Friday, November 23, 2007

Back To Basic, Please!

For years the educational establishment has been trying to define the basics of education. In our state of Washington they have instituted learning “benchmarks” and “grade level expectations” to provide consistency in the educational process.
It is a difficult, long, and arduous task to define and implement standards in education. What exactly should children learn and at what age? What is the process for learning? What processes are most effective? What is the evidence of learning? How do you know that you have made a positive impact on student learning?
These questions are paramount in teacher education.
Now, shift to Sunday school education.
I was amazed recently, while teaching an elementary Sunday school class, at the variety of answers to standard questions regarding God and faith.
When asked who Jesus is, students responded with answers ranging from “the son of God” to “God himself” to a “disciple” to “an angel” to “a nice guy in the Bible.”
When asked how the earth was created students will explain with answers from “in six days” to “millions of years ago” and every number in between.
When asked how to get to heaven, they replied “be nice” or “be saved” or “believe in God” or “treat others as you want to be treated.”
When asked what heaven is like, they describe “a place where Jesus lives,” or “where the angels are” or “a place where dead people are.”
When asked about the Bible I was told from “it’s the word of God” and “it’s a history book” to “it tells us how to run our life” and “it’s a story book.”
When I ask how it was written, they tell me, “By God” or “By men” or “By Jesus” or “By Noah.”
The questions continued and the wide variety of answers amazed me.
This is a multi-age classroom in a small community church.
There are eight students ranging from 3rd grade to 5th grade. A couple of them are very theologically grounded, two are somewhat grounded, and the remaining four are all over the board with their concept of Christianity.
It reminds me, again, that the basics of Christianity are not being clearly digested by these students. Some of the answers they gave in regards to creation show the prevalence of the modern evolutionary push by public education and science. Some of the answers are straight out of misquoted Bible verses. Some probably come from discussions at Sunday school, and many come from television and movies. For example, I’ve heard almost as many quotes from the Simpsons as Bible verses.
All that aside, I wonder where the mark has been missed in their theological (church or home) experience.
Now, some will quickly answer that it is the job of the parent to make sure the dots of their Christian theology are connected, but I do not believe that.
In fact, I think many parents, particularly new Christians, struggle themselves with the basics of Christianity. The church as a whole may not be doing a very good job of teaching the basics to parents. How can we expect them to solely carry the weight of teaching their children? Back to the discussion.
In this Sunday school class, in which I’m the substitute teacher, I immediately look to the curriculum that is provided. On this particular Sunday I’m supposed to teach that God speaks to us from the Bible. That’s an interesting subject, I admit, but I’m concerned that they don’t understand the concept that Bible is the inspired, infallible, word of God. Without that basic understanding, how can they trust or believe that God speaks to them through the Bible?
So I ask them, “Do you know that the Bible was written by God?” A few of them give me knowing nods, the rest look skeptical.
I affirm that that is indeed the truth.
Then I ask them, “Do you know that the Bible is perfect- every word in it is the truth?”
Most of them now look blankly at me. So, instead of teaching the daily lesson, I head back to the basics.
I talk to them about the authors of the Bible, how they were inspired by God. We look though the books of the Old and New Testament and discuss the elements of the Bible. I tell them that no part of the Bible has been discredited. I talk to them about how the Bible has survived over time, in tact, and how recently it has been confirmed as authentic (ala The Dead Sea Scrolls.)
Then our time is up.
They leave with their crash course of Bible basics and I’m feeling not better, but worse.
What would they have learned today if I had stuck to the original game plan?
This leads me naturally to wonder where all the other gaps in their theology lay, then, of course, what should we be teaching them from week to week?
Even the simplest knowledge has to be learned one step at a time.
You have to crawl before you walk, learn letters sounds before you can read, add before you subtract.
Yet when it comes to Sunday school education we tend to skip around, teaching behavior based concepts, or take the Bible in chronological order (for which it is not written in, creating a hurdle for young minds as well.)
Wouldn’t it be better to get the basics down first? Shouldn’t we make sure that they understand a core of knowledge before we start teaching the nuances?
When I was a seventh grade teacher I had many students who were solid in their writing skills. They had consistent teaching and could write at or above grade level.
But about half of the class were making mistakes that they had learned along the way. For example, they weren’t sure when to use commas or used too many. They struggled to make complete and thoughtful sentences. Many couldn’t define the parts of a sentence or different types of writing. I always looked at my job as that of a ‘cleaner.’ I spent the entire year ‘cleaning up’ the mistakes of their past and pushing them towards concise, knowledgeable writing.
It felt good to repair the mistakes.
As a Sunday school teacher I have more urgency than a writing teacher. I don’t feel very good because I look at theological mistakes a missed opportunity for spiritual growth.
I don’t want them to learn the wrong theology, because I know that it will get in the way of their journey with God. That’s a problem.
So what are the basics that should be taught? When you boil it all down, what do they need to know?
In a nutshell, here they are:
God created our world and everything in it.
Jesus is the son of God.
Jesus is perfect.
Jesus died on the cross for their sins.
Jesus wants to have a relationship with them.
Sin gets in the way of a relationship with God.
We ask for forgiveness to further our relationship with God.
Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
The greatest commandment is to love God, the second is to love others.
God gives each of us the opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
Prayer is a conversation with God.
Faith is believing in what we cannot see.
We go to church to be with other followers of Jesus, to worship and learn about God.
The Bible is the infallible word of God.
You can only receive Salvation through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection .
Jesus wants to give you salvation and have an eternal relationship with you.
You can receive the gift of salvation by asking Jesus into your life.
All the rest are just (wonderful) nuances of these core concepts. They matter indeed, but without the basics they are not connected.
So, what does a ‘basics’ program look like?
If you are creating your own program, then use these concepts as your basic subjects or weekly goals. Teach one each week, for example, or one a month. Use Bible stories and verses as the examples to back up and examine these concepts. Repeat them often and find as many different ways as possible to explain them.
If you are using a created curriculum, then take a hard long look at the goals and scope and sequence to find these concepts. If they are sporadic or vague, then how can you make them clear? Can you repeat them more often or expand on your current program to incorporate them?
If you cannot, then find another program.
Of course I’m biased. I’m a basics kind of girl. I believe in the basics. I’ve spent years teaching and designing a ‘basics first’ Sunday school curriculum. But that doesn’t mean I have all the answers. I don’t know the perfect way to teach every concept because I don’t believe there is only one way to teach well. As I’ve stated in others writings, inspiration and passion are critical to the teaching process. Therefore, I believe you can make other programs and curriculums work while teaching the basics.
But honestly, it does bother me that huge holes in Sunday school programs are predictably creating chasms of theological inconsistencies.
Finally, I believe that anyone who is inspired to teach the basic concepts of Christianity will be wildly successful in winning hearts, minds, and souls for God, and at the end of the day that is all that matters.

The Way God Works

Get out of God’s Way!

