Thinking Out Loud

January 15, 2018

Another Reason the Kids Aren’t at Church

Looks like nearly half of the 15 kids in this class are on their way to a ‘perfect attendance’ award; leading some Children’s Ministry directors to suspect this image is more fantasy than reality in many of our churches.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Sunday School classrooms were adorned with attendance charts with stickers applied for each Sunday kids were present. Today, those charts would be rather spotty as church attendance has suffered greatly over the past 20 years.

Back then we also were graded on a weekly point system with points applied for:

  • being present
  • being on time
  • bringing your Bible
  • bringing some money for offering
  • knowing the memory verse
  • completing the lesson in the “quarterly” (often done in the car en route to church)1
  • staying for “big church” afterwards

The Christian Education (CE) curricula of those days weren’t perfect, perhaps; but over a 3-4 year cycle we were exposed to the major body of Christian literature. Today I’m grateful to be Biblically literate2 and especially for the verses committed to memory, something harder to accomplish as you get older.

So why aren’t the kids showing up more consistently these days? In past writing and discussion I’ve always isolated two reasons:

  • Sports: Sunday morning and midweek programs for kids and teens is taking a major hit because of scheduling of competitions and practices involving soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and for those of us in Canada, hockey.
  • Shift Work: Families with a single vehicle find it impossible3 to get to church if someone has to work a Sunday morning shift (or is coming off a midnight shift).

However, in a discussion last week with a CE specialist — today sometimes referred to as a KidMin specialist — I realized I was completely overlooking a significant factor.

  • Custody Arrangements: When spending the weekend with one parent, church is part of the package, but the other parent doesn’t attend, so on those weeks the kids don’t get to connect.

I asked this person how many children in her program would be affected by this, and she said, “20 percent; adding, “I have kids for whom I’ll put some extra weeks of material together for them to take home, knowing I may not see them for a few weeks.”

(Related: If you missed our 3-part series on divorce, guest-written by a youth ministry specialist, click this link.)

We don’t have room to get into this here, but statistically, if the male parent takes the kids, there is greater likelihood of the children continuing to attend church as adults.4

Either way, not only do the kids miss the benefits of the lessons presented, but they also miss the more consistent contact with their church friends, often the only Christian friends they have. By the end of my junior year in high school (Grade 11 for my Canadian readers5) my friends were largely church friends, not school or part-time-job friends. If weekend services are missed, but they get to a solid midweek program at the church, much is redeemed, but the same factors (shift work, custody, and especially, sports) play havoc with those as well.

Then there is the issue of blended families. One parent may wish to take his children or her kids to church on Sunday morning, but the other kids weren’t raised with it. Just as water seeks its lowest level, I think you know that this might easily end up with the church-raised kids wanting to opt out for whatever reason.6

With the divorce rate showing no sign of changing, this is going to continue to be a challenge facing the church at large.7 You can’t have teens leaving church who were rarely there to begin with. 

If yours is a traditional family, encourage your kids to build friendships with those whose attendance is sporadic because of any of the three issues mentioned at the top of the article and then offer to pick up these kids and drive them to church yourselves.

 


1 If the church could afford the lesson books for each kid. Our church did for awhile, but we used a 6-point evaluation system, and I’m not sure which one in the list wasn’t included. Today, the cash cow for curriculum developers is VBS, and I suspect that many churches pour a lot of their CE budget there, instead of on weekly lesson workbooks.

2 Somewhat Biblically literate, that is; please don’t challenge me to a Bible trivia contest. For some reason I do not fare well at those.

3 Even if the parents weren’t attending, getting the kids to Sunday School was easier when there was a church bus available. Today, the phrase ‘church bus’ is a bit of an anachronism.

4 Focus on the Family did this research in the 1990s, I think. Extrapoloating from this, I’ve developed a theory that it’s equally important for kids to have memories of the male parent reading. (Related, see this item re. Bill Hybels’ ‘Chair Time’ concept.)

5 The American system of ‘freshman, sophomore, junior, senior’ is now under attack because of the men in freshman. To non-Americans, junior would tend to imply the first year of high school or college.

