The traditional church's Sunday school, over the past two decades, has undoubtedly failed. It has not only failed to fulfil the original wishes of the traditional church but has also made the next generation weary of Christianity, so much that when children finally leave their parents for more spiritual and economic independence, they flee their parents' religion and even have violent conflicts with them because of their faith, a consequence of such differences in values. Of course, there are social development factors in such conflicts and differences. However, part of the blame also lies with the churches' rather mundane teaching methods and communicating the concept of being "set apart as holy".
Traditional Christianity has, in order to protect its religious teachings, set up environments and relations that were in conflict with these teachings so that people have encircled themselves with self-made fences, creating alienation and confrontation with the society. As a result, the new generation has entered society either completely distant from Christianity and dismissing it as a superstition and ignorance or totally relied on Christianity without any social responsibility. There really are very few 'normal and healthy' Christians. Regarding intergenerational inheritance, traditional Christianity has reached the end, and the topic is therefore worthy of every Christian's reflection and attention.
The traditional church's mindset is based on protecting the religion and therefore the selecting of content for its teaching materials has resulted in the following:
First, the Sunday school textbooks contain all but religious content, such as Bible stories, bedtime Bible stories, doctrinal questions and answers, biblical structure and so forth, which is entirely the content of religion teachings;
second, the goal of education is to have children remember the teachings, recite the Bible and remember Bible characters, as well as remember doctrinal questions and answers, which forms the only outcome of learning in the Sunday school;
third, the teaching style is purely that of feeding. What the learner does with it, what spiritual significance it has, how it challenges, what variety and or excitement there is--these are all missing and can therefore easily make children tired of it.
Based on the situation mentioned above, I would like to share some ideas on improving it.
First, we need to change the teaching objective. Sunday school's goal should not be to produce religious progeny nor should it be a workshop for producing religious teachings, but rather be a platform for the promotion of the faith.
Religion is strict and dogmatic with unalterable doctrines and laws. So regarding the purpose of religious education, it is clearly contrary to the principles of education, and in the end is counterproductive.
Our faith is alive and active as we may perceive it from the teachings of Jesus. The language used by Jesus was the language of daily life. No religious jargon was used to teach profound truths but rather parables that are familiar from life. Understanding the multitudes' concern, his teachings were not diseminating information but rather speaking to the heart of his listeners. What Jesus brings is life to our faith.
There needs to be a change from the traditional idea of spreading a certain religion to caring about the person's inner being; to know their interests, not simply instilling doctrine; to know the livelihood to our faith which lies in life and nature.
Second, we need to change the teaching methods. Since we are promoting the faith instead of continuing to feed on the doctrine and dogma, encourage children to have a sense of wonder and remember God's greatness.
The view of faith can be either large or small. The large refers to the macro and the small to the micro. So regarding aith, we should not only have Sunday school students appreciate nature and the magnificence of the universe, but also appreciate the minuteness of a cell and the atomic world. Regarding daily life, not only should they be taught about the ethics of life, but also about the wholistic care and love of people and things. Like Jesus, they are to learn to discover deep truths in everyday life as well as the wonderful mysteries found in nature and in the heavens, which are part of the richness and wonder of God.
Therefore, students will not conflicted in their faith beliefs when they study the natural sciences and or the humanities. By changing the traditional Sunday school methods, we should delve into nature, into history and society, and the ocean of humanity.
Third, we should change the past emphasis on territoriality and theological allegiances. The traditional Christian Sunday school often has its own idea of claiming to be part of a certain group or theology, which sometimes exists within the church. The hope is that the next generation will be converted to and established in that church, or to establish a daughter church. It is this sectarian mentality that expect the young to enter the church of the same system when they are old enough to leave home for work or university. Or there is the denominational mentality in which the young are educated regarding religion and are taught to know which churches are heretical, which are cults, which are problematic, or which hold to certain religious teachings that are aberrant. It is all about gaining people for own church or denomination but not about passing on the gospel.
In summary, the traditional church generally does not consider the teachings of Jesus but rather dismembers them into doctrines and creeds, and does not consider how Jesus would act.
Fourth, we should change the traditional identity of teachers and students. In the traditional Sunday school, the teacher is the authority not to be questioned by students. This communicates an "exalted view" of the religious teachings and creates the conditions for the establishment of an indoctrination model in which the students are sheep who can only obey the teacher's command. Now, let's change this concept. The student is the master and the teacher is a servant to the student. The teacher should design the curriculum according to the students' interests and wishes and find a suitable teaching method in order to attract them.
Therefore, changing the status quo is to change the concept and means but also to change the mentality of Sunday school teachers by improving their own knowledge.
Therefore, a change in Sunday school would be difficult in terms of changing the teachers themselves. This requires time and energy to study history, sociology, education, physics etc. to increase a broader vision and a certain amount of knowledge. Traditional Sunday schools, that only disseminate doctrine and dogma, are actually lazy by continuing in the old way.
We may therefore wish to open such courses for Sunday schools. Here are my suggestions.
First, churches need to set up their own Sunday school library for different ages including the collection of paintings, encyclopedias, popular history, excellent literature, popular science books and others. Regarding encyclopedias, I recommend the British DK series which is a good set for children.
Second, open specially designed courses for young children. An Bible story taken from the Bible must change into a picture Bible story. The boring, original Bible content must change into using excellent picture books and other creative media. The traditional way of teaching doctrine must instead used art, related games and crafts. Japanese picture books, authors and illustrators such as Iwamura and Lang, David Shannon, Leo Leonie and others should be included as resource materials.
Third, bring natural science into the classroom. Churches can buy basic equipment such as microscopes and telescopes to expand children's horizons and discover another wonderful world.
Fourth, replace the original higher-grade religious curriculum with the humanities such as history and sociology, and replace the traditional dissemination and teaching of doctrine with discussion and what is considered to be interesting. Use games, essays, and quizzes. The purpose is to allow students to establish the interest for proactive learning.
Jesus said, "you see the lilies in the fields do not work and do not spin thread, yet God feeds them". The traditional church only pays attention to the second half of the verse, only focusing on the fact that God feeds them and dresses them better than Solomon was dressed, but pays no attention to the lilies in the field. In Jesus' teachings, we focus only on the religion of the second half, but ignore the nature of the first half. Don't you know that the first half of the verse that you ignore is the basis for the second half?
Therefore, turning the church Sunday school into the most willing place for children to learn may be more in line with Jesus' teachings than turning it into a sacred place.
- Translated by Charlie Li