Sunday School Has and Is Failing Us

For the second time in as many weeks, I have come across the reality that our Sunday schools are failing our children and our families. The first instance was in a presentation by Ken Ham entitled Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It, put out by Worldview Weekend. In it, Ham tells of the studies done that show by the time our children have made it to college, they are already gone. Ham writes:

Indeed, as our survey revealed, there is a “Sunday school syndrome” contributing to the epidemic of young people leaving the church. Our survey numbers are statistically significant (and are absolutely contrary to what we would have expected). This is a brutal wake-up call for the church, showing how our programs of Christian education are failing dismally.

Part of the problem is that we don’t teach our kids the eternal truths of Scripture as if they are eternal truths. Just look at how the story of Noah’s ark is presented to our children. It’s not an event of God’s judgment upon the earth for wickedness that actually happened in history as a world-wide flood, but just a story about an old man, a boat and a bunch of animals. We even have Fisher-Price toys so that our children can play with the ark and the animals. No mention of God please… it might offend their tiny sensibilities.

The second reference to the failure of Sunday schools that I have seen/heard in the last two weeks comes from an article in the Christian Post by Alex Murashko. Murashko reports there is a new film coming out entitled: “Divided: Is Age-Segregated Ministry Multiplying or Dividing the Church?” Murashko writes:

The film is produced by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches in association with LeClerc Brothers Motion Pictures. The producers released the documentary earlier this month online, and have made it available for free until Sept. 15.

“Divided” follows “edgy twenty-something” Christian filmmaker Philip LeClerc on a quest to find answers to why his generation is increasingly turning away from attending church. Recent surveys have shown that as many as 85 percent of young people will leave the church and many never return.

NCFIC Director Scott T. Brown told The Christian Post that today’s modern concept of youth ministry is a “50-year failed experiment.” Brown said that when he was a church leader in the ‘70s and ‘80s he could have been the “poster boy” for the youth ministry movement in California. However, he said he now feels that dividing children from adults at church is an unbiblical concept borrowed from humanistic philosophies.

“The church has become divided generationally,” Brown said. “It’s not doing what Scripture prescribes and is actually doing something foreign to Scripture by dividing people by age or by life stage.”

I first came across the detrimental concept of age division through Doug Wilson’s ministry in Moscow, Idaho. While I don’t agree with a lot of Wilson’s premises, I do believe he is right about this one. The concept of dividing by age comes from humanist John Dewey, who reshaped education in our country. Instead of following a model that has been with us for 1800s, where the primary place of learning was in the home, and through the home, Dewey made it so that our education is institutionalized and away from the influence of the family.

Dewey’s model breaks us the covenantal nature of the church and the family. We are not supposed to be divided into sub-groups in order to learn and be taught, but kept together for the body that we are. We get hints of this from the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one![a] 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The idea is that what the father is learning in the body is to be taught to our children. The truth of the gospel and who we are is to saturate our lives that we talk about it as we go through life. The modern Sunday school system inhibits this because it ends up that our children are only being taught spiritual truths one hour a week.

There is no reinforcement of what the child has learned in Sunday school because the parents are not there to know themselves.

Even I struggle with this. I see the stuff that is sent home to my children and I have to change gears, go through it all, and learn what it is that my boys have been taught so I can reinforce it. Imagine the man who is raising his family without the benefit of a theological education. If our children are in class with their parents, the parents know what they have been taught and are up to speed on the issues. This would serve the wonderful purpose of not only helping the parents learn what was taught, but reinforces the lessons to all involved.

Even Jesus spoke to this issue: But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Our children are to be with us as we learn the truth of Scripture, not ushered off to some room for a session of dumbing-down the gospel.

This is why there are a growing number of churches that do not have children’s church. They are doing away with such so that our children will remain with the congregation as God intended the covenant-keeping community to exist and worship. While this may cause some minor distractions, I think it is vital for the life of our children. When we take them out of the sanctuary to a children’s church, where often times it becomes a play time, we teach them that worship is not for them. Yet is IS for them. This is what Christ was saying. The kingdom of heaven is made up of such as these. Therefore they should be involved in the worship of the body of Christ and not put aside as if they were nothing but trouble makers in the congregation.

I believe this is one reason why the church is losing so much of the next generation. We do not treat the education of our children serious enough. We think that worship should be for our comfort and having children in with us, just isn’t all that comfortable. They cry, and make noise, and fail to be still and are just a big pain for adults who are trying to have their own personal religious experience. Shame on us. Children are our first mission field and they should be sitting under the preached word of God as much as we are are.

I know that there are objections such as: “Children are not old enough to understand the gospel and the things in the Bible, so we must dumb it down for their sake.” As if grown men can understand the gospel without the power of the Holy Spirit.

What I have noticed is that the current Sunday school system is not working. Too many parents rely on that one hour to take care of all our children’s spiritual needs. Yet Scripture says that it is the father’s responsibility. We would be much better off without Sunday school and spend that time on training fathers the truth of the goåspel, with little Johnny at our feet.


5 thoughts on “Sunday School Has and Is Failing Us

  1. You would be surprised at how many conservative homeschooling parents agree wholeheartedly with your post. Hand raised. But sadly, you know as well as I do that the majority of men in the church are not willing to take on the responsibilty of “training their children up in the way they should go.” Funny, Tim and I were just speaking of these very things recently. The church is asleep at the wheel and needs to wake up…I wonder what it’s gonna take to wake her up!


  2. Pastor TIm,
    Would you say it’s more of sunday school or youth programs in general?
    I’ve been reading about Divided all over the blogosphere…got to check it out myself soon!


  3. Slim,
    I think it’s a bit of both. It’s the separation plus the general dumbing down effect that takes place in Sunday school and in youth programs. The biggest problem with youth groups is they hire the untrained, and those without any wisdom, to teach those who have no wisdom as well. It truly is church sanction blind leading the blind. It shows a lack of seriousness on our part and the effects of that are being seen in the church’s retention rate.


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