Chinese Church Voices

Advice for Staffing Sunday School

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

“Mrs. Yang” is a popular blogger who receives thousands of views on each of her articles. She recently posted articles about children’s Sunday school. In this article she shares some common views in Chinese Christian circles about who should lead Sunday school. In some areas she also challenges prevailing opinion about singles serving as teachers and why parents should take more responsibility.

In the comments section of this blog post, several people asked Mrs. Yang what Sunday school curriculum her church uses. She responded by saying they use the series, “Children’s Bible Basics” by Carolyn Nystrom.

Mrs. Yang: Who Should Be a Children’s Sunday School Teacher?      

The children’s Sunday school at our church is like those at many other churches. We agree that the Sunday school teachers should primarily be made up of single brothers and sisters.

We set up two classes according to the children’s ages—one class for kindergarteners, and another for primary schoolers. But we currently have a severe shortage of Sunday school teachers which makes it very difficult for everyone involved in monthly lesson planning.

In preparing for a co-learning group, I have come to a new understanding on a lot of related issues. Today I am spending some time sharing my thoughts about children’s Sunday school that I gathered with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Here is a summary of my thoughts after discussing the topic with them.

Concerning the makeup of children’s Sunday school teachers

1. Children’s Sunday school teachers should be primarily made up of parents themselves.

Originally, our children’s Sunday school teachers were primarily single brothers and sisters. But after all, our church is not a preschool, where all we have to do is pay money to drop our children off. We are the church, a place where brothers and sisters serve one another.

Sunday school is not an obligatory service that churches provide. Not only are Sunday school teachers unpaid for this ministry, but it’s also hard work for them. They could have enjoyed listening to the sermon and attending Bible studies like other church members. They also work Monday through Friday. What rest we have received from sending our children to Sunday school has been largely the fruit of their labor.

Single brothers and sisters have their weaknesses and limits as well. They can be very transient. They may get married and have children soon after. They may leave the city for work reasons. If we have a consensus that “Sunday school is very beneficial and necessary for children,” then from whatever angle we look at it, Sunday school teachers should be made up primarily of parents themselves.

2. Invite newlyweds at church to join in serving.

I recommend that “inviting newlyweds to participate in serving in Sunday school” be a regular practice or the “norm" for our Sunday school. I think that in doing so we would help move our Sunday school ministry into a virtuous cycle, making it a platform where our brothers and sisters can serve one another:

1) It is a very big transition to go from being married to having kids. If the couples can come to a greater agreement on topics of raising children through serving in Sunday school together, they can avoid many future conflicts.  

2) Through serving the children and their parents, newlyweds can build closer relationships with the parents. When the newlyweds start to have their own children in the future, they will encounter many parenting questions. Having thus established a good relationship, Sunday school parents can naturally serve them as well.

3) There is an age difference between the children that the newlyweds are going to have and the children they are currently serving in Sunday school. So these will not be the same group of children. When the newlyweds have their own children one day, and when those children are ready for Sunday school, no additional training for Sunday school teaching is needed since these parents have already served with some experience. By adding them to the rotation, we could start a new class for the newcomers.  

4) Finally, there will always be people getting married. As long as people are getting married, we can invite them to participate and serve in our younger classes. Thus, we would never lack teachers for Sunday school.

3. Single brothers and sisters serve in Sunday school as teacher’s assistants.

Single brothers and sisters do not have a lot of experience with children, and will have blind spots one way or another in children's ministry. They are completely unable to handle very young children. From our actual experience, they are more suited to lead the older class of children.  

But it is not appropriate to simply throw this burden on them like we have in the past. After all, we as parents are better able to understand our own children.

I want to take this opportunity to thank our single brothers and sisters for their hard work in serving in Sunday school, even in the face of misunderstanding and great challenge. In addition to helping build the current, mature class setting, and helping children to become familiar with the Sunday school, we have received their love for us and our children. May God remember this.

 In short, my thoughts concerning the makeup of our Sunday school teachers are:

  • Younger class: primarily taught by parents, with newlyweds as assistants.
  • Older class: primarily taught by parents, with single brothers and sisters as assistants.

Whether or not parents have the abilities needed to be Sunday school teachers

In our discussion, all parents agreed that “Sunday school teachers should primarily be parents.” The main concerns were “whether or not I am able to be a Sunday school teacher,” or “I feel like I can’t hold the attention of these kids,” etc.

I have a few thoughts for consideration:

1. We do not rely on our gifts or abilities, but on faith in God 

As parents, how many of us were “born with the gift of parenting?” All of us started with frazzled chaos. Perhaps not one of us has ever been a kindergarten teacher or primary school teacher, but day after day we are teaching our children.

It is the same with being a Sunday school teacher. More than “knowledge” or “experience,” faith in God and love for the children are so much more important.

