Monday, November 27, 2006

Can I Be Cool if I Ditch (Sunday) School?

I wonder if anyone else is curious about the role, present and future, of Sunday School in church. Seems like most of the ones I've been to over the years have successfully boxed congregants into distinct categories (marrieds, singles, youth, 'prime-timers'...) in order to offer group-specific, bite-sized nuggets of biblical truth...and to eat doughnuts. Now I can understand the value of this if you're operating in a modern church framework. But as this is an emergent cohort (and the promise of doughnuts is not incentive enough to get me out of bed early on a Sunday), I'd like to hear ideas about if and how sunday school can be redeemed from its current manifestation... what would that look like? how do we do it? do we care?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I care because for me education is important. But the problem is that people that are teaching sometimes are not as well skilled as they need to be. The answer is not always Jesus. So i think one thing that we need to do better is to hold accountable teachers. And constantly educate our teachers as well by finding time for them to be taught as well.

Jeff said...

I would get up and go to donut time if they were topical classes. Say 6wk or 8wk studies.

Shawn said...

The issue of Sunday School is kind of a tough one. I definitely think that education is an important part of the spiritual formation that the local congregation is there to provide and agree with justfranks assertion on educating teachers. The grouping of Sunday School classes, I think, stems from the ideology that the church is in the "business" of providing products that members will want to consume. I think moving away from that mindset may be the first step in producing something original and transforming, however, people do tend to want to congregate with people like themselves, so if you change that structure, would anyone attend? As far as topical subjects go, I'm out on that one. It is too easy to start using stories out of their context to promote personal positions on topical subjects. Some friends and I have thrown around the idea of designing a Sunday School curriculum around the mega-narrative idea that would start introducing the idea of one long story of the people of God at around fifth or sixth grade and build off that groundwork from there.

revbrunet said...

Shawn - Is it not just as easy to allow a grand narrative reading to co-opt smaller and more 'deviant' texts in scripture (Judges 19-21 anyone?) as it is to allow topical studies to run amuck? Surely there's a way to talk about narratives and themes and topics without chucking the baby.

Anyone who knows me can tell you education is a huge deal to me. I'm not necessarily saying we need to ditch sunday school altogether (though I'm open to persuasion) but I do think we need to reevaluate.

chip said...

The church has always understood that part of its ministry is education of its members toward growth in the Spirit. Head and heart are never separate entities. Education, to be effective, will always have to consider the audience -- will always be audience-specific. So I think there is no way to completely avoid the creation of smaller "target groups" in order to perform this ministry. You can't do an effective job of education by trying to do everyone at the same time.

I think churches often mistake "Bible education" for the real goal: education toward growth in the Spirit, or "spiritual formation." If the real goal is spiritual formation, then the groupings need to be along the lines not of age groups, but of maturity groups. Who would be able to make the decision of what group one ought to be in? It could be left to individuals, but many disastrous mistakes would be made. I think there is a call here for the pastoral role -- for pastors who really know the flock and know where they are spiritually and know what level of education each one needs at a given time. But that's way to intrusive for us American individualists, I suppose, and way to authoritative (to anticipate SOMEONE'S objection). As you can tell, I think those objections are weak and show that our identity is generally more American than Christian. But I don't think we can change that skewed identity without effective education, which can only take place when we recognize that. . . . (begin reading at the top again).

Anonymous said...

i am sorry i forgot about spiritual growth. Chip you said what i was thinking.

Jeff said...

I probably should have elaborated on the word topic. I didn't mean in a topical bible sense. (Although I am sure you could do some of those.) I was thinking more mini theology and history classes. I was going for a more short term, rotating, different levels of interest type of thing. Teachers could also rotate more often, and have a chance to be feed. Some classes might be lecture oriented (History of the canonization of the Bible), and some might be more discussion (Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons:). I am looking for variety, and I am MTV driven so this can't take to long.

I agree that the classes should be picked for growth, and not age. I have a hard time understanding the mind set that leads to classes like "How to Become a Better Christian Parent." Which is of course taught by a nonparent, and the classes is full of first time parents. We all lack experience, but lets get together and discuss how to do this better. Would you apply this mentality to getting your car fixed?