6 In some middle school and high school communities, it isn’t cool to go to church. But churches such as North Point have created curricula that the kids and teens find to be the highlight of their week. They can’t wait to get there each weekend.

7 For more about the impact of kids being shuttled back and forth between custodial parents, check out the 2008 Abingdon title, The Switching Hour.

 

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October 26, 2017

The Relevance of the Christian Narrative

Filed under: children, Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who teaches a pre-school class on Sundays and wants the kids to learn The Lord’s Prayer, preferably as she learned it in the King James Version. While she’s not hardline KJV-only (unless she wasn’t playing her hand) she made the case that if kids can start learning a second language by age 3, they should have no problem with a variance on the English they already know.

I am in two minds on this. To her credit:

  • Bible memorization is at an all time low in many Evangelical churches. She’s committed to a worthy goal.
  • Call God “Thee” or referring to “Thou” is a reminder that God is transcendent or “wholly other.”
  • The KJV, with its unique voice, can be quite easily committed to memory.
  • Going off a single script means kids may choose a translation randomly; each learning something different.

And yet as I pondered this I had some other concerns:

  • The obvious one is that this is a prayer guide; Jesus clearly prefaced this with the caution to avoid repeating the same prayers over and over. (That does not preclude memorizing it however. It can be a helpful prayer in times of extreme stress when other words won’t come.)
  • The flowery and ornate language of the KJV simply isn’t how people communicate in today’s world; it detaches the words from the 21st Century.
  • The formality flies in the face of the warmth of the use of the opening Abba (Daddy) in the original language.

We wrestled with this for years. My own church was an early adopter of the seeker sensitive evangelism strategy at one of our three Sunday services. Debates usually went something like this, “Do we make the gospel relevant or communicate the relevance it already has?”

Of course, a generation raised on the KJV version of The Lord’s Prayer is not the generation that’s dropping, like flies, out of church. There are dones and nones in my cohort, but they are a distinct minority. While I still insist that it’s time to move on, that version served us well.

In the end, whether she uses the KJV, The Voice or anything in between; I hope she teaches the meaning behind the prayer; I hope the kids can take ownership of what it really means to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom agenda and the carrying out of his will; to petition him for daily provision; to confess the areas where we have missed the mark and seek his help in avoiding them in future. To affirm at the end that it’s all his.

But more important, I hope they don’t miss the intimacy and communion that Jesus intended for his disciples when he taught them what was then a very radical approach to prayer.

 

October 14, 2016

Today, Lawyers Would Nix This Book

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

I really don’t know how this book came into our home. I was looking for something else and suddenly there it was, published by Zondervan in the year MCMXLVI.*

chemical-illustrations-by-basil-miller

The book is part of Christian Education resource genre referred to as “Object Lessons,” and these may have been more prevalent in early days than they are presently. The book naturally fell open to the following page:

chemical-illustration

Reaching the list of necessary chemicals at the bottom I realized that this book would never be published today.

First of all, your church’s insurance policy would probably be all over quashing the idea of someone showing up for church with turpentine, ammonia and kerosene. I know that when I show up for church with those things, the greeter at the door always takes me aside.

Second, Zondervan’s lawyers would have the same concerns and not want to be in a position of liability encouraging people to do this little trick. A page later, we’re warned, “Care should be taken not to spill any of the ingredients or the completed solution.” I guess so. I would be uncomfortable with the idea of doing this with adults, let alone teens or children. Things are simply too litigious these days than to risk presenting this in a church basement.

zondervan-classic-logo


*70 years ago in 1946

January 2, 2016

It’s Not Just a Story – Part Two

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it with Jack and the Beanstock?

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it as fable, along with Jack and the Beanstock?

I didn’t set out planning a second part to Friday’s post here, but Bruce Allen put so much thought into his comment, I decided we needed to share it more visibly. This is a response to part one, however, so if you haven’t read that, click this link. He lives in Nova Scotia and owns and operates Time Zone Media which does communications work for a variety of ministry organizations and businesses.