I love to sing; I always have. As a child I sang in screams from our back porch. I held concerts in the bathtub for my collected toys and dolls.
I performed in the living room for my family and sang into tape recorders to judge my talents.
By the time I got into junior high school my mother apparently had decided that I should be in “formal training” in the junior high choir class. It was a good class which taught me the basics of music and singing, but in reality the teacher was a band professional, not a singer, and they had no one to do the job, so she persisted.
There was another good singer in my choir class. I soon learned that her voice was “exceptional” and mature. She received all the solos and special appearances, I was relegated to the Alto section and stayed there- forever.
By the time I went to high school I was a pretty confident singer. I sang at church, in talent shows, and even did a fair rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at a dance competition (to kick off the official festivities.)
My other talents, of acting, writing, leading, and teaching were never realized nor encouraged as a child or teenager.
Indeed well into my college years I really believed my one true talent remained as a singer. I dreamed of being on a worship team, writing and producing music with other talented musicians, and making my mark in that arena.
I was wrong.
Of course I had hints along the way. I never really developed as a singer. It was a lot of work without gratification. Not that I’m afraid of work, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I should.
And then there was the emotional factor. It is difficult for me to make through a really good worship rendition of Amazing Grace without crying. In fact, music is a powerful element in my life that moves me constantly, but how could I sing if I was crying all the time? Fighting back tears when listening to good music is almost a daily ordeal for me!
Then one day I had performed on a small Children’s cd for our church, and to my horror, granted I had a terrible cold when it was taped, I sounded ridiculous. Well, not completely absurd, my kids enjoyed it, but really, it wasn’t pretty. I was embarrassed and ashamed as the life long belief that I could sing was dashed. What was my mother thinking encouraging me all these years? What had I missed by focusing exclusively on singing? Why hadn’t I tried other arenas like art? Or writing? Or leadership?
I was so upset on that day of realization that I raked a pile of gravel for two hours to get it out of my system.
Since then this fact has burned me, and I still struggle with its acceptance, but I’m happy to say that I have accepted the fact that I like to sing, but I’m not a singer.
God gives each one of us talents. He designed our talents for our specific lives, culture, time and place. He wove your talents into you with a particular purpose, and it is your job to get out of his way and let him lead you down the path that you belong.
It is hard getting out of God’s way. It is hard trusting that he knows you so well that he didn’t give you talents and gifts that you will not enjoy. He gave you brilliance in arenas that he knows will move you, enthrall you, embrace you, inspire you, and inspire others. Your talents are so special that they can’t be discovered by anyone but you, and only under the tutelage of God himself.
This is not a lecture on listening to God, this is encouragement that you were designed and your talents are there, you just have to find them.
Easy enough, you say, I know what I’m good at, where I excel. I’ve figured that out!
But have you really? Finding your gifts is more than taking inventory of your skills. You may be wonderful with money management, but do you enjoy it? You may be a leader in your community because you can organize, but does this really lift you spiritually? Is it spiritually gratifying, or is it something you’ve simply mastered through education, experience, or both?
When I’m talking about gifts I’m talking about those desires that God has imprinted in your DNA.
For example, I’m a great teacher, I enjoy it, it is gratifying, but what I’m gifted in is the ability to create and implement ideas for God. I can conceptualize and visualize ideas to further his kingdom. What I had to learn was that God had bigger plans for me than my personal, emotional desires or beliefs.
For example, I know talented singers and composers. When I watch them work I am amazed. They are lifted to someplace holy with God, like a communion. I can see it in their faces, they are walking hand in hand with God through the talent he gave them.
I also know singers like myself, they enjoy the process, but it is not a calling.
I know really good teachers. These individuals have teaching imprinted in their DNA. They are obsessed with the art and craft of teaching, with student achievement and improvement.
I’m interested in teaching, I enjoy the process, but I’m not lifted spiritually when I teach (although I’m a skilled teacher!) What elevates me is creating effective systems in learning. I thrive on results, clarity, and encouraging others to become the best teachers alive! When I’m doing that I’m really focused, intense, invigorated, and, might I dare say, inspired by God himself. It’s completely different than anything I’ve every tried.
If I had learned the lesson of getting out of God’s way and letting him work in my life, then perhaps I could have achieved much more by now.
Getting out of God’s way is a tricky business of trusting. I think about this analogically and visualize God and me struggling to be the leader on a long path that is winding through hills and valleys. When I decide that I’m the leader of my life, then I push him back to second place. He has to follow along as my life unfolds in my own direction. Although he is always ready to put me back on track, he’s making adjustments and understanding my struggles, I would be so much better off of I would just get out of his way and let him lead me where I should go.
For example, long ago I should have admitted and accepted that I was nothing more than an adequate singer, yet gifted tremendously in other arenas.
In retrospect I can see clearly my gifts and how I’ve bumbled along the path trying to take the lead. I have ignored the instruction and prodding that God has given me in regards to my own strengths and have pushed and pursued avenues that yielded only mediocre results.
So, how do you find your own strengths?
How do you know if what you are doing is God directed or self desired?
I could suggest the predictable route- pray, study, listen, act, and discover, these are all good ideas and should be pursued, but chances are it isn’t that easy.
God does not (always) hit you over the head one day with a list of gifts. It would be simple if he did.
Instead I believe it is trial and trial and trial (there are no errors in trying.)
When I was supervising student teachers I found that they often did not understand where they were really truly effective. They might initially believe that a second grade classroom was the perfect spot for them, but once they started teaching they would be unhappy. This was usually solved by changing the grade level. Teachers, depending on their personalities, are uniquely suited towards different grade levels, the maturity and challenges of their students often meshing (or not meshing) with their style. Finding the grade level that suits them is the first step towards success. However, until they stepped in front of kids and started interacting, it was useless to predict where they would be effective. I once told a third grade teacher that she belonged in a junior high because of her quick and sharp wit and humor. She was also too tense and brazen for younger children but still wanted a personal connection with the kids. She immediately switched into a 8th grade classroom and was wildly successful. She still teaches there today and is highly regarded as a one of the top special education teachers in her district. However, if she had never worked in the third grade classroom, she would not understand her true talents.
It is quite like that when you are trying to identify your strengths.
It is good to try as many different ideas as possible, and when you hit upon the one (or two, or three, or four) that are your gifts, you’ll know it.
This was once described to be as a euphoric experience, where God is right there with you whispering, “See, this is what I had planned all along!” Excitement and exhilaration, contentment and exhaustion are all combined together to create a fulfillment for you.
I asked some friends if they had ever had a moment like this. It took them a long time to find it, but with prodding one eventually admitted that he had this feeling while writing a small group study from a book that had personal inspired him. He termed it as an “obsession for completion.”
His wife said that her “best day” was when she finished a very large decorating project and was able to see the beauty in the space. She said she felt truly peaceful.
Yet another told me that he feels closest to God when he is fixing broken things, like furniture, cars, appliances. His sense of time slips away and he is in a spiritual space with God.
Another, a teacher I know, told me that she is euphoric when working on business plans, funny that she is a teacher instead (and a really good one at that!)
I guess the point is that each one of us is unique, created by God for his purposes, and if we are willing to let him take the lead instead of fighting for our own desires, then he can use us for his ultimate purpose and our ultimate fulfillment.
I can’t leave this subject without mentioning my daughter. At six she loves horses, ballet, singing, drawing, math and dolls. She’s pretty typical and as precious as can be. As her mom I encourage her in every activity that she’s involved in. I help her diversify her interests to help her find her true calling.
This is tough, because she’s easy going and loves everything, but last spring she was waiting back stage to perform in her dance studios bi-annual recital (it is really a huge and impressive production.)
I, of course, was helping her group and waiting nervously with her.
I looked down to make sure she was mentally ready to perform and found my six year old calm, cool, and reserved. She watched the others dancers intently. While the other dancers squirmed she seemed to be lost in thought and contemplation.
“Are you nervous?” I asked her.
She gave me a quizzical look.
“Are you excited?” I then asked her.
Her whole face lit up with such vibrancy that I was started.
“Mom, I am so happy, I feel like I can fly right now! I want this feeling to stay forever!” she said to me just as we needed to move them into position to go onstage. Tears welled in my eyes. This was something I needed to remember. This was empowering to her, and although she may never be a world class dancer or even pursue it to her adulthood, this is a gift to her that she should pursue. God will meet her there and take her where he wants her to go.
Just as I hope for my daughter, I hope you will take the chances to find, accept and pursue you gifts. The ones that God himself has created in you and for you.

How Kids Learn

One of the first classes you take in any teacher education program is the history of education. It recaps the last hundred years of the state of education and how it has “evolved” to the current system that most public schools embrace today. This modern methodology includes a division of children based on age, not ability or learning styles.
It is closely modeled after a manufacturing paradigm which came from the modern industrial age.
Although many schools and teachers have tried to infuse individual learning styles into their classes and lessons, the common ground of teaching children together as a group, teaching to a middle ability, teaching a broad range of disconnected elements remains a constant.
There are aspects of this system that work; there are parts that fail.
For example, there are children who learn well in groups, they are of average ability and talent, and they think abstractly.
But most kids fall out of that mold and into a world that needs individual nuances, specialized instruction, connection, and linear thoughts. Therefore, in an industrial model, most kids struggle or are unhappy.
Now take a look at child psychology. A child psychologist will tell you that every child is different. Every child learns in a different way. Every child has different needs. Every child has a different ability. Every child is unique. Every child has potential, and every child can learn. How then does this fit with the industrial model? Said plainly, it does not fit.
So, now that we have our basic information covered, how do kids learn?
There are specific rules you can follow as a teacher to ensure that kids are learning. Here are the basic ones.
1. Small bites are best. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Teach less and teach it well. Don’t overload your students with information. For a typical one hour class you should only be teaching one or two points.
2. Linear is better than abstract. Learning takes place when you can connect the new idea with previous ideas or experiences. For example, if you are trying to teach about the empty tomb then your students must first learn about the death of Jesus. Before that, they have to understand who Jesus was. Consider yourself building a house, brick by brick, little by little your walls are constructed. Teaching in a linear manner, knowing what is first, second, and third is imperative.
3. Adequate reinforcement. The three “R”s of education are repeat, repeat, repeat. This does not mean dull drum recitation, but instead repeating weekly what you taught in the previous weeks (once again making that connection to what your students already know) then teaching and reinforcing the new concept or idea. I used to take dance lessons and my very patient coaches told me that to train my body and mind I would have to repeat the same movement over 60 times to transfer it from my short term memory to my long term storage. I fully agree. Repetition is the mother of education. If you want your students to remember a concept, then expect to repeat and reinforce the idea for weeks, months, or even years. Of course this can be a creative process, not a boring, tedious spectacle, but keep it at the forefront of your planning.
4. Never move on without checking for understanding. In education we call this point “assessment.” It is a fancy word that means that you need to make sure that your students have an understanding of a concept before adding to it. For example, if you want to teach your students that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, then you first have to decide if they understand the concept of sins, sinning, and how it separates us from God. That is the reason Jesus had to die on the cross, to bear our sins. So, check for understanding before you begin, to make sure your students are with you, then check that they understand the new concept. These “pre and post assessments” are easy, can be done with a simple question or a discussion, reminders, or activities. The hazard is that you will teach them something they cannot grasp because they didn’t understand the previous concept. Think about teaching like it is putting together a puzzle. You know what you want the final picture to look like, but it will take many separate pieces put together to get there. You can pick whatever piece you want to start with, you can do them in whatever order you want, but make sure they are all connected and your students understand how they relate to one another.
5. Set realistic goals. Like your puzzle, make sure you know what the end result will look like. At the beginning of every year, every quarter, or unit, map out exactly what you want to teach in a simple list. Your big goal should be on top, little weekly goals adding to your big end goal. Be realistic about your goals being mindful of the ages and abilities of your students. For example, let’s say you want to teach your students about the Trinity. That is a big subject, but at the end of six weeks you want them to understand what the Trinity is; that’s your big goal. Map it out: week one, teach about the nature of God. Week two, teach about Jesus being God and man. Week three, teach about the Holy Spirit being that part of God that guides our worldly life. Week four, teach how they are connected. Week five teach how God planned it this way. Week six recap 1-5. This subject is obviously appropriate for older kids, not preschoolers. It is a difficult concept to grasp and understand. There are many different ways you could teach this concept, many different activities to make it fun and creative. There is no right or wrong way to teach anything, as long as you know the kids are learning. Setting goals will keep you focused on the learning and pace your program appropriately.
6. Make personal connections. No child will learn anything if it is not connected to who they are. Furthermore, children learn best if they feel a personal connection to their teacher. Both of these connections should be your goal when teaching. Tell your students how the concept relates to their lives. Let the children know that you enjoy being with them. Spend quality time talking to and learning about your students. Connect with their parents on more than a superficial level.
7. Learning by doing, not by listening. Perhaps the most important factor in the learning process is the input procedure: how did the student receive the information. Studies prove that students learn least by listening and most by doing. Whenever possible, teach your students by having them work through a “hands on” fun activity. This takes considerable time, preparation, and thought, but it’s worth it. The good news is that there are many, many books written on creative activities that you can draw from. If you don’t consider yourself a particularly creative person, then borrow from the library or hunt on Amazon to find texts that will guide the creative juices of your classroom. There are so many ways to teach one concept. Think about what you enjoy doing. Consider your own talents and passions. Take advantage of the talents in your church. Whatever you do, don’t lecture to you students and expect them to listen, absorb, then live out your message. Their brains simply aren’t wired that way.
Particularly interesting, and on this same subject, is that all children learn in different ways. Some children learn best through music and dance. Others enjoy games and puzzles. Others thrive on art and crafts. You can find information on these different kinds of learners by exploring “learning styles” on the internet. You will find ideas for reaching all of your students according to their own abilities if you simply search for answers.
Before you plan any lesson, think to yourself, what is the best way to teach this? What is the most creative way to teach this? What will my students remember about this? There is no one way to teach anything. When a teacher gets creative, the learning really begins.
These seven primary concepts on learning should propel your weekly lessons. No teacher is ever perfect; no class is ever perfect, but keeping these principles in mind will make you a powerful and effective educator for Christ.

