We were talking about the PRAYground, the Mid-Week Ministry on the first Wednesday of the month and perhaps a new idea called Faith Lab Centers during fellowship hour. It's not youth group and it's not Sunday school but it is faith learning. As one wise women in the church said: "it's Jesus outside the box."
When she said that I imagined a crayon-drawn- box moving in thin air while Jesus danced on the outside of it's perimeter. There was a little word bubble above Jesus' head that said: Gottcha! You can still know me outside the box.
Many questions have been asked in the past few weeks, since discontinuing (at-least for now) the traditional Sunday School model at BFCC. Sunday school, created at the industrial revolution, to teach children how to read, has changed in pedagogy (in some ways) but stayed the same in model (mostly). These children spent their days in the factories working and, so Sunday and church was a perfect place to be educated. After the industrial revolution church-culture thrived. It was one of the main sources of entertainment, activity and tradition for nuclear family. Sanctuaries over-flowed. Providing "age-appropriate" church for children in a "traditional" school manner. Sitting at tables or desks reading the bible is how Sunday school was always done and would continue. For several generations these children got stars for learning bible verses, knew the parables and memorized the hymns. This form of faith learning, worked for some and turned off others. Some returning to church with their families as adults and some not.
Did it teach them about God? Who God might be for them? How they might relate to God in life's darkest moments? Did it teach them about the person Jesus was and how we might be followers of someone like him? Did it teach about Jesus' passions, his prophecy his wisdom and how we might use those teachings in our daily life?
I loved church so much as a young person that I entered an undergraduate program in Christian Education. And, the program, taught us how to examine traditional Sunday school curriculum. It taught us sophisticated ways to organize a Christian Education program (particularly in large congregations). It taught us how to train others to use the traditional Sunday school curriculum. It also taught us about the liturgical calendar, story-telling and what to do with a "one-room" Sunday school. It taught us that one size does not fit all.
Over the past couple of decades education has changed. Families have changed. Young people have changed. The church Sunday school model...not so much. And, we measure our success and failures from this traditional model.
The idea of multiple intelligences is recognized, we value process over content, experience over curricula. Our families are no longer simply nuclear. Capitalism is at an all-time high, meaning education is competitive and extra-curricular activities provide no time for faith-education. Parents have less time with their kids and whole families less time together. Churches are shrinking and when families want to go to church on a regular basis they often don't want to be sperated (once again) from their kids. By the way, the adverage church attendance of a whole family is once a month. Not enough to learn a bible story, embody it and apply it to their lives. The adult Sunday school teachers are exhausted and lack creativity. They too don't know how to apply God to their personal story and share it with our young ones. Recruiting dedicated teachers that want to teach faith, is hard.
Why are we putting Jesus in a box?
None of this is an excuse to not offer anything for families with children and youth in the home. It is an opportunity to think about other ways we can teach faith. It is an opportunity to be radically hospitable for this time and this place. The same women who provided the Jesus outside the box image said, "just by entering the faith community, Spirit is activated, and God is known. What more do folks want?"
The reason that I wanted to work in the church was because of my experiences. But, what I will tell you is that I don't love Jesus because of my third grade Sunday school class room. I love Jesus because there were adults in the church that took an interest in me. I love Jesus because the space felt like a sanctuary from the secular culture. I love Jesus because I went on mission trips and to soup kitchens. This is where I met Jesus. I had an interest in the teachings of Jesus because I served a Sader dinner one Lent, volunteered in worship and generally felt like I belonged. That I mattered. That feeling of belonging...that was God. I did not encounter God in a Sunday school classroom and by a traditional curriculum. It was in the activity of the church, that made me fall in love with the work of the church.
What can we create that is faith learning but not Sunday School and not Youth Group...?
When will it not become a failure if a Sunday school program does not work exactly the way it worked twenty years ago or even fifty years ago? When can we take Jesus outside the box?