Thursday, August 20, 2009

Newsletter Article for September 2009

Commitment to Christian Education

September is here. School is beginning. Families have been buying new clothes for school, new backpacks, new notebooks, new pencils and pens. Students are excited to move up a grade, perhaps begin attending a new school. And they're a little anxious, too. What will my new teacher be like? Will I meet new friends? Will they like me?

With the new school year comes a new season of Sunday School. If only we put the same amount of effort preparing for Sunday School as we do preparing for Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday School. Sadly, Sunday School is often an afterthought. An extra hour at church on Sunday morning seems to be just too much for some families. Now certainly, many families do indeed teach their children Bible stories at home … and the home is, of course, the primary place where Christian education ought to take place. But I'm not always sure that is the case. This is evident to me in Confirmation instruction when so many of the students don't even know basic Bible stories.

But the phenomenon of the decline in Sunday School attendance is not unique to our congregation. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal dealt with this topic. The author first explains the origins of Sunday School as an effort to reach out to the poor children in England in the 1780's during the Industrial Revolution. She goes on to describe her own childhood, when not attending Sunday School was unthinkable. Then she writes,

The decline in Sunday schools appears to be gradual but steady. A study by the Barna Group indicated that in 2004 churches were 6% less likely to provide Sunday school for children ages 2 to 5 as in 1997. For middle-school kids, the decline was to 86% providing Sunday school in 2004 from 93% in 1997. Similarly, there was a six-percentage-point drop in Sunday schools offered for high school kids – to 80% from 86%. All in all, about 20,000 fewer churches were maintaining Sunday-school classes …

A number of reasons can be given for the decline, including an increasingly secular society and the other demands on the time of the average child …

Ultimately, if Sunday school is to thrive, parental involvement is necessary – somebody has to say, “Go.” But who? The Rev. Neil MacQueen, a Presbyterian minister who develops software programs for Sunday schools, cites a crucial factor in the decline of Sunday-school attendance: divorce. On any given Sunday, many children of divorced parents are out of town, visiting "the other" parent.

Despite all of these factors, Sunday school may not be bound for extinction any time soon. As Keith Drury, an associate professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, notes, Sunday school “has been ignored, starved of attention,” and ministers and laity have started all kinds of other programs that compete with it. But it just keeps going and going.

Sometimes it seems that middle-class kids today are as spiritually untutored as the industrial poor of Robert Raikes's England. So maybe there is still a niche to fill.

I don't think Sunday School is “bound for extinction.” And I'm not so sure the answer is to introduce flashier programs and technology. I think a huge influence is parents coming to the Adult Bible Class and setting the example for their children, as the children themselves head off to their Sunday School classes. And as I have been encouraging over the last few weeks in church, I would love to see some adults volunteer to teach who do not have small children. The mothers of our small children need a break on Sunday so that they can attend Bible study. And remember, you don't need to volunteer for the whole year. Perhaps you can volunteer just for a quarter. If we had a whole cadre of volunteer Sunday School teachers to draw from, then our teachers would not tire as easily. It can be taxing keeping the attention of a crowd of little ones and the interest of a group of middle- and high-schoolers.

Our volunteers are also provided with wonderful resources to help teach. We use the curriculum from our synodical publisher, Concordia Publishing House. Their material is thorough, flexible, helps the teacher distinguish Law and Gospel in the lessons, and above all is Christ-centered and always points the children to Jesus and the forgiveness and salvation he earned for us at the cross. And the lesson preparation material which is provided is a Bible study in itself. You, as a volunteer, will always learn more than the children do, as you read the lesson commentary included in the teachers' guide.

Above all, consider the great privilege and opportunity we have to teach God's Word to the young ones among us, those whom our parents entrust to the care of our Sunday School. Shouldn't we give this the utmost care and concern and commitment? Let's not see this as a burden, but rather as a joyful task, teaching our children the story of salvation through the stories in the Bible, and showing them how God has included them in that plan of salvation through their Baptism and the faith which he has given them and which he sustains as they hear the Good News about Jesus.

If you are interested in teaching Sunday School, please speak with our Sunday School Superintendent, Jackie Nolte, or you can also let me know, and I will pass your name along to her.

In Christ's service and yours,

Pastor Onken

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