••• Guest post by Bruce Allen •••

In our English-language-world, words come and go and even reverse their meanings, such as “wicked” which meant “wonderful” for at least a few years. There is a long list of English words reversed meanings or held captive. People who blow themselves up in crimes against humanity are called martyrs by their fellow zealots and the news media picks it up and repeats the word until the general population accepts the new definition: Martyrs are cold-blooded killers rather than those murdered. Older English speaking Christians may sort out those “reversed meaning” words but what about a younger generation that stares blankly at their cell phones while texting and doing “selfies?” How should Bible translators deal with a language in flux? Is a “wicked” king now an “awesome” king rather than an evil king?

When the time arrived for Christian leaders to jettison words from earlier eras, there was a lot of brain-storming by Bible orality ministries to figure out what would replace “Bible story.” For my work with the words Bible and Bible stories, I came up with Bible chronicles.

Dictionary: Chronicle – noun, a chronological record of events; a history.

Wow! History, events, and accounts all sounded serious enough words to be Christian so I bought the Bible Chronicles web address and launched my Bible story word revolution with positive vibes.

After using Bible chronicles for several years, I discovered that fellow believers could never remember our web address: BibleChronicles.org . Whenever I felt duty-bound to tell church goers that “Bible story” didn’t cut it in today’s changing world, they fretted and worried. After tiring of explaining, I abandoned the revolution and returned to using Bible stories.

When a word like story is so embedded in a language, it is difficult to suddenly abandon it for other words, especially when the general population is unaware of the Christian world of words and their meanings. As far as teaching our own children, maybe we could begin with not telling them that Santa is real. If Santa knows that we are naughty or nice, who needs God? And what about the Easter bunny and a host of other fables? Do we set our kids up to think we never tell the truth?

Whatever we parents are, our kids become. It may not be so obvious during the teen years, but give it a decade and they become like mom and dad. If they come to understand that we parents truly love them and that we love Jesus and believe his words, we are on solid ground.

Of course we need to teach by the example of lived day to day. We also need to teach them from the Bible and about the Bible. If we see on TV that ISIS just took sledgehammers to Jonah’s tomb in Nineveh, that is a good historical lesson. Who would put a tomb there if there were no Jonah?

Christian kids need to be taught by parents that the world of Christians and Jews is rooted firmly in history – and with the war in Syria and Iraq, history is right in front of our biblical noses. Recently, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain by the ISIS murderers. Why not find out about those ancient Christian churches and why they celebrate the Jonah fast? Why not tell the story of those Christians and then read the Biblical account to anyone who will listen – including our children? We have the best stories ever – they are in the Bible and they are true.

From Wikipedia:

Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon’s Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, oriental churches of the Middle East commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drinks. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.

Here is a video of ISIS smashing the tomb of Jonah. Scroll down the page to view it. 


Bruce Allen is a Christian communications consultant to ministries using solar audio Bibles to reach an estimated 3 billion people who cannot read God’s written Word. He is also a software developer who has created ToucanChat for ministries and businesses. A simple installation of Toucan Chat helps ministry workers connect with visitors on their website in real time. Bruce’s personal opinion in the “Bible story” article is his own and does not reflect the views of any particular ministry. 

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

 

 

 

December 31, 2015

It’s Not Just a Story

Is the story of Balaam and his donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Bible tells to make another point? It's possible to accept it as something that happened, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Is the story of Balaam and his talking donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Biblical writer tells to make another point? It’s possible to accept it as rooted in genuine events, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Several weeks ago I attended a Saturday morning breakfast organized as part of a national initiative, the Canadian Christian Business Federation. They are currently operating in six provinces here, and this was my second time at the local chapter.

Some of the best interactions in situations like this happen outside the boundaries of what was formally organized. It turned out that the person sitting next to me at breakfast was from Florida, where he is part of a Creation Science ministry.

We met up later in the morning at the Christian bookstore, and he was looking at Children’s products. I started talking about some of my recent conversations with parents on how as kids, we learn the ways of God through narratives. Adam and Eve. David and Goliath. Jonah and the large fish. Joshua and the Wall of Jericho. Three men in the fiery furnace.