Apologetics and a Seven Year Old

Last night I had an intriguing conversation with a Christian. He’s a fairly new Christian; he accepted Christ into his life about two years ago.
But now he is questioning his faith, wondering about God and feeling alone. He asked me many questions which I answered truthfully and without hesitation.
He asked me how I knew for sure that there is only one true God. I answered drawing from Biblical history, prophesy, creation, personal experience, and the experience of others.
He asked me why other people choose other religions. I told him about the cultural differences, historical differences, political pressure, and of course the evil that entices us in our world.
He asked me what to do when he felt God was not with him. I told him to pray, listen, talk to other believers, read the Bible and I told him about Jesus’ thoughts on the subject.
It was a long conversation covering questions that most adults still struggle with. I was amazed at the level of interest, questioning, and introspection, particularly because he is only seven.
At the end of the night, he curled up and went to sleep telling me that his head was full.
I was able to entice one more fact into his mind before he drifted away: I assured him that I would never lie to him. I told him that I would always tell him the absolute truth about God and Jesus. He nodded and smiled and kissed me goodnight.
I was exhausted. I’ve never experienced a crash course in apologetics with my children; I never thought the appropriate time would present itself.
Instead, I decided years ago to whittle away at the elements of Christianity slowly infusing their lives with the truth of Jesus Christ at a relaxed and age appropriate pace. We talk about God often, teach them in Sunday school, approach every problem and daily hurdle from a Christian worldview, and pray together constantly.
Yet still, my son wonders and questions just like an adult.
He is saddened by friends who do not accept Jesus.
He is bothered by messages from the world that there is no God.
He is stumped by constant images of evolution and the origins of mankind.
He questions his religious decisions and feels the sting of failure when he sins.
These are all normal occurrences, I believe, given the world we live in and our current culture.
Yet it bothers me that at seven he is so affected. I want him to enjoy a carefree childhood without sorrow and sadness, yet I know that this is not completely possible.
I tried to understand why I was so shaken by the experience of teaching apologetics to my son. When I woke this morning I realized it bothered me because it crystallized the importance of teaching a child about God when they are young.
By seven my child’s worldview and belief in a God may not be set in stone, but it is certainly hardening fast. He has definite opinions and curiosity on the subject, questions and wonders about the “rightness” of his religion.
To wait until a child is older, more cognitively developed, or wiser I believe could be a fatal mistake.
Even in the preschool years the message that God is real, he created everything (including you,) and he loves you must permeate the lives of our children.
Sadly, these years are often neglected by churches as “too early” to begin this education.
A friend of my son’s, at six years old, announced that everything is God, including the trees, the air, and himself. That is what he learned at his church. He was confident that this was the absolute truth.
Now to undo the seeds that his church, family, and life have firmly planted in the soil of his mind will be quite an extraordinary accomplishment.
I find that disturbing, and challenging, at the same time.
Exactly how do we, as a church body, change the mind of a six year old without creating dissention regarding our blatant indoctrination? Or is indoctrination wrong? Jesus told us to tell others about him. He instructed his disciples to make “fishers of men.” But today it is not that easy with the politically correct dance we play with our non-Christian friends, family, and acquaintances.
Our society relishes its individuality and acceptance of all cultures and beliefs. For my son to tell his friend that he is wrong is frowned upon, perhaps not by me, but quite certainly by his family and church.
How then do we even approach this battle, because it is a battleground?
I think it is through love. God tells us that we will be known for our love, not by our persuasive abilities or coercion, as some would call our message, but by our love.
I told my son, then, to simply love his friend. I told him to enjoy being with his friend and have to fun together. I told him that God is a big God who will do the work, if he spends his time loving his friend.
I know I’m right, I know God is right. I know that Jesus Christ is the absolute truth in our world. I just pray that my son will know that too.

God Rocks!

Note to reader: God rocks! I’m so sick of dower and sad demeanor of Christians. Admittedly, Christians have problems too, but when it comes to your kids, can we just lay that all aside for a moment and let them know how awesome God is?
I walk into Sunday school classes where white walls and silence meet me. The place is empty and sparse; the people unenthusiastic and dull. The kids are bored and tired, and I want to scream, “Get a life!” or “Get some life!” The mere fact that you are alive and have been given the opportunity to spend time with kids should brighten your day!
Look around you. Everything that you see is of God including laughter, music, silliness, and fun. Why is this not in our Sunday school classes? Why does it have to be so serious? I highly doubt that Jesus was dower when he was relaxing with his disciples. I’ll bet he was a blast to be around, joking, laughing, enjoying his time. If this was not the case, then why did God create laughter? Why did he give children the ability to be silly and draw funny pictures?
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we learned that church is serious business, where fun is not tolerated because we have so much learning to do. I’ll say it loudly, this is wrong. It is time to put the fun back into Sunday school and you better get used to cleaning up messes because sometimes fun means making a mess.
After my children graduated from their preschool years and entered elementary ages, I was struck by how much they loved to get dirty. My son begged me to create the ultimate birthday party with one key ingredient: a food fight. At first I resisted thinking, of course, that parents won’t appreciate their children being covered with grape jelly and chocolate sauce. But after the idea sank in, I actually began to like the idea of hurling whip cream pies at my, sometimes obstinate and difficult, eight year old. It would be old fashioned fun, with an emphasis on getting as dirty and grimy as possible. I can’t wait! Of course I’ll warn the parents of his friends to bring disposable clothing, but hey, they are excited too (probably because it is taking place at my house not theirs!)
So meld this into Sunday school. Of course you don’t want to have food fights every Sunday, but what about games? Creativity? Music?
I’m convinced that the worst thing about Sunday school is that music they play. If there is music at all, it is usually kids worship songs from the late 1980’s or the new renditions with hollow twelve year olds singing to drumbeats of modern worship tunes.
Not that I’m a music snob, but my kids have been listening to grown up modern Christian music since they were born. One of the greatest mommy moments of my life was hearing my four and six year olds singing to a Newsboys song (if you don’t know who the Newsboys are, find out- it’s worth your time and travails on
Now my kids fight over which cd they can put in their own cd player and blast from their bedroom. They have started their own collection and swing outside while playing the likes of Toby Mac from my car stereo at full tilt.
Music is great! Music was created by God and one of the best ways to teach kids the fundamentals of the Christian faith. If you have yet to explore the vast array of Christian music out there, get to it! Then bring it into your Sunday school class.
As gifts for my friends I buy them music. I play it all the time, I even write to music as the mood enhances my skills.
Then there are games. My kids are game nuts. Everyday we have to play a game, and not the same game but new and improved games. They play card games, bored games, guessing games, and games they invent. This age is ripe for games, and I’ve learned (the hard way) that in Sunday school if you don’t have at least one game tucked away and waiting to lighten up a class or lesson you could be in trouble.
There are great books on games, hundreds of them, and they tap into a certain kind of kid who is competitive and adventuresome. In my class, games are always optional, and my quiet students help monitor the progress of the participants.
I, myself, am not a game person, I would rather just dance and create, but for my kids, I pull out all the stops. I figure that if Sunday school isn’t fun, then kids won’t want to come back, and that is wrong.
Creativity is messy, that’s the truth of it. Paints and play doe, paper Mache and science experiments tend to make a mess of the room, but they are worth it. Have you ever seen the eyes of a child light up when he watches his very own volcano explode? Have you marveled at the child who has created his own God inspired Picasso-esk picture? Have you created edible dirt with gummy worms and bugs then eaten it in front of kids before letting them in on your secret? Have you brought in baby chicks and puppies to let them marvel at God’s creations? The world of a kid is about exploring and creating, where is this in your Sunday school class? If you aren’t making a mess, at least once in a while, you aren’t living!
Finally, the lost art of humor in our Sunday school classrooms is down right depressing. We like to have silly contests in our house or when we are driving in the car. We see who can be the silliest, make the silliest face, say the silliest phrase, have the silliest idea. Usually the winner is the one who dives into the dark depths of silliness by talking about farts and eating dog poop, but that’s o.k. because they are kids and kids are supposed to be silly! It is the adults who forget what having fun is all about! Of course I’m not promoting conversations laced with fart jokes and dog poop references, but there are a plethora of funny joke books and fun stories to tell kids to get them laughing. I remember when I was a kid I thought Mad Libs were hysterical (Mad Libs are those books where you randomly pick nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. to create nonsense stories.) When I began teaching in a public junior high school class I brought Mad Libs in as a grammatical refresher. The kids were not amused, and neither was I. But if I use Mad Libs with my eight year old now, he is on the floor laughing and can’t get enough. For only a few short years can children laugh with abandon and enjoy the silliness of our world.
Life is supposed to be enjoyed. God created an abundance of things to eat and places to explore. He gave us creative minds and humor, ways to relax and get to know one another. Through music and fun God shows us how much he loves us, and we in turn can show our kids how much we love them.

