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Note: First of all, this is not a rant, though to some people my attempts at humour may come across as angst. I am not attacking anyone; these are simply general observations from years of experience, not just as a Sunday School teacher, but also from observing the attitudes other people and especially parents (from various churches) have towards Sunday School. As with secular teaching, there have been the good, there have been the bad, there have been the negatively neutral (by which I mean the silent hands-off kinds.) Which should be no surprise to us. But that doesn't mean we should settle for it. We should try our best to encourage healthy and theologically correct attitudes in order that God's work will be furthered without disruptions. So here is my two mites' worth.
If, like most people, you've not taught Sunday School before, or you've not had much to do with it, I hope this post will change your mind. That first of all, you too have a part in how you contribute to creating a healthy culture for Sunday School to flourish. Regardless of whether you're single, or a parent. Regardless of whether you're actually actively "involved", or not.
Personally, I've had a wonderful experience teaching Sunday School. Overall, I've been blessed with supportive and understanding parents as well as dear students which made this role a joy more than a duty. My hope is that everyone will contribute to creating this kind of environment for the teachers and ultimately, for the children, so that the ultimate goal for Sunday School--helping them to know and love God, and to believe in Jesus--will be joyfully made possible.
1. Realize that if you're a parent, the primary responsibility for your child's spiritual education and health does not rest on the Sunday school teacher, but on you. The best Sunday School teacher in the world cannot replace your role as a parent. Are you spending time to pray with your child, to listen to their questions about God, to read the Bible and discuss what they don't understand?
Knowing this is the foundation for changing unhealthy and unhelpful attitudes many parents may have towards Sunday School, and for making the Sunday School teacher's work incredibly more effective.
If you have no idea what your child has been learning in Sunday School, or if you see their weekly one hour there as their main spiritual education, it's a pretty good indication that you may need to reconsider the way you see Sunday School.
2. Be involved. Talk to the children about what they learn, and show an interest. Encourage them to tell you what they learn, if they're past the stage where they don't spontaneously want to tell you. Engage them in discussions about those topics and how they can relate what they learned in Sunday School to their everyday lives. This helps them to remember and apply what they learn, and it also shows the Sunday School teacher that you're taking an active role in supporting them and helping the child during the rest of the week. After all, they only go to Sunday School once a week; how much do you expect them to absorb and retain in just one isolated hour every week?
3. Be slow to complain and quick to see how you can support. Whether this means being involved in the children's ministry, Sunday School events, or just being understanding.
Very often, the only times teachers hear from parents is when they have something they want to complain about. Teachers out there, am I right? Obviously, this doesn't encourage us to see you as an ally. Their lack of involvement also means that the complains sometimes come across as unreasonable, or don't take into account the context and background, since the parents are not aware what the situation is like.
This is the norm for the teaching industry. When it comes to Sunday School, however, please remember this is a whole different ball game. Some parents' attitudes almost suggest that Sunday School teachers are being paid to ensure their children are saved. I'm not sure exactly why, since I've never been offered any money, but there it is. (That was a joke, by the way, if you weren't sure.)
We want them to come to faith, as earnestly as you do. We struggle to do our best teaching them and nurturing them despite multiple challenges and many ineptitudes of our own. With this common goal, parents and Sunday School teachers should be working together, joyfully, with mutual respect and appreciation. You are our partners, not our clients or consumers. We are not service providers--we are simply trying to serve God.
Would you feel equipped to teach other people's children about God? (who does?) So help us, when we struggle, and be kind, remembering that we share a common goal.
4. Pray for them. The kids, and the teachers. Too often people take the Sunday School ministry for granted. If it's struggling, they complain and often blame it on the teachers. If it's doing well, they forget to pray for it and assume everything will continue status quo because of the teacher's capability. Remember that even though the children may be young, it is just as important to pray for the Spirit to start moving and changing their hearts. It is just as important to pray for the Spirit to guide and enable the Sunday School teacher with wisdom, just as we always pray for the pastors and Bible study teachers.
I am always touched and encouraged when people--regardless of whether they have kids in Sunday School, or have kids at all--remember to pray for the Sunday School ministry during prayer meetings, because it is easy to be overlooked, especially if you're not personally involved in it.