If you have a class that has met in the same room for 25yrs, and been taught by the same person for 25yrs, you should board up the room. With them in it or not, your choice.

Shawn said...

Jeff,
That is a much better "topical" than I had in mind. I think that could work very well.

Revbrunet,
We obviously have very different opinions on grand narratives, which is fine. Personally I think we might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we don't include the big picture. The reason that I think it is so important is that it helps us realize we are an integral part of the kingdom of God and that what we do for the kingdom is extremely important. Without that it is all too easy to take the position of spectator or by-stander. It forms us to work towards an eschatological goal or end. I have seen what happens when you only focus on trees and give no attention to the forest and in my experience it hasn't resulted in following Jesus or being the people of God and those are my primary concerns. I am, however, willing to listen to better ideas.

chip said...

I'm definitely a "grand narrative" guy -- but I also love those "deviant texts" within that narrative that slap us around for being moralistic, legalistic, simplistic and other ics. I don't think narrative and "deviant text" are mutually exclusive -- though they have been used that way sometimes. The "spiritual formation" we want people to have can't be based on the "ics." Those are where we need people to start ("the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom") but the deviant texts force us to ask questions that usually have no good answers, and then tell us to love God anyway ("perfect love casts out fear"). That's spiritual maturity -- the commitment to love God even when my "grand narrative" takes a nose dive and lands with its face in the concrete, i.e., when my "easy answers" fail.

"Sunday School," in my experience, never, never, never deals with the hard questions -- at least, not in any helpful way. Partly that's because we have unqualified teachers -- unqualified intellectually, educationally and spiritually -- and because we have an audience of people who, to quote Jack, "Can't handle the truth." That last factor isn't going to go away, so we probably need a continual "seeker sunday school" to dole out baby food and try to encourage the toddlers (not to be disparaging to those who are new to the faith, but, yes, to BE disparaging to those who should have grown up by now) to move on to a higher level. The rest of us can sleep in. ;-) Wow -- that sounded arrogant. Maybe we have a "Saturday School" for those who are past the toddler stage, and those who attend Saturday are the ones who teach on Sunday? (I'll repent of my arrogance in a minute.) But I'm more and more dissatisfied with what I receive in SS. Thankfully, I have a few others in my class that feel the same, so when we get a teacher who feeds us pablum, we tend to co-opt the conversation (if it can be redeemed). Sometimes it's beyond redemption and we suffer it in silence. But, in my experience, if we were to segregate and never have any time of integration, we're saying "Let them eat cake." Some will always want the cake; others can be awakened.
Maybe this group can be sort of an "independent Saturday School" that helps all of us deal with "church."

Jeff said...

It seems like most everybody is frustrated with what they are offered with Sunday School. Does anybody feel like their church's Wednesday night programs are better? Do you think childrens Sunday School and Church is doing any better job than the adult ones?

revbrunet said...

Shawn-
Most of my formative theological study has been within the framework of narrative theology, e.g. grand narrative. Typically, I continue to fall into this framework because, as you say, it is important to keep grand narratives in mind for the sake of ethical formation. That being said, I'm also too much of an OT person to allow the difficult, sometimes miscreant, "don't box me in" texts to get co-opted altogether. I like that Jesus calls people dogs and talks weird crap about end times. I like that Job has his world destroyed and God's answer is "i make goats". I like that God hardens hearts and destroys entire cities. I even like that Paul tells me to be quiet (but that's mostly cause I'm competitive and have always been a sucker for the "i double dog dare you" routine). I agree with chip that grand narratives and deviant texts are not mutually exclusive and should be read together. It’s just been my experience that we tend to privilege one over the other. I’d like to talk about ways we can be respectful of both…particularly in Sunday School.

Anonymous said...

In reference to the lack of experience often found in a Sunday School class, is there an effective way to create classes that are still small groups but have class members of different ages. i.e. my wife and I with 1.5 kids, a married couple with no kids, a couple with kids in high school, a retired couple and some singles and youth thrown in?

I would stick with the direction you guys already had going as far as content and material. Personally really don't care for some of the printed stuff we have now.

Would you get up for that even if they didn't have donuts?