Teach Less, Teach it Well

The first thing I notice about Sunday school curriculums is the vast amount of information in the teacher’s guide. I marvel at the multitude of activities. I’m astounded by the preparation time. I’m flustered by the endless points and suggestions. Not that I can’t fulfill all of the guided requirements, I’m a professional teacher after all, but I must ask why would they want me to teach so much? I only have a short time with these students. I already want to spend some of my hour getting to know them and building a Christian relationship. It is also important to me to pray with my kids, and ask for prayer requests. So, what’s the rush? Why do I have to cram so much information into these little people? Why must it all be taught in one session?
I’ve always struggled with this because the core Christian principal is the same: God loves you. He sent his son Jesus for you to die on a cross to save you from your sins. He wants a relationship with you and you can have this by asking him into your life. All the rest is frosting on this marvelous cake! So why are we so desperately determined to pummel children with endless lists, and facts, and non-related stories? Can’t we just relax and enjoy the experience knowing that if you remind your students weekly of that core principal, no matter what was taught that day, they will still understand their place in the great scheme of God’s vision.
Instead of buying into the overwhelming (and dare I say ineffective) Sunday school experience, I suggest and encourage you to try something different. Teach less, and teach it very well.
There is a lot to learn about Christianity. Indeed most of us that have been Christians for a long time admit that we are still learning about our Christian faith. We understand that core principal, but the details of the Be Attitudes, the names of Joseph’s brothers, the exact lineage of Noah, and the duties of the four horsemen are not always completely crystallized. As adults we weekly soak up information but don’t ever expect to know everything, the system wasn’t designed to be finite.
Our children really need to understand that core principal of God’s love for them, then instead of rushing through endless material, just pick one or two concepts you want to teach, and teach it well. Spend a month teaching the story of Ester. Spend two months teaching about Joseph. Spend three teaching about Moses. Spend ten weeks teaching the Ten Commandments. There’s no rush here. These are big, meaty stories with several different angles you can take to teach concepts. Take your time to really explore these learning stories.
For example, Ester was a queen who saved her people. The first week, read the story then teach that God uses his believers for a greater good. The next week, read the story again and teach that Ester was scared to confront evil, and it is o.k. to be scared. The next week review the story then teach that Ester trusted in God even when it was hard. The last week teach that Ester is a good example of our faith in action. Over a month you have really taught your students the story of Ester in a relatable manner. Now they know the story and they understand what it means to be like Ester.
Or work conceptually. Take a month to teach about prayer. Take two months to teach about creation. Take three months to teach about Sin and Forgiveness. Use the Bible stories to reinforce what you are trying to teach your students.
For example, for prayer, the first week teach them why we pray using the example of Moses. The second week, teach them how to pray using the example of the Lord ’s Prayer. The next week teach them when to pray using the example of Daniel. The last week teach them that God listens when we pray using the example of the Joshua. Over four Sundays you have taught your students the elements of prayer that will enable them to establish a good prayer habit full of meaning and connectedness.
You can teach these smaller concepts in a whole variety of ways. One Sunday you might read, explore, and discuss, then next week you can creatively recreate a Bible scene. One week you may use props or puppets, the next week make inferences and predictions. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel, I just know that teaching less is more effective. Use your extensive teacher’s guide to give you ideas for bringing your concept to life and then of course, follow your passion.
Do you prefer teaching through music or drama? Do you enjoy building or creating things? Are you crafty or do you love science experiments? Whatever your passion, use this, and the ideas provided to you, to make your teaching effective. Remember you are teacher, not a babysitter; it is your job to teach your students thoroughly using the talents God has given you.
Once you have decided on a clear concept to teach, and the method you will use to relay it, you will need to add one more element: making it relevant. No concept, no matter how important, will remain with a child if it does not relate to their life in some manner. You can teach a child about Ester, but if you don’t make Ester’s life and lessons somehow applicable to the child, then she becomes nothing more than an interesting ‘story’ that may or may not have happened long ago.
Every lesson in the Bible, every character, every verse has a reason for being there. God himself ordained every word in that book, and when teaching it you must consider the purpose. What does God want to teach us from Paul’s journeys? What are we supposed to understand about Jesus from the recount of him calming the seas? Why are we told about Job’s struggles? Every verse is a teaching moment, but you have to be able to relate it to your students’ lives.
Paul had a hard life, your students may have a hard life. Jesus calmed the seas proving once again he is God- the God that loves your students and wants a relationship with them. Job struggled, but God renewed his life, God will never leave you even when he seems far away. Everything in the Bible can and does relate to the lives of your students, and you need to be the one to make these connections with them.
Now a word about Bible verses. It is important to memorize Bible verses. God uses these verses to remind you of truths, comfort you in times or trouble, direct you in paths he has chosen. However, the concept of teaching less, but teaching it well also applies to verses. I understand that I am now treading on hallowed ground, yet any child development specialist will tell you that repetition, particularly in the early grades, is the most effective way to teach a child. Reading a reciting a verse a week, with no repetition or reinforcement outside of the classroom is fruitless. The verse is applied to a short term memory category in the brain, and is never transferred to the long term memory storage. I guarantee you that if you expect your students to memorize a verse a week, your result will be dismal. If you decide to teach less, but teach it well, then pick a relevant verse, and repeat it over several weeks, a few times each Sunday.
Some parents will take the verse home and make their children memorize it, but this phenomenon is becoming less regular with busy schedules and overburdened workloads. I encourage you to take up the cause of memorizing verses, and take your time doing it. A child who leaves the Children’s program with 20 solid verses over a few years is much more equipped than a child who leaves with none. There is no verse memory quota in the Bible.
So, choose some verses that relate to the concept you are trying to teach, and those that speak to you. Talk about them and what they mean with your students. Memorize them with your students and repeat them often. Post them, one at a time, on your classroom wall, then revisit them often when you have moved onto the next verse. Remind students that it is important to memorize the word of God and remain positive, even if you don’t care for the practice.
You will undoubtedly be met with resistance to teach less, but teach it well. That will be frustrating, but in several years when these children leave your care, you want them to understand the core principal of Christianity: Jesus loves them and wants to be part of their lives. Your success is not measured on how many facts and figures they can recite, but on how well they understand their role in the grand plan God has for their lives. Their love for God and eagerness to learn more about their faith should be your priority, and the priority of your church. It certainly is the priority of God, who is the ultimate judge.

Show Me the Money

According to Barna less than 15% of the church budgets are spent on their Children’s ministry (pg 52) yet 50% of the populace is under age 18.
These statistics alone paint a pathetic picture of the priorities of the modern church. Yet witnessing it first hand in church after church across the county is beyond pathetic, it’s depressing. But eventually depression gives way to anger, which is where I’m at today.

To criticize the epidemic of Children’s ministries, or the lack of proper priorities in modern churches, is nothing more than an uninteresting soapbox to stand and shout from.
It doesn’t solve anything and it just leaves me boiling. So, instead here are some practical steps to help rethink the position your church has taken, and the first step to a paradigm shift for your Children’s program.

Do the research:
1. What percentage of the budget does your Children’s ministry consume?
2. List your programs and budgetary items in a priority and discover where your Children’s programs land.
Does your children’s program encompass 10%? 15% 20%?

3. Truthfully acknowledge your commitment to Children and families in your congregation. Do you honestly want your current system to change?
4. Do you want more families and children in your church?
If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions then you have the duty to tell your families that answer.
Tell them that you simply cannot afford or prioritize them and their children above the level you currently work at. Let them know that you do not have a comprehensive Christian education program for their children. Then it is their choice to stay and educate their children themselves, or to leave and seek another church that will help them.
Whatever their choice is, that should sit comfortably with you as well.

However, if your answer is ‘yes’ to change then:
5. Make a commitment to big and small adjustments:
a. First, find passionate, knowledgeable leaders to partner with to serve children and families. So many teachers and volunteers are worn out and tired. It is time for them to go. Thank them kindly for their years of service and recruit new, energized leaders.
b. De-emphasize buildings; emphasize relationships with families and kids. Your children will never reflect on their Sunday school days as benefiting from the multimillion dollar buildings, but only as a collection of memories based on solid, God centered relationship with teachers, pastors, and friends. In everything you do, create healthy relationships with your children.
c. Decide together what you want to teach your children. From canned curriculum to single church based theology, decide what you want to teach the kids. Keep it simple, one concept per week. Themed based concepts are best, ones that can be repeated and reinforced, built on from week to week, month to month.
d. Decide together how you will teach your children. Through a choice system or small group, through media presentations or puppet shows, examine your students and their abilities. How will they learn your concept well? How will you make your concept relevant to their lives? How will you reinforce the subject learned from week to week to make sure they understand and apply it? How will you know they know it?
e. Bring children into every element of your church family, service, and Sunday experience. Acknowledge and explain what the children are learning and tell your congregation how they can support your families. Create family activities during the week, after church on Sundays, and during the church service. Regularly invite your congregation to visit the children and become involved. Talk about the different children in your church, their families, their lives. Most importantly, lead by example and get to know your children and families by spending time with them on Sundays and during the week.
f. Provide tools for families to use for the week. Connect your sermons to the children’s program, or vice versa and provide follow up parent/child studies or questions. Give parents and families lists of resources to use, books, music, websites. Connect families by creating family small groups in your church with kid friendly activities.
g. Publicly make kids a priority. Tell everyone in every medium you have at your disposal that you are a family centered church with an emphasis on children’s programs.
h. Stop making excuses based on lack of volunteers, lack of money, lack of enthusiasm- lead by example and get involved in your Children’s program.
i. Get ready to expand your kids programs. It won’t take long for families to find out where they are the priority in the community.
j. Be brave; change is hard.

I was heartened a couple of weeks ago by a pastor who announced that if he had to, he would abandon his post at the pulpit in front of his congregation on Sundays and go teach the kids classes. He was tired of the excuses from his church on why they didn’t support a children’s program. I smiled to myself thinking about this tall, lanky charismatic pastor singing Jesus loves Me in a circle with a preschool class. He might actually like it! At least the snacks are yummy, the company is entertaining, and the possibilities eternal.

Real Relationships Right Now!

