Recently a family visited our church from what they described as a more contemporary church in the community. When a person or family visits with us from another local church, I always thank them for visiting, commend their church, and try to encourage their continued participation there.
However, as I spoke with this family, the father said, “We love our church, but our children are at an age where we are looking for a church that has Sunday School and sings hymns.” He went on to elaborate that he and his wife were talking one day and realized that they both wanted their children to experience Sunday School and to worship in a church that sings both hymns and contemporary songs.
I think I understand where he is coming from. I have an appreciation for various styles of worship and diverse models of “doing” church. In my own experience, Sunday School was one of the most formative and influential forces in my upbringing. After talking with this visiting family, my mind turned to the many valuable life lessons I learned growing up in Sunday School. Interestingly, the lessons I learned instilled in me a love for the Bible, an emerging faith in God, a moral compass, and sense of social etiquette.
Thanks to many faithful Sunday School teachers like Polly Foote, Pearl Lloyd, Sue Harrelson, Mary Lester, and Judy Smith, here are a few basic lessons that I internalized and that I continue to try to practice:
• Read the Bible daily.
• Confess your sins regularly and ask for God’s forgiveness.
• Trust Jesus with all of your problems, the little ones and the big ones.
• Be kind to everyone, especially strangers.
• Give the first 10% to the Lord.
• Pray for your family, friends, leaders, pastors, missionaries both at home and overseas, men and women in uniform at home and on foreign soil, and “all that is our duty to pray for.”
• “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
• Forgive others graciously, just as Christ has forgiven you.
• Never call people names.
• Serve God by serving others.
• Aim to please God, not other people.
Nowadays, I believe the Sunday School experience continues to be remarkably transformational for children and adults. Whether you call it Sunday School, Small Groups, Cell Groups, Life Groups, Christian Education, or Bible Study, gathering with a small group of believers on a regular basis to study the Bible, pray together, care for one another, and share life together instills a spirituality that is deeper than superficial religion.
Faith isn’t forged overnight. Durable faith seems to be cultivated and nurtured over time among folks of all ages who gather in community groups that look a lot like Sunday School.
(Barry Howard serves as Senior Minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)