ticket to heaven. When we teach this, we’re setting ourselves and our kids up for failure. We can never be good enough. None of our “heroes” in the Bible were good enough. We all need Jesus. We all need God’s grace. We all need the gospel.
What do you think? Does Sunday school stink? What has your (and your children’s) experience with Sunday school looked like?
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.