The knowledge of the Pharisees was certainly more complete than ours. But Pharisees’ children were probably raised to be Pharisees. Worldly teachers, in addition to teaching rich knowledge to children, also teach them their worldly pride. Look at the world. This is where the pride of so many intellectuals come from.  

But true education consists in respect for knowledge on the part of both the teacher and the student, each humble enough to confess their own ignorance and willing to face together the enormity of knowledge, as well as the all-knowing Lord who is the source of all knowledge. What we call education, whether for the teacher or the student, is the process of two people who don’t know enough coming before the all-knowing God. If our Sunday schools cannot lead students before God in reverence, if teachers cannot humble themselves to display God’s glory, then it is tantamount to teachers and students stepping together towards the gates of hell. 

Therefore, I believe that we do not hold our children’s attention with our own knowledge or ability. Instead, we are influencing the children with our lives. And through our faith in God, the children come to know God also.  

2. Our identity as “Sunday school teacher” is given by God

If a Sunday school teacher’s most important job is to “teach children to know God,” then as parents, we are all Sunday school teachers appointed by God.

We might feel that we “aren’t able to teach the children,” but God certainly doesn’t think so. God gave us our children, and gave us the responsibility to be parents. In addition to watching over what they eat and drink and wear, we must also lead them before God, and teach them to know God and delight in him.  

The responsibility of teaching our children to know God cannot be transferred to single brothers and sisters. This “course” can only be completed by ourselves. So in the eyes of God, each of us parents already has the qualifications for becoming a “Sunday school teacher.”  

Furthermore, we each have our gifts. I joyfully teach kids “how to submit.” Another teacher may kindly teach kids how to “love one another.” Yet another teacher can use art to help the kids know God. Because of our mutual service, as the children slowly grow up, perhaps they will learn from each of us different knowledge and character.

3. Teaching children to know God is a responsibility we as parents cannot escape

If the church no longer has the loving service of single brothers and sisters, would we still open a Sunday school for children? My answer remains affirmative.  

If there was only my single child at church, then I am duty-bound to be the Sunday school teacher every Sunday, though it is not easy for one person to teach only one child. If there were two children at church, then perhaps we could take turns with the other parents and each teach every other week. But perhaps the two children are very different in age, and do not play well together.  

Praise the Lord, our small group regularly has eight or nine children in class now, and the children’s ages fall into two roughly similar groups. As parents, we still cannot escape this responsibility. But we also see that God has already prepared abundant grace for us in our being Sunday school teachers.

4. We have a systematic Sunday school curriculum; we have a supportive team; we have two teachers for each class

We are not asking parents to “teach a class” out of the blue. We currently have a fairly good Sunday school curriculum, and we have used much of the material. Each week we have a preparatory Sunday school study, and are supported by an entire team, helping us come up with ideas on how to help children understand the topic.  

We teach in small classes, and two teachers are arranged for every class. They can share in teaching and help manage discipline in the classroom. The children are also very used to the process of Sunday school and its rules. So this is not as difficult as many parents may imagine. 

Parents can start in faith by becoming “teacher assistants,” and take turns in the classes. As they become more involved, not only will they have a better idea about this, but will also gain experience through practice.

Some other suggestions 

1. Dads should actively participate in this service as well.

In many families in this world, dads are not at all involved in raising children, and the teaching of children is left to moms. But marriages in Christ clearly do not conform to this worldly pattern. Not only is it the responsibility of both parents to teach children, but from a certain perspective, it is all the more the dad’s responsibility. So if Sunday school teachers are to be primarily parents, then the fathers' participation should be a matter of fact.

2. Scheduled turns are not the law, but in principle every parent should participate.

Based on the current number of children in Sunday school, each parent among us would probably take a turn every month or so. But this is not the law. If there are various difficulties, or various weaknesses, we will take each other’s places out of love to serve one another.  

But in principle, even if a parent can only serve once every two months, or even every half year, please do join. Since their children are in Sunday school, it is the parents’ responsibility, and their responsibility to their children, to participate and learn about the Sunday school curriculum.

3. Unbelieving parents are welcome to join us, but we will not arrange for them to lead classes.

Though unbelieving parents cannot lead classes, and can only be teacher’s assistants, we still warmly welcome them to serve together. In our small group there are several couples where one is a believer and the other is not. The believing partner can invite the other to church using Sunday school as a good reason.

As for the rest of the parents, we can build relationships with the unbelieving parents and serve one another through this platform.

Mr. Yang’s Thoughts

There are also parents who are taking care of their children from Monday through Saturday. Only during the time of Sunday worship can they lay down this burden. Please have mercy on them. Everything else mentioned is very good advice.

Original Article: 杨太太 | 由谁来当儿童主日学的老师?by 杨太太的成长日记 

Image credit: Chinese Boy by Wendy via Flickr.
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