Children’s Church & Sunday School Theology

DSCN1199We have managed to underestimate our children for several decades here in America. We water down the Bible stories and avoid topics of questionable Western behavior. We think by sharing only the miraculous stories and those that elevate the Bible character that we are somehow inspiring our children.

Years ago when I was a youth minister at a country church, the Sunday School topic for the Middle School aged kids was SEX. The elementary kids had a different topic and so did the high school kids. All of our classes were taught by volunteers and the Baptist Association did a good job of selecting the curriculum for teaching that quarter. For many, the topic of sex at the middle school age can be very timely and there is nothing wrong with a Christian perspective on a very touchy subject. However, the volunteer teacher refused to teach on the subject and did not show up for the class. The pastor asked if I would mind teaching them that day. I had no problem with stepping in but I was a little ill prepared because I had not looked over the teaching material and did not want to adlib on such an important topic.

The youth were very forgiving, thought it was funny, and typical that adults did not want to talk about sex and were not surprised that their volunteer teacher refused to show up. We had a good class that morning and the youth felt like they could speak openly about sex and eventually shared their limited knowledge on the subject. Quite frankly, I was impressed by the effort the parents had put forth on the topic and the conversations they had already had. We discussed everything from Adam and Eve to Isaac and Rebekah to New Testament passages like Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Surprised smiling little girl

Surprised smiling little girl

Even back then, the youth had questions about adultery, divorce, remarriage, incest, age of marriage, what God thinks of homosexuality, abuse, and many other topics. As Christian adults, these are topics we need not shrink back from. Like hand to hand combat, it is best to move into these opponents and wrestle with them Biblically and one by one. As a resource for discussing tough subjects, the Bible pulls no punches. The writers of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had no issue with showing real life situations and demonstrate how our decisions, free will, and sin impact the world both physical and spiritual.

As a result of many of our “adult” approaches to the Bible, we have grown up decades of adults that only know the pretty stories or what I call Sunday School Theology. We all know about Noah and the Ark but rarely is what happened next with Noah taught, shared, or discussed.

So imagine yourself as a young 19-20 year Soldier who gets orders for Germany for his or her first assignment. Which story would have equipped you better: the Sunday School Theology version of Noah and the Ark or the story of Noah and the Ark plus the fact that he built a vineyard-got drunk and took off all his clothes? From my experience, a young soldier would be able to relate to the second version much better than the first.

I am not advocating for explicit material to be taught in our Bible Studies, Discipleship classes, or Sunday Schools. I am advocating for teaching the Bible as the real life document that it is and was intended to be. We help no child by keeping things out of context. In fact, I am of the opinion that our past and current methods of Sunday School Theology are the very reasons why most young adults leave church at 18, never to return. We are failing to give them anything Biblically useful for the life they are about to experience.

The visual that comes to mind for our current methods is found in the story of the disciples refusing the little children from approaching Jesus. In response, Jesus tells the disciples “suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:14

As a person who did not come to the saving knowledge of Jesus until the age of 18, I was not exposed to Sunday School Theology but I saw it in my fellow young adults that I attended with in the months after my salvation. My College and Career teacher was a Vietnam Veteran and held little back. There were few subjects that were off limits. Having the life experiences I had, this was refreshing and made me hungrier than ever to discover the answers for myself that lay ready to be found in God’s word. At the same time, I witnessed young adults around me wonder why I was so passionate and determined. I did not just want to know the Sunday School version of Noah, I wanted to know what he did before the flood and after the flood and desired to see how his faith played out to the end of his life. All I had known were people who were unsafe and did not have my best interests in mind. I found my fellow students to be lacking in worldview and experience, although one would be hard pressed to call bad experiences good teachers. When I came to faith, I knew what bad, wrong, and evil were, I had experienced them first hand. However, once I got to know my peers, I realized that many of them had tough experiences but rarely spoke of them because it was improper to do so in a church environment.

Herein is my second point regarding Sunday School Theology; if we can’t be truthful at church then where can we be truthful. We are called to be of one mind as believers and I think this oneness is the very strength and calling God desires of us all as Christians. It is an intriguing study to research “oneness” in the Bible and if you do, you will quickly find that we are to be one as believers. This requires, honesty and accountability. The most convincing verse, to me is found in John 17:22, “The glory which you have given me I have given them, that they may be one, just as we are one.”

Bible StudyHow will we as Christians live the oneness promised us if we worship our God in church divided in mind, divided in character, and divided in the knowledge of the Bible? Our kids are left wanting because they see our inconsistency of faith, our lack of oneness in belief, and they hear us constantly use the Bible out of context to fit our situation.

We must be about anticipating the fulfillment of Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” As for me and my house, this starts in our house and should be more than evident in our churches. I believe God’s word that “He will” do these things but what are we doing to set the conditions? The conditions are not set by teaching our children the Bible out of context and being divided in our application of our beliefs. We must move toward our kids and their questions not away.

None of which I propose is easy, it requires us as parents to wrestle with God like Jacob and to seek Him as Jesus instructs in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you.” It is a false theology to believe this verse applies to material wealth. Rather, it has everything to do with how we access our God. We are to be intentional and persistent. One wise old professor stated my proposal this way, “Chase God until He catches you!” Have your children ever seen you chase God? If not, you may be practicing Sunday School Theology.

Mijikai Mason
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Mijikai Mason and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Bio: Mijikai Mason is an Ordained Southern Baptist minister and Chaplain in the United States Army. He has been in the Army for 26 years both as an enlisted Soldier and now as an Officer. He has been stationed at various bases in the United States and in United States Army Garrison Schweinfurt, Germany. He holds an undergraduate degree in Religion from the University of Mobile, a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and Evangelism and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Webster University. Chaplain (MAJ) Mijikai Mason was selected by the Army in 2013, to become a Family Life Chaplain and began his service in this field starting 15 May 2015. He is the Deputy ESC Chaplain and Family Life Chaplain for the 593 Expeditionary Support Command at Joint Base Lewis McCord. He has deployed four times: Desert Storm (1991), Iraq twice (2005-2006; 2007-2008), and Afghanistan (2012-2013). He has a total of 42 months deployed in combat and logistics operations. Mijikai and his wife, Ashley, have been married for 17 years this May and live near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington with their four daughters.