Every parent is a Sunday school teacher now
We’ve canceled Sunday school for this fall semester, and—truth be told—I’m kind of excited about it.
Lest I’m mistaken (or one of the Sunday school teachers reads this), I want to be clear: I believe in Sunday school. I believe it is one of the tools God has used in the life of our church to plant his Word into the souls of our church family. To be certain, our church elders fully intend to continue Sunday school in the future as a part of our discipleship trellis.
The reason I’m optimistic about canceling Sunday school this fall is because now our ministry philosophy will be put to the test. We say—like so many churches—that our youth and children’s ministries are only intended to “supplement parents in their role as the primary disciple-makers in the lives of their children.” In reality, we rarely encourage at-home discipleship because we have plenty of at-church discipleship. Add to the mix the typical 21st century family schedule and many parents consider it a win if they can just get their family into the church building by the time the first set of worship songs is completed on Sundays. If their child goes to youth group or Sunday school a couple times a month, that’s just icing on the spiritual cake. To put it mildly, many Christian parents are not actively discipling their children. They’re leaving that to the church to do.
Cancelation of children’s ministry programs put the onus of responsibility back where it should have been all along: on the parents. When our church’s Vacation Bible School was canceled this summer, we were reminded of our philosophy that it's the parents’ task, not primarily the church’s, to disciple children. As a result, we did ‘Family Worship Week’ and encouraged all families with children living at home to try to do family devotions five days in one week. Our children’s ministry director equipped the church with resources on our church website, and parents—some for the very first time—sat around kitchen tables and led their children in Bible reading, prayer and singing. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine, as some families struggled, and fewer people participated than would have in Vacation Bible School. But that’s okay, because the goal is not trellis building, it’s vine growth.
With Sunday school canceled, it’s time for Christian parents to come good on those vows once affirmed in a baby dedication service—to ‘discipline and instruct’ our children in the ways of the Lord. In most instances, no Sunday school means that either we parents assume the mantle of primary disciple-makers in the lives of our children or we abdicate our responsibility. But there will be no false middle. Now, every Christian parent in our church is a Sunday school teacher.
Encourage parents to step into their new role of Sunday school teacher at home. Children’s ministry leaders: equip parents young and old(er) with resources such as Jon Nielson’s Bible Reading with Your Kids or Simon Manchester’s Short Steps for Long Gains: Family Edition.
Remember that you have the responsibility and privilege of being the Sunday school teacher this fall. You don’t need an elaborate plan of catechesis, just an intentional rhythm of family devotion. If meeting one time a week for 15 minutes to read the Bible and pray is more than your family is doing right now, then consider that a win. If ten minutes of Bible reading and prayer at breakfast works for you, amen! There is freedom and flexibility as you carry out your calling, but don’t miss this opportunity to retrieve the privilege that is often unintentionally outsourced to the church. It may be that canceling Sunday school this fall due to the pandemic turns out to be a tool God uses to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal 4:6) for many generations.