The Wall Street Journal recently published an article entitled, “How Churches Are Rethinking Sunday School.” The author, Melanie Grayce West, documents how several New York City churches are rethinking and redesigning the traditional approach to Sunday School. The new approaches include everything from a redesign of the classroom space to a limited use of the Bible in the actual time spent together in the class. These changes are predicated on the assumption that the traditional Sunday School model no longer works.
The Sunday School has been an effective tool for the church since its introduction in Britain during the 1780s. In addition to being a means to counter childhood illiteracy during the industrial revolution, it has been a creative way for the church to teach Biblical truth and doctrine across the age groups. So, is it time to give it up?
It is not my purpose to either bash or defend Sunday School. Rather, my goal is to encourage a commitment to the systematic teaching of the Word of God across the age groups in the life of the church. When ministry educators pursue new formats for teaching children, it can be tempting to devalue the life-transforming Word in favor of activities. There is nothing wrong with reevaluating time-honored forms, classroom setups, learning styles, and activities. In fact, these are the very things that demand constant assessment.
However, the constant in the life of a strong church is the Word of God. Consider this theme in Paul’s letters to the first-century pastors Timothy and Titus. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul urged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). This is because the Word of God is just that. The Word given to us by inspiration is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so the man of God will be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Equipping the man of God and shaping his and her faith with the sound doctrine of the Word is a major concern developed across the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 3:14–16; 6:10–10). This is because the sound doctrine of the Word shapes our faith and produces godliness (1 Timothy 3:14–16; 6:1–10; 2 Timothy 3:12; Titus 2:12).
Paul made concrete these theological absolutes about the Word with personal application in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Appropriate for the larger context of this article is the reminder to Timothy that it was the Word, which he heard from childhood, that made him wise to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). This reminder is followed by the warning that the time will come when fables will be desired more than sound doctrine and when storytellers will be desired more than preachers (4:1–5). Finally, Paul made it clear to both Timothy and Titus that qualified church leaders must have not only a godly character but the skills to accurately handle the Word (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:5-9).
In the current conversation about Sunday School ministry, leaders must ultimately consider goals and outcomes. If the ultimate goal is a strong and healthy church of godly men and women, then the Word must have priority from the pulpit and across every age group gathering. RBP stands ready to serve the church with the resources needed to achieve this God-honoring goal.
John F. Klem is director of Regular Baptist Press.