I’m a night owl, and I love that moment when all of my children are asleep and can sneak into their rooms and kiss them lightly on their cheeks. I love gazing at their beautiful faces and thinking about all the antics of their day. They look so peaceful and quiet. It is at that moment that I think about how much God loves them too, how sweet they are to him, and how he takes joy in their personalities and longs to have a relationship with them.
That relationship between my children and God is paramount in my life. If I teach them nothing else as a parent, I must teach them that one concept: that God loves them so much that he wants to have a relationship with them. Not an ordinary relationship, but a close, personal lasting relationship that will move them from this earthly realm to his heavenly kingdom some day when their work here is done.
Right now, that is my job as a parent: to teach them about that relationship.
As a Sunday school teacher, that is your job. It doesn’t really matter if they can name all the books of the Bible in succession. It’s not important that they recite the seven bowls of the revelation. The vast knowledge contained in Christian philosophy is insignificant in comparison to that relationship. Really, if your children understand only one concept from years of Sunday school it should be that God loves them so much that he sent his son to die for them so that they can have a deep, personal relationship with him. That’s it. That’s reality.
So, how do you do that? It’s simple: tell them and teach them.
Tell them often.
Studies prove that children learn from repetition. Vast teaching methodologies have been formed from this single concept. It is truly the cornerstone of educational thought, yet for some reason modern Christian education dismisses repetition as tedious or tiring. Telling children that Jesus loves them and desires a relationship with them should be a weekly affair. This doesn’t mean it must be a boring, rote lecture, but instead it can take many forms. You can have a discussion surrounding this concept during free time, incorporate it into prayer. Form whole lessons around it, or simply remind students before they leave you for the day. Print a copy of John 3:16 and put it up on the wall. Direct students to this truth in the multiple verses in the Bible; create songs and sing them often; use activities with this concept as the center. In some fashion, every week, children need to receive this message of love and salvation. When they leave your classroom, they may not hear it again for seven days, or longer. They may never hear it again, as they may never return to your class.
With urgency, you must approach this mission as an isolated opportunity to plant the seeds of salvation with the understanding that you cannot afford let this occasion pass you by. God has given you this exact moment in time with this child to give them this message. You may be the only person that delivers this message to this child. You may be that child’s only hope for every knowing the gracious love of Jesus Christ. What an awesome opportunity God has given you!
Tell your children, tell them weekly, that God loves them and wants a relationship with them, then model God’s love through relationships.
Relationships are powerful. Relationships are lasting. God desires a relationship with each of us, and what better way to demonstrate God’s love than to model that relationship with your students.

Real Leaders Finger-paint

I had a dream the other night. I’m singing at church during the worship service before the sermon. The lights are dimmed, the drums beat softly and I’m so caught up in the moment that it is like being with the angels. In my dream, I look around for the pastor, he is absent as usual. There is no sign of him in the front row; he is not sitting on stage. He is not speaking in hushed tones to someone in the lighting booth, he is indeed gone. Yet I don’t worry, in fact this brings me great satisfaction, for I know, in my dream, that he will appear only moments before he is to speak, covered head to toe in finger-paints. So I continue, in my dream, to sing and relax to the music understanding that our trusted leader is exactly where he should be: with his children. And as predicted, in my dream, my pastor races to the stage only seconds before he delivers his speech with a smile on his face, covered with blue and red paint. It is on his hands, splattered across his sleeve, and I detect a bit of green in his hair. He takes the stage with so much gumption that I’m actually jealous that he spent the last 20 minutes playing, while I was in here will all the grown ups.
He begins his message by reflecting on his recent experience with his children. He talks about his conversation with a rambunctious five year old Mason and coloring a picture of a camel with a shy four year old girl Cammy. He mentions how much Jessica looks like her older sister in the first grade class, and how impressed he is that all the parents in the church are bringing up such beautiful gifts from God.
He goes on to mention how much he values his time with his staff in the brief 20 minutes a week he spends in their classes.
He honors the volunteers who show up every week to work with children other than their own, and how dedicated they are to God’s great commission.
He tells a funny story or two about families and directly relates his message in sometimes small ways, and sometimes as a full message, to the children and families in his care.
Then I wake up.
I often look at the Christian education as nothing more than glorified babysitting. I know that sounds harsh and uncaring. I often receive staunch denials and even quick biting retorts, then excuse after excuse about why the children’s program is not working. The pastors complain about budgets. The volunteers complain about the poor curriculum. The parents complain about a busy life. The elders complain about the noise level of those pesky little people that grace the building every week. Everyone complains, except the individuals who rightly should complain: the kids.
As a child in the majority of today’s churches, you are shuttled into boring classes with infrequent (admittedly kind-hearted) volunteers who don’t know your name and came unprepared. You sit through repetitive Bible stories and are told how to apply this behaviorally, then given a page to color, a puzzle to solve, or a silly craft to produce before being served snack and a weekly Bible verse to memorize.
Your parents pick you up refreshed from their hour or so away, and you, as the child, are hungry, lonely, and yearn to be back with people you know love you.
Or, if you are a child in a new ‘relavant’ church, you are shuttled like cattle into a large auditorium where you are placed with multitudes of other children to watch a video or mass production show. You are told to yell out Bible verses and scream out answers to lesson trivia, then you have the pleasure of gathering in ‘small groups’ for some ‘personal time’ with ‘an adult who cares about you.’ This lasts for about 10 minutes while poorly trained workers deflate after all the noise and ask randomly selected questions about what you were supposed to learn today.
Your refreshed parents pick you up and ask you the same dreaded question, “What did you learn in Sunday school?” but you can hardly answer because your ears are still ringing from all the shouting.
The children should be complaining, but they don’t and they won’t. They’ll just walk away from the church when they are older, and they can, after all, they weren’t the priority of the church when they were a child, why should church be their priority as an adult? Statistics bear this out. 45% of children will leave the church by age 25. Some will return when they have children of their own and feel the tug of God pulling them home, but others won’t. They and their children will be lost and an opportunity by the church to really make a lifelong effect on an individual will be gone forever.
From an educational standpoint, after all churches are in the business of educating Christians, particularly children, hence the design of a chidren’s program, every institution needs a principal. In churches the principal is the pastor. He is the leader.
In a public or private school, the principal is actively involved in every aspect of his building. He knows his teachers, he knows his pupils. He understands the curriculum that is implemented daily in the classes his pupils attend. He holds meetings, he designs budgets. He oversees struggling students, holds conferences with struggling families, and is usually the center of every public event.
The church should be no different. The pastor needs to be involved, he is not a coach standing on the sidelines, he the point guard; the quarterback, the pitcher, he’s in the game.
Pastors need to get in their game. They need to be in the classes. They need to understand what is being taught and oversee the curriculum for its effectiveness and implementation. He needs to support his staff by walking into their world and giving them feedback. He needs to acknowledge a job well done and relieve volunteers who are suffering or ineffective.
He needs to be the public spokesman, rallying for support from his congregation.
Most importantly the pastor needs to get to know his families and children.
I watch my husband interact with his three children with admiration and sometimes awe. He knows every aspect of their lives. He can read when they are sad and coax from them every last detail of their dance recitals or bicycle accidents. He listens attentively to their scary dreams and is their number one cheerleader at all times. He can do this because he spends time with them. Never would he walk into the house and ignore their pleas to be hugged. He would not assume that I am the supreme authority on child raising, and therefore he should have nothing to do with them.
Yet that philosophy is exactly what I see pastors implement weekly in their churches. Most pastors have delegated sole responsibility of the children’s program to a Children’s Minister. They make the excuse that they are “not good with children” or “it is not my area of expertise” or “I simply don’t have time.” They ignore half of their church that dutifully shows up every week to be taught. They seldom grace the doorways where these attendants are housed. They don’t even give them lip service in their sermons or programs. In fact, most children are viewed as a lure to the real prize: Mom and Dad (Barna 2001.)
So, the solution is easy here: Pastors get in the game.
First, stop worrying about the adults. If they feel neglected because you are not at their beck and call, tell them that you just need some quality time with your kids!
Get in those classrooms and start painting! Start talking to your kids. They are actually pretty fun to be around. There’s no pressure for you to give a nifty speech or good advice, they don’t even care if you can draw. Just having you there makes their world a little better.
Then talk to your staff. They are people too and most of them are women. They need to know that you care enough to show up and support them. You don’t need to be really personal, just talk about the kids, or how you appreciate that they show up every week.
Then communicate your gratitude to your congregation. Most parents would be pleased (and amazed) that you are actively involved in the kids program. Tell them what you think about the curriculum, or what you think of the spiritual status of their kids (don’t know the answer to this? Then start quizzing your kids during playtime.) Tell them that you value them as parents. Be honest and kind. Every parent wants someone to appreciate them and acknowledge their child.
Finally, have fun. Adults are boring. Kids are awesome! Time to start playing in the big leagues (or should I call it little league?)

