Our church has been struggling with how to do or reintroduce Sunday school, Christian education, church school, nurture, faith formation — whatever you want to call it for our children. I’m not referring to a “Children’s Church” for older children, or regular nursery care for those two and under. I’m calling for a planned regular way to make sure our children come out of their growing up years of church and be at least somewhat biblically illiterate.
Like many, or perhaps most, mainstream Protestant churches, our congregation has been struggling with the “too busy” aspect of family life, and for some years, no small children lighting our doors. Or, if they do come to worship, parents and children are sometimes too spent from a busy week to participate in church school whether before or after a worship service.
So our formal educational efforts fell by the wayside in the last few years. Research is rampant on how family life in the 2000s meant less church involvement. Sports teams play or practice all weekend including Sunday mornings. Or parents feel their family needs down time and don’t go anywhere on Sunday morning — or if they do, they go hiking, camping, amusement parks, weekend trips to visit grandparents, birthday parties, jump parks, escape rooms.
This fall, our small church took a leap back into a shortened faith formation time occurring during the second half of the worship service (the sermon etc.). We have a rotating team of about 12 volunteer teachers who are taking turns guiding the young ones to a classroom, anywhere from 0 to 10 on any given Sunday.
That makes preparation hard, but doable if you are committed to children growing up with basic biblical background. One couple shared a curriculum they thought was very flexible for our current situation, called Telling God’s Story, and it focuses on the New Testament. Another option I’m aware of from my former workplace is Shine children’s curriculum (find more info about either online).
A couple weeks ago the lesson a retired minister and I led from Telling God’s Story was about Jesus healing a Roman Centurion’s servant boy. The Bible says the centurion had “great faith.” He told Jesus he didn’t even have to physically come to his house to heal the child, just say the word and “he’ll be healed” according to stories recorded in Matthew and Luke. Our art project was decorating a drawing of the centurion’s helmet with colored rice (or purchased colored sand). I chose to color the rice ahead of time. You use a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water and dry it. (I’ll send the recipe for those interested, see below.)
When eight children showed up for our class that Sunday, ranging from 3 to age 9, I was a little overwhelmed. But two nursery workers assisted us as the children picked out what color of rice to use on what part of the picture, “painting” the picture with watered-down glue, sprinkling the rice on, and then shaking off the excess after it dried, and then moving on to a new part of the picture. Kind of complicated I’d say for a still-3-year-old and a sleepy-and-at-first-bored 9-year-old. But I was pleased and fascinated with how well even this boy engaged as he got involved in this art project. The all quietly listened as Bill told the Bible story as they worked.
My friend and creative genius Dennis Benson recently put it this way: “I found that kids need to be engaged. Boredom drives them to be wild.”
Now, what will they remember years down the road? Will they remember the colored rice? Will they remember that Jesus had some unusual friends in high places and he taught us to love and help everyone? I hope so, but of course that’s anyone’s guess.
I was pleased to hear a young woman share how she fondly recalls the Bible given to her in second grade by her church. She remembers how fascinated she was by the stick figures in the Today’s English Version presented to her, and often studied those drawings for what they communicated. She recalled a very rich experience growing up in her church. That’s something we can all hope for children of the church.
Information on Telling God’s Story is on Amazon. Info on Shine is at shinecurriculum.com.
For a free “How to Make Colored Rice” recipe by email or snail mail, send your request or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.