At one point, I used the word story to describe these, and at that point he corrected me, and it’s a correction I’ve been very consciously aware of over the past few weeks. Better, he suggested to use the word account.

The problem with story is that in some peoples’ minds it is synonymous with tale or myth. Now, I realize as I write this, that there are some people — even among readers here — who do in fact see some of these as allegorical tales. Especially the creation narrative with which he works so closely. I suppose we need to save that one for another day.

I also realize that the New Testament in particular is full of parable. There wasn’t ever a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son; right? Or had this played out somewhere? Were there several prodigal sons? Or is the parable an amalgam of things that have actually happened at different times in different places?

There’s even a classic Old Testament parable, told by Nathan, that we could call The Farmer and the Lamb.

So how do little children — who are being taught things that are myths and tales in their English classes — separate fact from fiction? Can a Christian kid say categorically that there was a David, a Jonah, a Joshua? Or are they just reading these things as literature?

Much of our attention in the church at large is currently focused on establishing the authority of the New Testament gospels. We know the disciples were willing to die for what they believed; what they had heard and seen with their own eyes and ears, or the testimony of witnesses they considered to be reliable.

But what about the authority of the Old Testament historical books?  Are the children in our sphere of influence as confident in the story account of the three men in the fiery furnace, or in their minds, is it in the same class as the one about Goldilocks and the three bears?

By better controlling our use of language, and especially thinking in terms of scriptural accounts we are testifying to the verity of the people and situations described.

 

 

September 1, 2015

Homeschool Parents’ Paranoia Extends To Sunday School Teachers at Their Own Church

This archive article is the second of two in a mini-series on the homeschool movement which I began yesterday. In this case, this will actually be the third time around for this one, but the other two were over five years ago…

homeschool fishFor seven months, Mrs. W. and I (but mostly her) were forced to become homeschoolers during a period when Kid One wasn’t quite fitting into the public school near our home. Despite the short period in which we did this, we became immediate friends with other people in the homeschool movement, and I would say we can somewhat understand their motivation.

So if you’re a homeschooler, let me say that I get it when it comes to not wanting your children to be under the influence — for six hours each weekday — of people who do not share your core values, some of whom may be 180-degrees opposed to your core values.

What I don’t get is not wanting to put your kids in the Sunday School program — some now call it small groups for kids program — of your home church. Not wanting anyone else to teach your kids anything. If your home church is that lax when it comes to recruiting teachers, or if you are that concerned that any given teacher in your church’s children’s program could espouse some really wacky doctrine — or worse, admit that he or she watches sports on Sundays — then maybe you should find another church.

To everyone else, if these comments seem a bit extreme, they’re not. Apparently, in one particular church that was under discussion this week, the homeschool crowd — which makes up the vast majority of those in the ‘people with kids’ category at this church — has decided that absolutely nobody else is going to teach their kids anything about the Bible. (Those same parents say they’re too tired from teaching their children all week to take on a weekend Sunday School assignment.)

In other words, it’s not just people in the public school system who aren’t good enough to teach their kids, it’s also people in their home church.

I am so glad that my parents didn’t feel that way. I think of the people who taught me on Sunday mornings, the people who ran the Christian Service Brigade program for boys on Wednesday nights, the people who were my counselors and instructors at Church camp, and I say, “Thank you; thank you; thank you! Thank you for sharing your Christian life and testimony and love of God’s word with me when I was 5, 8, 11, 14 and all the ages in between. And thank you to my parents for not being so protective as to consider that perhaps these people weren’t good enough to share in the task of my Christian education.”

I also think of Donna B., the woman who taught Kid One at the Baptist Church that became our spiritual refuge for a couple of years. He really flourished spiritually under her teaching, reinforced of course, by what we were doing in the home.

What message does it send to kids when the only people who have it right when it comes to rightly dividing the Word of truth are Mommy and Daddy? And what about the maturity that comes with being introduced to people who, while they share the 7-12 core doctrines that define a Christ-follower, may have different opinions about matters which everyone considers peripheral?