Passion is Not Just a Fruit

Recently I was teaching a class the university where I work part time, and I gazed out upon the 50 faces of the young, aspiring teachers in front of me. The eagerness in the room was palpable. I could cut the anticipation with a knife. The Excitement was electric. In those moments I bask in what it means to be a young teacher with all the hope and dreams of forever affecting a population of students, one child at a time.
The difference between those eager, young teachers and most Sunday school volunteers is that the soon to be graduates understand their role. They embrace the challenges, they look forward to the obstacles, but most importantly they have earned the right to be called a Teacher.
After four years of study and practice, a Dean of their university has signed a piece of paper that has been certified by their state that they are a Teacher.
Well, good news! The Dean of your institution, the head of your organization, has signed your certificate. If you are working in a Sunday school class, if you are running a Sunday program, or if you are a support person for the Sunday experience then let me inform you, and congratulate you, You are a Teacher! You are not a helper, you are not a volunteer, you have been hand selected by the most prestigious individual in the universe, because of your vast talents and abilities, to take his most precious individuals and TEACH them.
Take a deep breath. Teaching is fun! Teaching is exciting! Kids are amazing learners and you have what it takes to get the job done. God knows that, I know that, and deep inside you know that, or you would not be where you are today.
As a teacher, then, it is time to focus and find your passion. Excellent teachers, not those ordinary teachers, but the teacher that God has designed you to be, let their passions lead them. They understand that the passion of teaching is God given. He doesn’t want teachers who are bored with their curriculum or caught up on church formalities. He needs strong passionate teachers who want to get the job done.
One teacher I met was a great guitarist. This teacher didn’t just read the Bible, he sang the Bible! The kids learned through hundreds of original songs that taught the message of Jesus Christ.
Another teacher was an artist. Her students didn’t use color crayons and copies of 1950’s Jesus figures, they created masterpieces of Creation, Fall, and Redemption!
Other teachers use original stories, puppetry, or playing to teach the God’s truth. The material is the same: Jesus loves you, he died on the cross for you to save you from your sins, so you can be with him someday if you ask him into your life.
It is the method that counts, and finding that method means following your passions.
Everyone has a passion, no matter how big or small. Large curriculum companies would lead you to believe that following their rote set of instructions will teach children. That is not the case. Those are time-fillers, entertainment, or worse, just babysitting tools. Any curriculum can work, and does, if you feel passionate about it. That means inspecting carefully the message and content. Looking for the difficulty of the program for preparation, and of course making a judgement of whether or not you really like the method the curriculum has suggested. If you don’t like flannel graphs, then don’t use them. If you cringe at silly kids songs, then chose more adult versions. If you hate complicated stories, then choose simple ones. There is no one way to run your classroom. Public education has proven that the least effective classrooms are ones that follow scripted lessons.
Successful teachers lead through their passions the concepts they want their students to learn.
For example, there are many ways to teach about Noah. The popular method is to read the Noah story, and follow up with a craft. Yet, what are some other options?
Do you love drama? Then have your students act like animals on Noah’s big ship.
Do you love paint? Then post a huge paper on the wall and give each child a paintbrush. Together create the rainbow.
Do you love to read? How about gathering your students close together and softly reading the story and discussing how they would feel on the rocking ship.
I give you permission to do it the way you want to, with the talents that God has given you.
Students love to follow a teacher who lights up with their method. They giggle and laugh with the funny teacher with the many hats (to demonstrate all the different people at the feeding of 5000.)
They listen intently to the teacher who makes all the stormy sounds when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
They use the hand made slingshots and gleefully cast rocks at the giant picture of the David’s philistine.
They build delightfully with the scientist who demonstrates the house built on sand or rock.
But they fall asleep to the teacher that trudges through a lifeless lesson simply to get through the hour.
The best way to find your passion is to examine two things: Your past and your aspirations.
Your past is littered with your passions. As a child, what did you love to do? What did you hear others say about you? What did you gravitate to as a profession as an adult? Somewhere in that mix is your passion.
You aspirations are also filled with your passion. Ask yourself, “If I could do just one thing really well, what would it be?” There are no limitations here. Would you be an athlete? An artist? A musician? A dancer? A scholar? A welder? An author? A scientist? A cook? An engineer? A crafter? A listener? An archeologist? The list is endless! This isn’t a profession necessarily; it is a dream of your passion.
If you look at your past, then put that information next to your aspirations, you will find a correlation, and that will point directly to your passion. With that passion in mind (some of you have many passions,) look at what you want to teach on Sunday. How can you use your passion to teach this? That means working outside of the box (and the text) of the curriculum you have been given.
I’m not suggesting that your Sunday school class be reduced to feel good experiences and nonsensical artwork, but I am confident that if you lead with your passions instead of feeling trapped in claustrophobic curriculum you will find learning will increase, and you are in the business of learning now, because you are a Teacher.
Therefore, look at your curriculum. Discern what you are trying to teach. Pick no more than three points for an elementary classroom; two for preschool, and decide how you can teach them creatively, in a manner that kids will enjoy and you will love as well.
You can follow the scope and sequence of any curriculum; just twist it to fit your classroom.
Are you going to teach Daniel in the Lion’s Den and how Daniel was saved by the lion’s? What is the point of your lesson? What are trying to teach? Is it that having a trust in God is important, or sometimes you will go through hard times if you are a believer in God? Is it that you need to pray only to God, or that you might not be liked by others? Discern what you are trying to teach; take that key point or two and then craft your lesson around it using your passion to guide it.
There are many ways to create a Daniel in the Lion’s Den lesson. You can create masks with paper or clay, you can build the lion’s den with blocks and stuffed animals, you can read the story from the Bible or another rendition and discuss the feelings of Daniel during that hard time. You can paint Daniel, you can act out the lion’s and the King, you can put the whole scene to music and march the key concepts. You can make a timeline, you can list the elements of the story on a storyboard. You can brainstorm the story if God had not been involved. Once again, the list is endless, but how would you prefer to teach it? What is your interest? God has given you this class of individuals because he believes you can affect them. How are you going to do that?
Undoubtedly you are going to be met with resistance to new and exciting ideas. Your leaders might hesitate giving you control over the methodology of the classroom. Also, it is going to take more time out of your week for preparation, thought, and prayer. However, the freedom and joy you will begin to experience through this process will grow into exhilaration and vigor. You will begin to look like those 50 aspiring teachers: full of hope and expectation, full of excitement and exuberance. The difference between your effectiveness will be seen immediately, and no longer will the Sunday school experience be a dreaded hour of obligation, but instead an anticipated opportunity to teach.

"I hate church" and other things kids say.

“I Hate Church.”

Admit it, you said it. It may not have been last week or last month, but think back to when you were a child. Your mom or dad drug you out of bed sleepy and hungry, they dressed you in fine Sunday attire then plopped you in the car. Somewhere between the warmth of your bed and the door of your church you said it: “I hate church.”
In just a few days, thousands of children will be repeating those words again and again and again. Yet we ignore them, the church ignores them, and refuses to look at the reasons why children hate church.
The adults in the church regard the Sunday school experience as a necessary process, one that will develop fine Christian citizens. Or they accept it as a convenient babysitting service for their hour away relaxing and contemplating the will of God.
So, while adults gain from the Sunday experience, children lose, in most cases.
The saddest part of this equation is that it doesn’t have to be like that, the Sunday school experience can be fun, rewarding, and genuine. With a few simple, and one not so simple, adjustments, children can look forward to their hour of independence and learning. But you have to go back to the reasons why children hate church, and you have to do this through the eyes of a child.
The five reasons children hate church:
1. I’m miserable. Children usually arrive at church tired and hungry. Most parents complain about the pre-church ritual of awakening, dressing, and feeding their children. They report that it is often (if not always) a struggle, one they don’t look forward to, and one that sets the tone for the entire experience. This is the first problem with the Sunday school experience, but one that is easily remedied.
Solution #1 When children arrive in your class in the morning, have waiting a variety of food and drinks available for them. Choose healthy snacks of whole grain cereals, fruit and milk, yogurt and bagels. I’ve even brought in a toaster and jam on special occasions. Instead of a designated snack time serving fish crackers and juice, leave food as a viable option from the very beginning. If the children are hungry, they will eat and immediately this solves the first problem of the day.
Solution #2: Provide a comfortable and quiet space for your students who are tired and need a few minutes to wake up. I prefer comfortable bean bag chairs with soft worship music and even comfortable snuggly bears to curl up with. Surprisingly, it is not the youngest students who will gravitate towards this space, it will be your older kids, who stayed up much too late the night before.
When they are ready to join the group, they will naturally assimilate, but until then, let them relax- they need this time!
2. I’m scared. It may not seem like it to you, but entering a loud, new, cold classroom with a different teacher every week, is scary, particularly if you are entering alone. There are many solutions to this problem.
Solution #1: Tone down the room by creating spaces for children to relax and spaces for them to keep busy while others are arriving. Several different centers help disperse children and keep wild antics to a minimum. It also presents many fun and exciting opportunities for the new child. You might try a lego center, craft area, play-doe, kitchen, dress-up, quiet, music center, library, and manipulative center. Then when the children arrive, allow them to pick a center. Introduce them to a ‘buddy’ or teacher to play with them.
Solution #2: Allow siblings to stay together. The one- room school houses of old had it right- they allowed multiple siblings to stay and learn together. This dissolves so much of the fear of entering a new situation.
There is remarkably little effort in running a multi-age class with the older students helping the younger. It also provides a community atmosphere, something so lacking in our world today.
Solution #3: Encourage parents to come early and play, then stay as long as they need, and play after the service. Allowing the space to present itself as a family room, not just a place for the kids to wait for mom and dad, will alleviate the scary time alone.
3. I’m lonely. Sometimes it is impossible to keep siblings together, and individual students will feel lonely and reserved. Even those students who act comfortable and friendly, will often report that they have no friends in church and hate the experience.
Solution #1: Communicate correctly. As the teacher, you are your students’ first friend. Take them by the hand and tell them you are so happy to see them. Work hard to remember their names, and kneel down to eye level when you talk to them. Always, always, always smile. These are the basics of communicating with children.
Solution #2: Buddy up your children. You will find some children return again and again to Sunday school, while others only arrive a couple of times a year. Get to know their schedule and buddy them up according to likes and dislikes. Below the age of 10 gender buddies are important- girls with girls, boys with boys. Introduce the buddies and do an activity with them together. If you can’t interact with them, put a helper with the buddies to get them talking and playing. When the new student feels strong and connected, you, or your helper, can move on to another pair. A buddy system is much stronger than a group system. Having individual attention builds confidence. If a child is just one in a group, they will tend to become lonely and disjointed.
Solution# 3: Build strong, committed Christian relationships with your students. Talk to them, paint with them, play legos, read a book with them, focus on the children and not your colleagues. You are there to build a relationship with your students to model the love of Christ. Time is the only factor that builds a relationship, and yours is precious. You only have a few short minutes to create that relationship, so make those minutes focused and fun.
Solution #4: Between Sundays, send a note to your students. Be prepared to do this by having the parents fill out an information card as they arrive. As a teacher I would send birthday cards to every one of my 150 students. I made a point to call home just to tell their parents how much I appreciated their child in my class. I would write notes congratulating my students on big and small successes, and I would let them know how much I valued them as a person. This small, but significant, gesture will create a bond between you and your students.
Solution #5 Talk to the parents. When it is time for your students to go home, take a moment to tell each parent (in front of the child) how wonderful the child is (regardless of any mishaps.) Tell the parents you appreciated the child’s input, creativeness, and kindness, or whatever you can muster to lift that child in front of his or her parents. Then kneel down and thank that child for joining you today and tell them sincerely that you would love to see them next week.
Solution #6: Keep your teachers in a longer rotation; one month or more at a time. This may seem hard, one month on, one month off, but the rewards are immeasurable. Students become comfortable with their teachers; teachers understand and can meet the needs of their students. Simple fact: Consistency is the key to a relationship; relationships are the key to learning.
4. I’m bored. This problem is epidemic. It is so large it deserves books and seminars and doctoral thesis time devoted to it. Kids become bored for many reasons. It could be our fast paced, reward society. It could be video game mentalities and too much television. It could be shoddy curriculum that is not age appropriate; it presents too much or too little, too fast, or too slow. To complicate matters, each child becomes bored for a different reason. Yet there are solutions.
Solution #1: Pick a curriculum, subject matter, or method that you feel passionate about. This isn’t your ordinary passion that creeps in after an effective seminar; this is searching yourself for the angle that really lights up your passion. Perhaps you like music and really love to teach through it, then teach that way. Do you like history- then teach from that angle. Do you like to build things? Then teach through manipulatives. Do you like to read and feel strength through literature? Then teach through that. It is not a mystery what makes a great teacher. The teachers that are best are those who teach through their passions. It doesn’t matter that the kids don’t have your angle, passion is contagious. Once you are teaching with your strengths leading the way, they will be there because you will light up.
There is no one right curriculum. There is no one way to teach. There is no perfect classroom, only very, very passionate and excited teachers who bring their talents to the table and really teach.
So, think about what you love- if you had no barriers to teaching the way you wanted to, how would you teach? What would you do? How would you get your message to your kids?
It is not about reinventing the wheel- there are plenty of tools to help you out there on the internet, in books, in various curriculums, at curriculum fairs, and the local library. Just figure out how to teach the way you want to. If you teach with passion, your kids won’t be bored.
Solution #2 Give your students a choice. There are times for choices, and there are times to comply. Give your students time to make choices. For example, at the beginning of my classes, I always allow for 20 minutes of free time with plenty of choices to work on. (See above.) If I hear a student complain that they are bored, or read the behavioral signs that they are bored, I’ll ask them what they would like to see as a choice. Children are reasonable if you treat them with reason. They understand they can’t have a giant jumping blow up castle in a Sunday school classroom, but they compromise and ask for something else they might like. Then if it is more than our budget allows, or not easily attainable, I’ll ask the congregation to look around their houses or at sales to see if they can find it. More often then not, just making an attempt to listen and respond to a bored child will help the situation. Many times, they will bring in the item or activity the next week to do with me!
5. I don’t like you. The last major reason children hate church is that they understand what we deny: some people just don’t like kids and shouldn’t be teaching Sunday school. This subject is difficult to address because most Sunday school workers are volunteers, many work with children as a profession, yet they don’t care for the experience, and the children know it.
Solution #1: This is the hard one: Fire them. This isn’t to say that children have all the control, but let’s be realistic, shall we? Let’s call the spade a spade; we all know there are bad teachers out there. Have the courage that the public school system does not and fire the bad teachers. Replace them with kid loving folks. They might not be as experienced, but this will certainly solve a major problem in your classroom.
Solution #2: Give your workers a break. Sometimes being overworked and overcommitted creates burn-out, which reflects itself in the classroom. Create limits on the commitments of your volunteers. Every six months give them the option of moving to a different class or volunteer opportunity. Also, listen when they complain about the commitment. It is harmful to keep an unwilling volunteer in your classes because you are short handed. It would be better to close your classrooms and let the parents honestly know the reason why.

