Unification News for May 2002
The Education Corner - Down with Sunday School? Family Worship Here We Come?
Do these questions sound familiar? "If we believe in the family so strongly, then shouldnít we get rid of Sunday School and Youth Ministry and just have family worship? After all, isnít the home the first school of faith and true love?" "We donít need Sunday School anymore. Sunday School is passé." "We donít need to have age-segregated classes. We have the family for that."
Have any of you asked your local church director or pastor these questions before? I hear these questions quite often in Sunday School and parenting workshops. Parents and church leaders seem torn as to whether or not we need to continue the Sunday School system for our children. I imagine that if you survey many of the church communities throughout the United States and other countries, you will probably see a split between those who believe that Sunday School should be replaced by family worship time and those who feel that Sunday School is still an effective tool and resource for our children. So, who is right?
I am not so sure that it is a question of right and wrong anymore. Nor do I feel that it is a question of either Sunday School or family worship. It is a question of creating a new paradigm of religious education and faith development; a paradigm of family-centered, church-supported faith development and religious education. For decades now, the traditional Christian model of religious education has been church-centered, family-supported. This means children and teens go to their respective age-based classes while the parents attend the worship service with other adults in the church. It also means that the church is responsible for developing, creating, and organizing religious education materials for all age groups and is the center point of the churchís program of religious education for its members.
But now that we live in the Completed Testament Age as Blessed families, do we need this same structure for faith education? For me, the answer isnít "either/or" - either the Sunday School or the family worship. We need both Sunday School and family worship at this time. But we need to see them in a different relationship. This new relationship is the family-centered, church-supported model. What does this mean?
Sunday School provides a wonderful support system to ensure that our children are exposed to themes, issues, and topics that are vital to their faith development, yet that may not arise at home or may be omitted by parents for whatever reason. Parents, though the primary teachers of faith and love for their children, are not usually systematic in their approach to teaching. They donít think like teachers nor have the teacher training that encourages them to think systematically. They canít possibly think of every theme and topic during the week while they are doing Hoon Dok Hae or having family time. This becomes especially prominent during times of providential activity. Sunday School, on the other hand, can create a long-range systematic curriculum that can function as a tremendous complement to the teaching efforts of the parents. Sunday School, then, is needed to supplement the education that takes place in the home.
In addition, Sunday School provides an excellent forum for children of diverse families to come together and share their faith as a community of children. Sunday School challenges our youth to practice the tenets of their faith in a social context of like-minded youth. And it allows them to bond together as a loving community of children, who in turn can encourage as well as challenge each other to live their faith more clearly. Children are challenged to put their developing faith to the test in a safe, loving and protective environment but one that is beyond the confines of their immediate family in Sunday School. This is important as they mature toward ownership of their faith.
Finally, Sunday School or age-based religious education can target learning styles and abilities that are age-specific Ė something that is hard to do in a home full of children covering several age groups. Our children benefit from having lessons taught at their age level. As they wrestle with concepts and points of faith, age-specific activities and teaching methods can help them sort through their emerging questions in a supportive environment. Most parents will readily agree that this also helps them as parents. For those parents who are not trained in educational methods or who are extremely busy with work, mission, and raising a family, it is good to know that they are being supported by the Sunday School system in this way.
While Sunday School can be a tremendous asset, family worship is also necessary in the life of our blessed families. There is nothing more inspiring than to see whole families praying together, worshipping together, and sharing their gifts and talents together as they seek to honor and comfort Godís heart and build an identity together as blessed families. Family worship is the time when God can move the hearts of the family members at the same time as they worship together as a unit and as they worship as diverse families. It is an opportunity for Godís message to touch the hearts and minds of each family member at one time. And it is a time when one can see how the children, teens, young adults and adults respond to that same message. When this happens, it can be an exhilarating experience.
Family worship also challenges each family to recognize how God can touch the life of each family member in a different way as they worship together. What better lesson for the children than to see their parents genuinely offer their hearts and minds to God with love and tears? How inspiring and enriching for the parents when they see their children experience God with their pure and open hearts and minds Ė free of concepts and perceptions? This is especially true for families who may be experiencing parent/child difficulties. Children or teens who may be having a hard time loving and trusting their parents because of these difficulties can see their parents come before God with a prayerful heart and mind as they pray with tears for Godís providence during the family worship service. Parents too can see their children and teens in a different light when they worship together. Rebellious teens may now be seen as young men and women of faith who can bring joy to God when they respond in the worship service.
Of course, the success of such a model depends on having an effective Sunday School program and a worship service that can appeal to each age group in the congregation. In many cities and states, there may be a tremendous gap between the ideal stated above and the reality of their own particular situation. However, I believe that this is an ideal worth working toward. If we can change our thinking from the either/or viewpoint to having a family-centered, church-supported model, then we will recognize that for an effective religious education program, we need both Ė a strong Sunday School program and an effective family-friendly worship service.
Where Do We Go from Here?
So, how do we reach that point? What steps can we take toward this paradigm?
1. Create an Adult Class: During the time in which the church conducts Sunday School and Youth Ministry, why not have an Adult Faith Class as well? We as adults need some time to talk about the core of our faith, ask serious questions, and look at how we can live our faith more completely. So why not develop an adult class that meets at the same time as the Sunday School meets? Then all age groups benefit from age-specific religious education.
2. Welcome parents into the Sunday School class: Teachers can help create a family-friendly culture when they invite parents into their classroom on Sunday morning. In that way, teachers communicate to parents what they are trying to do. When parents know what their children are learning, they can be more effective home educators as well.
3. Create homework that includes the family: When giving children assignments in Sunday School, develop homework that allows the parents and other family members to become involved. Make homework a family affair. The Il Shim program is now developing a parental lesson guide as a way of involving the parents, as an example of this.
4. Create a family-friendly service: If the worship services are aimed only at the adults in the congregation, the children and youth will quickly become bored and will probably become disruptive. But, if we strive to develop an intergenerational ministry approach for family worship, we include everyone. This means greeters should be trained to be child-friendly as well as adult-friendly, sermons should be inclusive, and the church should look for ways that families can be responsible for various activities Ė such as collecting the offering or giving prayers. For those who say that adults need some spiritual food, then create an Adult Faith Class.
5. Create an intergenerational worship team: If you have a planning team or worship team, make it intergenerational. In that way, you gain great feedback as to how to make the family worship beneficial for all ages.
6. Use Program Bulletins effectively: Include a fun learning activity in the worship bulletin that small children can do during the service time. It might be coloring a small picture that relates to the sermon topic. Or it might be a list of ways that the family can follow through on the sermon during the week.
7. Be dedicated to a family-centered program: If the faith community is truly dedicated to building strong families and to seeing our children mature into adult men and women of faith, then this can become a reality. When we bring together diverse families who love God and each other, we can create effective religious education programs and activities.
We no longer have to merely imitate the past or follow what other churches have done before us. We need a paradigm of religious education that speaks to us in this Completed Testament Age. We need a paradigm that supports the faithful development of children, teens, young adults, older adults who live in a world of materialism, faithlessness, and immorality. Most of all, we need a paradigm of faith development that embraces, supports and uplifts the ethic of a family of true love. That is why we need a family-centered, church-supported model of religious education for todayís families. For this reason, both Sunday School and Family Worship can teach us thing or two!
Dr. Winings welcomes any and all questions that you have concerning education of all ages, teaching practices, curriculum and program design, parenting children and teens, service learning, and issues that generally deal with education. Your questions may be emailed to her at: IRFFint@aol.com or mailed to her at: Dr. Kathy Winings, 4 West 43rd Street, NYC, NY 10036.
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