Where does all this end? Are these kids allowed to visit in others’ homes? When they go to the grocery store, are they allowed to converse with the woman at the checkout? My goodness; are they even allowed to answer the phone?

I’m sorry, homeschoolers, but when you start trashing the Sunday School teachers at your own church, you’ve just crossed the line from being passionate, conservative Christian parents to being downright cultish.

…There’s more to the story (two weeks later) — In an off-the-blog discussion I realized there is a critical factor missing in the original article that couldn’t be shared at the time. Because homeschool families made up the majority of this church congregation, it kind of stopped the Sunday School in its tracks. But more important, it ended up preventing any kind of mid-week program that would have been an outreach to neighborhood families that the pastor regarded as a vital element of the church’s ministry; and ultimately the church simply never grew.

However, when all attempts at outreach were ended — the pastor was forced to give up that agenda — one of the core family parents said, and this is a direct quote, “Isn’t it great; all the new people have left. That’s right, the new families that had wandered in got that spidey sense that told them they just didn’t belong and they all left that church, and the remaining families were glad that they left. Talk about backward priorities.


Update (2015) — The pastor of that church ended up leaving the denomination and is now enjoying a ministry on another part of the continent. I do seriously question any Christian denomination allowing all this to happen without severing ties with the church in question. In that particular town, that particular denomination has a reputation and it’s not a particularly good one. If I were part of a district or national office staff, I would be quite concerned.

March 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Today’s graphics are a couple of Cheezburger classics from 2009.

cat-can-part-snow

Is the Modern Offering the Same as Biblical Almsgiving? – “I have never heard an evangelical sermon on almsgiving. Despite countless texts in the Hebrew Bible about generosity toward the poor, the example of the first Christians, and a long tradition of the practice, especially during Lent, I have rarely heard the word mentioned in my adult life as a Christian. ‘Tithes and offerings,’ yes of course, and many are the sermons I have heard about the generic subject of ‘stewardship’ or ‘giving,’ but rarely has anyone explained to me what ‘almsgiving’ means and how it relates to other kinds of giving practices…’Bible-believing’ churches…have gotten the subject of Christian generosity and serving others with our resources all jumbled up… Almsgiving is not grounded in the need to support theocratic institutions, but on the specific call to “remember the poor.”

Fans Continue to Make(up) Pilgrimages to See Tammy Faye – From January in The Witchita Eagle: “Since her death on July 20, 2007, fans and friends of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner occasionally make pilgrimages to where the ashes of the Christian television celebrity were laid to rest. There, they leave the types of cosmetic items – lipstick, mascara – that helped give Tammy Faye her distinctive look. In a Harper County cemetery, remote and unmarked, Tammy Faye’s gravestone is far away from the glamor, controversy and cameras that followed the woman who helped build three Christian television networks…” Widower Ron Messner said, “She was the most common, down-to-earth person you ever saw. The press always made her out to be some nitwit type of person. She was totally different. Her IQ was 165.”

35 Years Later, Bob Jones Retracts Idea of Stoning Gays – The Washington Post quotes him: “I take personal ownership for this inflammatory rhetoric…This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved… Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached.” The retraction came after a petition was begun demanding it.

The Divide Over Franklin Graham’s Facebook Comment – First Graham said, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that.” Then Jim Wallis responded, “It is not that simple. As a leader in the church, you are called to be an ambassador of reconciliation. The fact that you identify a widely acknowledged social injustice as “simple” reveals your lack of empathy and understanding of the depth of sin that some in the body have suffered under the weight of our broken justice system. It also reveals a cavalier disregard for the enduring impacts and outcomes of the legal regimes that enslaved and oppressed people of color…” Other leaders signed on to his statement, while the discussion plays out in over 1,000 comments at Sojourners. (More coverage at CT Gleanings.)