So, that’s it. If you implement these changes in your classroom on Sunday, you will see a difference. It may take a little while for children to start trusting the situation, but eventually they will and more importantly, you will soon have eager, happy children racing into your classrooms and into your arms! There is no bigger joy than that.

Beautiful Empty Buildings

I’ll admit when I’m sad, I’ll admit when I’m perplexed, but until recently I didn’t admit that I was angry. I’m telling you now, I’m angry. In January I entered a different realm of the Sunday school experience. I’ll call it ‘the Megakidsprogram.’
“This is our children’s wing,” announced my brother proudly touring me through the extensive halls lined with professionally created murals and cubby systems in his mid-Minnesota church.
I peered through the immaculate windows into rooms so elaborately decorated I’m sure they were seen in a recent issue of a design magazine. “The children’s wing cost $1.2 million, but kids are our priority you know,” Shawn added for effect. I searched for children as we ambled down the corridor. I hoped that I would hear happy voices emanating from the rooms and see kids greeted with open arms and enthusiasm.
Instead I saw the same picture that greets me every week in various churches across the country.
Children enter rooms to find the harried workers struggling to gather craft supplies and put snack on the table. The smile briefly and introduce themselves to their students who unenthusiastically sulk to a pre-arranged activity, play doe, legos or some other handy manipulative meant to entertain.
Funny enough, I never see kids staring admirably at the murals of the walls or the giant giraffes hanging in the halls. I never hear them comment about the beauty of the rooms they occupy for such a short period of time on Sundays. They obediently play, then join in circle time for the lesson of the day; create the corresponding craft and pray for their snack. They leave with their trinket in hand and a new Bible verse to memorize for the week. In some churches they’ve behaved so well that they earned two more tokens for the church store, a fine trade off for listening to a cute story from that ancient book that we call the Bible.
I breathe deeply on this warm Minnesota day as my brother explains that the church nets $2 million a year in revenue, so this wing required a special capital campaign. I wonder why they spent so much money for so few kids, after all, I only see a handful here and there. Where are the kids? I wonder to myself. Then I switch gears.
“How do your kids like church?” I’m curious. “What are their teachers like?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Shawn replies nonchalantly, “the teachers seem nice.”
“Really? What are their names?” I ask. He shrugs and leads me out of the wing to the in-house coffee shop. I’m astounded, but not surprised, to find bunches of kids here sipping on hot chocolate and eating cookies. They are laying on the floors in bunches; more of them are waiting in line with dollars in hand to purchase goodies. “I guess the food here is better than the snacks in that big expensive wing,” I quip with my brother. Uncomfortably he comments about the outstanding quality of the food and service of the coffee shop. I did find the coffee quite good, I admit.
When the music began, the masses, children included, filed dutifully into the gigantic meeting hall. After the first few songs, and then announcements, the kids are ‘dismissed’ to their classrooms. Most file out like little soldiers to the halls beyond as the music began again, however some remain steadfastly in their seats, apparently unaware of the wonders of the Children’s wing or the beauty that graces its walls.
These refugees in the adult experience entertain themselves adequately, with only a few climbing in, on, and around their parents and neighbors.
I scan the program hoping for a list of parenting classes, family activities, or child centered discussion questions that relate to the weekly topics or sermon. What I find is a list of classroom services, and nothing more.
There is no information on what the children are actually learning in those hallowed halls, no follow up contacts or reports on the spiritual health of the congregation’s children. There is nothing to even hint that any constructive lasting Christian education was taking place in that big, beautiful building.
According to statistics, most church pastors and leaders have no idea of the status of the spiritual health of their youngest members.
They don’t know the content that is being taught in those classrooms, and their budgets reflect a lack of priority for the Children’s ministry.
Of course, this particular church is the exception. With $1.2 million dollars spent on an elaborate building, I would hope that they would spend equal effort on the staff that teaches within that building. However, I know that is not the case.
As with most churches in America, children’s programs are staffed with strictly volunteers. The ‘Children’s Minister’ may be a paid employee, but the rest of the teachers in the trenches, caring for the spiritual needs of the children, are nothing more than good willed babysitters. Most rotate through on a weekly basis, never really getting to know the personalities or needs of their students.
They use canned curriculum meant to entertain and bombard the class with endless silly tails and crafts. This is not a criticism of the volunteers themselves, but a lashing of the lack of priorities in American churches.
So, let me state this plainly: Stop spending money on beautiful empty buildings and spend it where it counts: on your people.
I can hear the gasps now; the shuddering the book-keepers. What is she saying? What is she proposing? Is she saying we should pay our teachers?
Yes! Exactly! Let me be so bold to suggest that people are more important than buildings. Let me shock you and suggest that your children will never remember those elaborate murals or stuffed penguins, but they might remember the person that showed up every week and got to know them. That person can help them understand the love of Jesus Christ, that person might even lead them to the saving grace of Christ, and rejoice with them when they accept that salvation. That person, a very valuable person indeed, deserves the opportunity to be paid by the church body who values their children.
That $1.2 million could have paid the entire staff of the church I entered in January for the next 25 years- a whole generation of children within its reach.
If you think paying your staff is counter-Christian, then let me challenge you in that regard. What exactly are you saying to the volunteer when you offer a paid position?
1. We, as a church, value you as a teacher.
2. We hold you responsible for planning for the Sunday experience.
3. We believe you will consistently come to work prepared and ready for the challenges of the day.
4. We expect that you will take seriously the job of educating our children.
5. We believe you are capable of teaching to the spiritual needs of our children.
6. You are on a team of individuals who value the children in our church.
Look at this another way.
We, without hesitation, pay our pastors. We pay our associate pastors, we pay our worship leaders, we pay our Children’s minister. Why are we so hesitant to pay our teachers who work directly with our children and families?
The skills necessary to correctly execute a Sunday experience for children is ominous. Every Sunday school teacher knows how very difficult this can be.
First, you have an erratic number of children usually arriving hungry and tired.
They are most likely at different ability levels and skills.
You are teaching them a theological philosophy and ancient traditional practices combined with modern relevancies.
You are trying to instill in them the opposite worldview than the outside world they live in.
You have various family situations, tragedies, lifestyles to adjust to.
You use curriculum that is often not age appropriate or relatable.
You have only one hour a week to create a Christian.
To top it all off, you are only in the classroom one day a month, so you have no idea the names, backgrounds, situations, personalities, or abilities of the students you are supposed to teach.
If you gave this classroom recipe to a seasoned public school teacher, they would laugh and call it impossible. In education, the one factor that creates success is consistency.
In public and private education, teachers see students daily, they find out who they are, where they came from, and what they are capable of.
They have consistent curriculum, proven strategies, and ample support. Oh, and yes, they are paid.
Hm. So, if we took that money from that big, expensive renovation and gave it to our teachers, how might this change the consistency in your Sunday school classroom?
Could you perhaps have the teachers rotate on a different schedule?
Could you even suggest that teachers not rotate at all, but instead devote their heart and souls to these kids?
If you demonstrated through compensation that you valued and trusted your teachers, how many would take ownership of the experience and really invest in the families that they serve?
My money says yes. There is no downside to offering compensation, if you have it, to your teachers. In fact, I believe this is the first step to a better program.

