Sunday School - just not as you know it
We had contact with kids through religious education in the school and our recent holiday program. The next step was Sunday School – but it was not anything resembling the Sunday School model current then or now. We were very, very different!
We were not babysitting kids while their parents went to church – none of their parents did go to church. Two of the kids did have a grandmother who was a church attender. Some had mums who were Sunday School helpers. Mostly the kids had no previous association with the church. They came because they really wanted to be there. They got themselves up on Sunday mornings while their parents were still sleeping in, got themselves ready and set off for Sunday School.
We were not enticing them in with craft activities – we were giving them what they really craved – Jesus and his concern for them reflected in people who had already found his love.
How did we arrive at this model? By asking God what he wanted done! As a group we prayed about having a Sunday School at all, and we prayed about all the details, and we asked God to provide everything we needed. God answered these prayers.
First with key people. My wife Sue led the outfit. Inez, recently re-committed as a Christian, came on board as one of the teachers. She was a person of incredible natural ability and now coupled that with a sincere and deep faith. As the local doctor's wife and because of her community service, she held a high social position and esteem in the community. Inez, Sue and Rosalie headed up the teaching team.
Rosalie, as well as Sunday School was helping me with RE classes in the state schools, and also starting up a pastoral care team. I said earlier how God gave her songs for the kids to sing. These songs were so catchy that they were easy to sing unaccompanied, and expressed the feelings and Christian experience of the local kids so well.
Helen, who had been re-converted during my door-to-door evangelism was a fantastic help. She lived the other side of the village, in what had been social housing. Knowing that kids there wanted to come, she picked them up in her car and drove them to Sunday School, then stayed as a helper.
A number of women who had been converted wanted regular contact but could not go to church. I spoke earlier about “gatekeepers”. There was no way these new converts could get past Jan and her fellow gatekeepers to come to church. They knew just as a fact of country town life that church was not for the likes of them! So we brought them all in as Sunday School helpers. The comradeship of being valued, of being part of the team was important. It was a reflection of the fact that they were important – most of all important to God. Despite how “the church” may have regarded them hey did matter. Being able to listen-in they were learning the basics they needed to know about the new life in Jesus. So Sunday School doubled as “church” for many newly converted women.
Second with teaching. The simile we felt came as a result of our prayers was this: a mother bird feeding her young.
These – kids and helpers – were baby Christians. Eventually they would need to get to know the Bible for themselves (and for the kids I was already giving them a systematic view of it in RE classes) but for the present it needed to be a bit pre-digested. If you have no previous knowledge of the Bible it is heavy going. If life's problems are pressing in on you you need some answers NOW – not after a few years Bible reading!
That situation is just like a baby bird. It needs nourishment now. Early on, the mother chews up the insects, mixes in her own digestive juices and regurgitates it into the baby bird's mouth. So our Sunday School teachers – particularly Inez and Sue who had been raised on the Bible – regurgitated its teaching in simple ways.
It worked like this: during prayers the kids brought up issues. The whole range of things worrying them – from domestic violence and family breakup, through problems at school to the state of the world. The teachers talked through the issues raised explaining Jesus' way of coping or understanding them and the pre-digested Biblical teaching that was helpful to the situation. Then they would pray about the things the kids had raised.
Prayer was next on the list. They prayed together. As I said above, the topics came from the kids' concerns. What the Bible had to say about God's feelings on this sort of problem had been discussed where necessary. Then the leaders prayed. Simple language, and communal rather than private prayer. but otherwise they prayed how they prayed in their own relationship with God. So another thing the kids and helpers were learning was how more mature Christians pray.
PS : A quick note on prayer styles : God understands every language known. (and more!) So we really don't have to pray in a special formal or old fashioned language! Our normal language is quite intelligible to him.
But …. there is a difference between private and public prayer!
In private I can pour out my heart to God. In public I cannot! First there are things I can say between me and God that should not be public knowledge. Second in public, I should be voicing the prayers of the group. I should be praying not just what I think, but what everyone can say “Amen” to. They are different situations.
However, despite the necessary alteration for semi-public prayer, the kids and helpers were learning how to relate to God in prayer. God also both honoured and used this. He gave demonstrable answers to these prayers and so confirmed what was being taught about Jesus.
Singing, as I said was an important part. Unaccompanied – we didn't have any instrumentalist early on, and with Rosalie's songs we didn't need accompaniment. I just flag this for people beginning ministries: Tell God your problem not your imagined solution! My problem had been how to have singing in RE classes. God provided his solution. It was better than anything I could have dreamed up. His solution did not involve finding piano or guitar players. We could easily have fallen into the trap of deciding ourselves that the solution to our problem was just finding say a guitarist – God may have provided one but we would have missed out on a much better solution!
Money. I still have bad memories of Sunday School (Sabbath School in my case) collecting money whist singing “Hear the pennies dropping count them as they fall, every one for Jesus he shall have them all” We didn't do that!
First teachers set the example. Remember Jesus' comment that the poor widow who put a few copper coins in the Temple treasury had given more than all the rich people throwing in bags of gold. Its not the amount its the proportion. So If kids were to give 20 cents out of their pocket money, they needed to see the doctor's wife put in $20 at least!
Second it didn't disappear into church funds. The kids got to decide where the money should go. They had some obvious things they chose – for instance disaster relief following newspaper stories. They had some quirky ones – at one time they sponsored a small animal in the Melbourne zoo. One time they sent money to Great Britain during the Falklands war – and received a letter from Queen's secretary thanking them and saying the money would be used to help wounded soldiers.
How the teachers lived. How they treated the other teachers and helpers and how they treated the kids was also an open book on the new life in Jesus. The importance of demonstrating our own progress the Christian life by example should not be underestimated.
There is much more should be said about this Sunday School because it was one of our big success stories – and I will say some more in later chapters – but as I was busy in church while it was on I can't give much more first hand information – except the obvious effect it had on the kids the helpers and the flow-on effects to their families.