Small Groups Based on the Sunday Sermon – This is an in-house link to a sister blog of PARSE that really struck a chord because we’ve had the discussion at our house many times over the past few years; and as it turned out, Ed Stetzer wasn’t just trying to sell more LifeWay curriculum: “Proponents of the sermon-based model love the synergy their people get; instead of bombarding them with different messages multiple times in a week, the church is able to hammer again and again the core truths of the week. It creates a greater sense of focus than you might otherwise have; that sense of focus is at least part of the reason for the growth in these types of groups. But with the benefits come a new set of challenges to effective disciple-making through sermon-based groups.”

USA Today Explores the Decline of Sunday School – “Instead of a day of rest, Sunday has become just another day for over-scheduled kids to be chauffeured from sports practice to music lessons or SAT tutoring. It doesn’t help that parents themselves, so overwhelmed by life, are skipping church. ‘You would go to church, and then an hour or hour 15 minutes of Sunday school. It takes up all your morning. It felt like more of a chore for them to go, when you’re giving up some of your weekend and attending school during the week,’ says [LeeAnn] MacNeil. ‘By the time they come home, it’s 12 noon, and when you have a weekend, you want to play with your friends outside and be a kid.'”

On Commercial Christian Publishing – Ed Cyzewski: “When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an ‘author’ hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work… I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it.”

How Your Sponsored Child Picture is Taken – Some of the Compassion International children have never had their picture taken before and so it’s a pretty big deal.“They feel so excited to take the pictures that they come jumping and dancing to the project. At the time of their photo shoot, they become more serious, and we have to keep telling them to smile. Otherwise, they are enthusiastic.”

Men, Sinful Cravings, and Pornography – Two related articles; first, one by J.D. Greear when you wonder why God doesn’t simply remove the cravings: “[S]ometimes God allows us to struggle with a lesser sin to keep us from a greater one—pride. Because if you or I were immediately cured from certain sins, we’d become insufferably proud.” Second, Dave Jenkins with six essential ingredients necessary in repentance from porn: “The porn addict lives in a world where they go through a cycle of feeling sorry for what they did, but never coming to see the gospel seriousness of what they have done.”

Ten of the Worst Christian T-Shirts – and we’re sure there were plenty of runners up. “I’ve always found American Christian culture’s diminishment of the sacred to be extremely troubling. In a manner foreign to other faiths, evangelicalism often obscures the holy in a cloud of kitsch. Take, for instance, the Christian t-shirt. Now here’s a phenomenon that serves absolutely no purpose. Oh, I know that they’re sold as powerful tools for evangelism, but let’s be honest. Have you ever met someone who saw a ‘Lord’s Gym’ t-shirt and fell to the ground crying, ‘WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED!?‘”

Song of Solomon’s Ideal Woman – “At first glance, this might look like nudity. But I promise it’s just gazelles.” Okay, but it may not be safe for the church office. (And yes, we remember the Wittenburg Door version.)

A Refreshing Musical Voice – This time last week we had never heard of Heather Janssen who has been posting videos to YouTube for six years. Enjoy a minimalist acoustic guitar cover of Hillsong’s This I Believe, or the fuller grand piano sound of an original song.

I had enough material this week for two columns; be sure to check back on the weekend for more.

funny-dog-pictures-jesus-shepherd

March 1, 2014

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:42 am

Earlier this week, a package turned up in the mail containing the book Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson (Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013). The book is a quick read at around 86 digest-sized pages so I was able to complete it in a single morning.

Samuel C. WIlliamson

Samuel C. Williamson

The author’s background is compelling. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

  • My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.
  • Though sympathetic to the work of the Holy Spirit, my father disagreed with aspects of AOG theology. He became a Presbyterian and was a PCA pastor until his retirement in 1995…
  • I studied European Intellectual History, Philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Michigan.
  • I served in missions overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in 17th Century, European Intellectual history.)
  • With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there as an executive and Chief Product Manager for 25 years.
  • In 2007 I heard God call me to writing and speaking. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.

I agree with the premise of the book as the subtitle defines it. We are teaching kids behaviors and virtues which, while they are important part of passing our values on to the next generation, are not necessarily distinct from what other religions teach. The heart of gospel is most evident when we’re not living out the fruit of the spirit; when we’re angry; when we fall into sin; etc. The heart of the gospel is the grace of God. It’s that grace that sets us apart from other belief systems.