Sunday School in America 2007

My first memory of Sunday school was of a cold, barren room in the basement of a gothic church in North Seattle. The elderly teacher sat curtly with eight children around her, myself included, with a glistening set of table linens, silverware, a plate, cup and glass. Over the next hour she taught us to precisely set the table.
As a child who always wanted to please the adults in my life, I listened attentively and vowed to perfectly align the spoon with the knife, the big fork with the little fork, and fold the napkin tightly, as instructed.
When my turn arrived I took my time making sure that everything inch of the setting was perfect. I had watched the mistakes of my classmates and made mental notes of how I could do it better. Indeed I had accomplished my goal- it was a model of perfection.
When I smiled at the teacher and announced that I was ready for her inspection, she looked at my setting then a frown crossed her face; my smile faded. I looked at my setting, what had I done wrong? I couldn’t find a mistake but knew intrinsically that something was awry.
“This is fine, Kathlyn,” she said, obviously displeased, but now seemingly writing off my error to my tender six years of life instead of a character flaw.
“Your setting is perfect, dear,” she continued, “except it is backwards.” I looked in horror at my setting, then walked slowly back to my seat across the table. Indeed it was upside down, because I was sitting opposite of the instruction, and had reversed every detail. I began to cry. That is my first memory of Sunday school, an upside down world with barren walls and imperfections.
Yet that was the 70’s, a time when children’s programs and Christian education had not grown wings.
When resources were scarce and the priorities of society did not rest with the children.
When modern knowledge of how children learn and dedicated volunteers and leaders were nowhere to be found. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to today. About a month ago I entered the modern church. This church, like many, is now ‘relevant.’ Held in a school instead of a gothic building, it boasts modern worship and catchphrases of the day. Small groups were being formed, mission trips discussed.
The congregation swayed with the electric guitar and tapped their feet to the live drums while sipping on their latte’s wearing comfortable jeans and tennis shoes.
As an adult I have embraced these changes; it certainly is not the damp church lined with pews that I remember. The tired hymns and resonating organ chords are now gone, the lengthy sermons, now cut in half, provide spaces for notes in the program and overhead cues.
It is a relief really, the modern church has learned a lesson or two about attracting adults, but as I hummed to my favorite worship song about how to worship, I looked around the congregation.
The kids sat in their chairs kicking their feet while dully watching the spectacle or they stood clinging to their parents. In a few minutes it would be time for them to depart to their classrooms, but meanwhile they fidgeted and tugged on sleeves, the younger ones crawled under the chairs for entertainment.
Like clockwork, after the first two songs, the pastor welcomed us all and dismissed the children. Some enthusiastically ran towards the exits, others needed the powerful prompting of their parents, but most filed out of the auditorium to the classrooms beyond. The ones that were left were strictly warned to behave and given paper to draw on before they destroyed the program sitting next to them on the chair.
My husband and I went with the departing group, always interested in the inner workings of the Children’s programs in churches. What we found at the end of the long hallway was typical, if not tiring.
Through our travels and various teaching opportunities we have had the pleasure of visiting many churches. As a consultant, educator, and curriculum designer we have also tried to improve the landscape of Christian education, but the reality is that over thirty years has passed and chillingly, my children experience the same cold, unenthusiastic, tired Sunday school of my youth.
At the end of the long corridor, Connor, age seven is met by a friendly but unenthusiastic teacher who neither asks him his name nor his age. She seems completely disinterested in him. During the week she educates middle school students and therefore strictly maintains discipline in her Sunday school class. She instructs him to find a seat at the empty table and directs Kara, age five, to the preschool room. Kara and Connor looked longingly at each other as they part.
Connor slips into a chair alongside a burly, but quiet boy who is staring out the window.
My husband escorts Kara to her room where half a dozen children are sitting on the floor hovering around board books designed for two year olds. She sits down and begins thumbing through a book about ponies.
Back in Connor’s room, his teacher settles into her lesson reaching for an extensive teaching guide. She has her audience repeat the weekly verse three times. Then she reaches for the Bible to read a passage from 1 John before explaining how to create the weekly craft. Connor obeys, but I can tell he is miserable and bored. After the story and craft, the group moves on to the requisite snack of fish crackers and juice, that Connor inhales in a single gulp, before they are allowed to color a picture of Jesus until their parents pick them up.
Kara, meanwhile, has suffered through an equally dull class with little meaning and little interaction.
She enjoyed the craft, but later doesn’t remember the verse or the story.
My son rates his experience as ‘boring’ and ‘bad.’ He has become an outspoken critic of his Sunday classes, complaining about the lack of excitement and games.
Kara, who is more forgiving, reports that she liked the snack and the coloring.
Still in my arms is my one year old daughter who began crying the minute we left the gym and rarely stays in the toddler classroom alone.
Today there is no toddler room and I have spent the past 45 minutes following her up and down the halls outside Connor and Kara’s classes.
My husband and I usually take turns escorting Sophie into toddler rooms. We enjoy playing with the babies and keeping her company instead of allowing her to scream until the attendant can no longer manage her wails. We don’t mind the experience and usually are a welcome addition to the room. While engrossed in cheerios, annoying musical toys and the babble of babies, we chat with the workers and discover many truths about the Sunday experience from their perspective.
Most report, after the small talk dies away, that they feel unprepared for the experience and often overwhelmed. Others tell us, when they get to know us, that they feel unsupported and unrecognized.
Many agonize over the trap of children’s ministries: once you are in, you never leave.
It is depressing to hear the stories and see the worn and tired looks on the faces of the workers.
It is disturbing to see this exact scene played out in church after church, week after week all across the country.
We realize that no church is perfect, but sadly we have also discovered that so many are missing the mark of an effective children’s educational program that it has become an epidemic.
To be blunt and to the point, there is a lack of leadership, enthusiasm, and actual learning taking place in our Sunday school classes. The quality of the experience has hit rock bottom.
Children are not learning; they are being babysat.
Spiritual growth is at a minimum.
Volunteers are undervalued and overworked.
Pastors have no idea what is being taught, or if it is effective.
There is complete apathy in regards to children’s ministry from our congregations, leaders, and parents.
Furthermore, this failure makes no distinction between denominations, size, or gross income of the organization. Stated plainly, it is bad everywhere. If you are denial of this fact, then start shopping for a decent kids program in your own community.
Here’s what you should look for
A. An atmosphere that is kid friendly, inviting, and safe.
B. Consistent teachers who are responsive to their students and familiar with their needs and abilities.
C. Children learn age and ability appropriate lessons that are Bible based and relevant to their lives.
D. Educational practices of repetition, enhancement, and assessment are present.
E. The pastor is aware of what is being taught in the classrooms and its effectiveness.
F. A community of families is present with support and resources.
G. Children are happy, enthusiastic, and hungry to learn about God.
H. Volunteers and leaders feel supported and recognized.

These are time tested, proven educational practices that foster learning and community yet are missing from Sunday school classes across America.
If you need more proof that the Sunday experience is failing our children, then ask them! Take a random sampling this Sunday and see what you find. Do they enjoy going to church? What are they learning? Who are their teachers and how do they like them?
Then talk to your teachers. Who are their students? What are their needs, their strengths, their weaknesses? Do they enjoy teaching the curriculum? Are they passionate about their teaching? What is the spiritual health of the class? Do they enjoy the Sunday experience? How often do they teach? How long have they been teaching?
Still not convinced? Then spend some time in those classes. I often remark that if parents knew what happened down those hallowed halls and behind those closed doors that they would shudder. Sit in on a class, or two, or three. Are you bored? Are the kids bored? How does the teacher relate to your child? What is the program teaching your child? Is it effective Christian education or glorified babysitting?
If you take the time to watch and listen, you will soon understand the state of the Sunday experience.
On this day I leave the school with the photocopied 1950’s picture of Jesus walking on water colored all in pink, as my daughter prefers Jesus in pink, and I am reminded once again that only a complete renovation of the modern Christian church will change the soul of our congregations and the lives of our children.
Yet how can such changes ever appear? We need changes so strong and powerful that the children will race into the arms of their teachers, eagerly memorize and recite Bible verses, enthusiastically proclaim the wonder and grace of Jesus Christ, and grow into amazing Christian adults who love their Savior and one another.
We need an entire paradigm shift in regards to Children’s ministries. This transition would start at the top with pastors, move through the leadership, and permeate the congregation. This shift would involve a modification of priorities for most churches, interconnectedness between all facets of the church experience, and a reallocation of funds and resources.
Is this huge reformation possible? I’m not so sure, but I’m hopeful. There are big and small alterations that would lead to such a reformation, one church at a time. These changes center around these seven principles:

1. Making children and families the priority
2. Create safe, friendly, child centered learning experiences.
3. Teach less; and teach it well.
4. Connect the dots of Christian education- teach the why with the what.
5. Find the passion in teaching and know exactly what you want to teach.
6. Build relationships between teachers and students, parents and child, families and church.
7. Create and support leaders, teachers, and volunteers.

A strong children centered congregation that supports the family, battles the tentacles of secularism, and provides the tools to children to reject the pitfalls of life is possible, but are we brave enough to begin the process.? Are we strong enough to follow through and accept the responsibility? Are we passionate enough to make a difference in the lives of our children and families? I believe we must be passionate, strong, and brave because Christian education is more than pink crayons and placesettings.