5. Encourage them. Tell them when your child tells you excitedly about a lesson they learnt, or seems to be remembering and applying what they learn. Too often, parents get used to Sunday School teachers as Sunday babysitters, or assume that their children are in good hands without needing any of their intervention--until they suddenly get worried about something and are up in arms. Sometimes this can be discouraging; complete silence from the parents/other members for months (except complaints.) It is hugely encouraging when parents come up to you to tell you what happened at home, how their child told them about what they learnt, or when the topic you taught was relevant to something the child faced at school. It shows us that what we teach during that one hour on Sundays actually resurfaced during the rest of the week, and reminds us that we are working alongside in nurturing the children--you at home, us in Sunday School.
Or when other people in church encourage us that the children seem happy and engaged with their Sunday School, and ask how they can help.
I have wonderful people in my church who, without actually being the parents of kids or personally involved in the Sunday School work, never fail to offer their help for Sunday School outings and events, take initiative to pray for it, ask me how the work is going and what challenges I face, and pass me materials/resources for it. One sister often gives stationery, sweets, or other small items to distribute or use as prizes/gifts, for example. Another collected a copy of the chords for Christian children's songs for me in case they might be useful. Some offer to help send and pick up the children for Sunday School events if their parents are busy.
The Sunday School ministry is not just something "for kids," "for parents of kids," "for people who like kids/have a gift for working with kids."
But I'll save that for another post.
image by Tribesh Kayastha from Unsplash
Right now, what seems like the most impossible thing that you've been requesting from God?
There are so many things which seem impossible to us. They discourage us, making us doubt God's goodness, God's providence, God's power. They affect our prayer--we pray passionately, fervently, then desperately, despairingly, and finally half-heartedly because we are secretly convinced that God is not going to answer us. They make us unable to give thanks, unable to enjoy and appreciate what God has already given us, because the big unanswered desire is still hovering over our hearts, a ghost of IF ONLY.
We feel inadequate. We feel weak. Limited. Unable. Small.
Whether fighting against temptation, dealing with a besetting sin that we keep falling into, our hopes and desires for the future, facing an impossible task, our most pressing emotional and physical needs, or our own sense of limitation and inability. God promises us grace. Grace through the Holy Spirit. Like He did for Zerubbabel.
I have an unexplicable fondness for this guy, maybe because he comes across as such an ordinary guy who was so bountifully blessed by God (can I be him already?) God was so gracious to him. So heartwarmingly, wonderfully gracious and affirming. When faced with what seemed like a truly impossible task--rebuilding the Temple (and symbolically, the society) of the Jews returned from exile, and dealing with the nationwide struggles of discouragement, self-pity, sin, fear, God reminded Zerubbabel of Who he should be looking to. For power. For encouragement. For help. Zerubbabel's name meant "God's Servant," a fitting title for a man who did his best to serve God and serve God's people, rising to meet the needs and challenges of his time.
God did not tell him that "to help you accomplish My work, here are otherworldly smarts, incredible energy and stamina, overflowing charisma and insight in dealing with difficult people, and an extra five hours to your day. And duct tape for troublesome uncooperative people." Though admittedly sometimes we're tempted to feel that that might just be the solution we need.
God didn't tell him that "this task you have set your mind on is too ambitious for someone of your caliber, you should settle for just contributing a little to the first stage, and leave the completion to someone more qualified."
God simply told him that His Spirit would enable him. Not by might. Not by power. (v 6)
The impossible would be accomplished, by the Holy Spirit. God gave him a vision of hope, of fruitfulness and assurance of His blessing. (v 7) God would bless his labours, not just the beginning, but allow him to see its completion. And though it might not seem promising now, the "day of small things" was not to be despised. Though there were many reasons to be discouraged, though it might seem like it would never end.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.
10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
image by Alexander Tudorach from Unsplash
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:14 is the last verse of the book, and also holds Paul's parting prayer for the Corinthian church. There are so many similar such closing prayers in many of the New Testament epistles, it's easy to pass them over, to see them as a generic list of abstract well wishes like a tacky Christmas card mindlessly proclaiming LOVE JOY PEACE.
However, my Search the Scriptures devotional focused on this verse, out of all the verses in the chapter. It asked, "Consider how the prayer of verse 14 sums up our Christian heritage, and gives the complete solution to our threefold need--our sin, our sorrow and weakness."