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids - Samuel C. WilliamsonAs such, the book is commendable, but as the author confesses in an afterword at the end, the book’s main title is mostly provocative; he’s not addressing specific Christian Education or Children’s Ministry issues here as he’s also concerned with the predominance of moralism and performance-based faith that is found equally in adult sermons and Christian books, which are often concerned with offering a “quick fix” or “ten easy steps” to meeting any challenge.

There were also some areas where the book suffered the fate of self-published titles in its overuse of bold face type (though thankfully, not capital letters) on things like the titles of other works or for emphasis where italics is the common standard. I mention that only because I think that if some of the chapters were fleshed out more, and the book went through more editorial vetting, a major publisher could pick up this title, even though Christian publishers are not spared in the sixth chapter!

All that said, there was enough of interest here to render this worthy of recommendation and the above comments notwithstanding, I think that Christian educators and Sunday School teachers should give this a look as well, especially given its pricing at only $5.99 US, and especially due to a chapter on how simply teaching moralism may be part of the reason kids exit the church as soon as they’re old enough. As John and Kim Walton showed us in a much longer work, The Bible Story Handbook (Crossway), too often we are pulling out the wrong interpretation or spinning the story incorrectly anyway.

I encourage you to check out the author’s blog BeliefsOfTheHeart.com where you’ll also find more info on the book and podcasts. The book is available from A-zon online or if you order through a bookstore, you can tell them it’s available from Ingram using ISBN 9781941024003.

Sometimes I’m very happy to write a review and move on, but this time around, my appreciation of this little book grew as I wrote this analysis. If anything here or on the author’s blog resonates with you, I hope you’ll track it down.

September 1, 2013

Children’s Worship

In the time and place where I grew up, the songs we sang in Sunday School, Children’s Church and at the Christian camp were quite different from what the adults were singing in the main auditorium at weekend services. Lately there has been more of a convergence of what is heard in the Christian Education wing of the building and what is sung in the main sanctuary (and what is played on Christian radio).

We could argue the merits of this and also the weaknesses, but my point here isn’t to get into a deep debate on the philosophy of Children’s ministry. I think there are obviously some pluses to having Mom, Dad and the kids all being able to sing the same worship songs in the car on the way home; and there are obvious benefits to age-appropriate worship songs, too.

This weekend I went searching on YouTube for an older song I remembered from my past: Lovely Noise. The only versions I could find were kid-min (children’s ministry) versions, but I appreciated the life and energy. Here’s that song and another I listened to more than once:

The same song is also available here. I liked the graphics on it, but preferred the audio on the one I posted.

I’ve always associated the song Undignified with, at best, youth ministry, but I suppose that with the right set up (explanation) you could teach it to older children.

Bonus video: Here’s a kid min version of Trading My Sorrows. I know there are probably more current songs being used in Children’s ministry, but I wanted to simply introduce the genre here with the ones I watched in the last 48 hours.

August 8, 2013

Thursday Link List

linksHere’s a few things that just missed being in yesterday’s list. I may add them to next week’s for the wider audience at Out of Ur; then again I might forget.

  • Bene Diction Blogs On has a good follow-up piece on the huge credibility gap with Tony Anthony’s book Taming the Tiger, which has culminated in the closing of his ministry.  Click here.
  • Who is Samuel Williamson? The name doesn’t register, but his blog, Beliefs of the Heart gets a lot of comment action. In a recent piece he suggests that Sunday School with its simplified-message Bible stories possibly does more harm than good. Click here
  • This is not a current link, but the above reminds me of a piece we did here about ten months ago about The Bible Story Handbook, by John and Kim Walton. See below for a quotation.  Click here.
  • I’m sure that when the Bible speaks about wives submitting to husbands, nobody had in mind the type of things Lee Grady has witnessed. Click here.
  • Rocky of Ages:  This is a current link, but pertains to some old information. An email is making the rounds about the conversion of Sylvester Stallone. Unlike many religiously flavored email forwards, this one actually made it into Snopes.com. Click here.

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (John & Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook; p. 25)

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