Grace, because only through the Lord Jesus were we redeemed and given a new lease of life, a new slate, a new identity, a new purpose.
Love, because without God's steadfast faithfulness, providence, and blessing we could not last a day--we could not come this far.
And the presence of the Holy Spirit to continually change us, to enable us for each day.
In a sense, this verse draws a simple but beautiful diagram of the Trinity in their respective roles and especially in relation to our needs. It also poses a reminder for us, for what we should be constantly engaging with, what we should be constantly aware of our need for, in our daily spiritual walk.
Grace, for our sin.
Love, for our sorrow.
And the Holy Spirit's presence in our hearts, to strengthen us in our struggle against sin, to make us stronger in our faith, in our love for Christ.
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Psalm 101 is the psalm I've been memorizing recently; perhaps its shortness appealed to me (it's been a while since I last memorized Scripture.) Just a verse a day, right? Eight days, and you have one whole psalm memorized. However lazy you are--or how bad your memory is; my two main excuses--you can't really argue with that.
There's a reason why memorizing a passage is different from simply reading it through. As your brain struggles to recall, to remember what order the verses come in, whether it's "haughty" or "proud"--or whether it's "haughty heart/proud look" or "proud heart/haughty look" (!!!) you're meditating on the meaning of the words, the significance of their order. I found much more food for thought from Psalm 101 than I had before just reading through on a superficial level, especially since you focus on just one verse each day. I've enjoyed Spurgeon's verse-by-verse commentary on the Psalms for the same reason.
I will sing of your mercy and justice; to You, O God, I will sing praises.
"Mercy and justice"--only with Christ can we celebrate both of these virtues of God without fear or guilt. Knowing that we are sinners, but redeemed ones.
I will behave myself in a perfect way; Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
Behaving wisely, perfectly, starts with our everyday life. Within our house. The small duties that others won't see. The everyday relationships, tasks, decisions that we make--that is where we should start in our quest to be holy, to model Christ's perfection. And as always, David makes clear the connection between behaviour and heart. Our hearts must be in the right place before our behaviour can be perfect, can be pleasing to God.
I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.
Holiness is not merely doing what is right, but just as much the purposeful avoidance of temptation and removal of sin from our lives. We may be going to church, giving generously, behaving with kindness and graciousness; but are we turning a blind eye to the pet sins that we are reluctant to give up? Is there bitterness, pride, or hatred that we need to address, but distract ourselves from by being busy with doing good?
Whoever secretly slanders his neighbour, him I will destroy; The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.
This includes seemingly petty/respectable sins: gossip, lying, jealousy, pride. David does not mince his words. He addresses these sins for what they are, and affirms his commitment to eradicating them from his life.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence. Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.
Within our responsibility and scope, how do we encourage what is right, and discourage what is evil? How do we live making a clear distinction between good and evil, when often culture, society, or environment tries to blur the line and justify what ought not to be justified? Here's a quote from Mark Driscoll I happened to come across that puts it clearly and simply (whatever bones you might have about him otherwise:)
"One of the great themes of the Protestant Reformation was that scripture--not culture--is best suited to interpret Scripture. If at any point our cultural preferences are in contradiction to Scripture, it is culture that must move, and not Scripture."
If you've ever watched any period dramas--be it the Game of Thrones fantasy sort, Chinese palace dramas, or Western historical dramas--politics, merciless survival-of-the-fittest scheming, deception, and backstabbing are the foundation of any court life. How revolutionary is it that David, as king, declares here his resolution to remove lies and deception from his court? Idealistic, some would scoff. As king, David could have shrugged and settled for "it be like that sometimes." Especially as someone who had been majorly exposed as a liar and deceiver over the whole ugly affair with Bathsheba, trying to cover up the sins of murder and adultery. It was all the more humbling, an act of vulnerability as well as an act of accountability, that David took this stance against lies and deception. His resolution did not stem from or cultivate a holier-than-thou attitude because it was common knowledge that the king himself had been a liar. His resolution was an effort of true repentance, seeking to put away all traces of what had been his besetting sins of pride, lust, deceit.
"A Psalm of David. Promised faithfulness to the Lord."
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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