Nobody wants to admit it, but there’s a big problem with the average Sunday schools in our churches, not just in the America, but all around the world!
Now, before you start throwing stones, hear me out!
Not Against Sunday School!
I’m not against Sunday school! It has had a major positive impact on children for many decades. We can all point to stories of lives changed as a result. But I am against the way most Sunday schools teach their kids. What do I mean?
As a whole, what we as Christian churches have been doing for the spiritual education and discipleship of children [and our youth!] has not produced spiritual growth and development the way it should have. In most cases, we just cannot look at our kids and teenagers and see true spiritual maturity in their lives. Sadly, we don’t even expect it!
You may or may not be aware of the fact that we are losing our kids from the church—as many as 70% walk away after growing up in our Sunday schools and have no interest in coming back. Cold. Hard. Fact. There are many surveys from many sources that confirm this. It’s not just my opinion.
The Church as a whole has only seen our children after the flesh and not after the spirit. As a result, we have not truly equipped them to walk in the Word of God or the power of the Spirit. And that’s what discipleship is! Just telling Bible stories over and over again is not discipleship!! Come on!
On top of that, in too many of our Sunday schools, we’ve reduced our Bible stories to little more than Aesop’s fables. We tell these great stories, and then end it with “and the moral of the story is, boys and girls—don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Be kind to one another. Never fear and never, never give up!” Etc.
What are We Teaching?
Phil Visscher, the creator of the beloved Veggie Tales videos, which were highly creative variations of traditional Bible stories for kids, were just like that. He said that he now regrets teaching kids morality over the Gospel.
Phil said, “I looked back and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave “Christianly” without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.”
Ben Shapiro, the popular conservative commentator and Orthodox Jew, says, “One of the things that has happened in the religious communities is you see people who are brought up in religious homes and they have been taught the stories of the Bible. But they never are taught any deeper philosophy or theology that attaches to that. So [when they grow up] they [still] have a child’s view of what God is and how they think about God. They still sort of think of God as the old man in the sky who is controlling things.” He gets it—and he’s Jewish.
I’m not saying let’s don’t tell Bible stories anymore! But, along with them, we have to go deeper! There are too many kids growing up in church, even in Christian homes, who just do not know the Bible at all beyond those stories. We call that biblical illiteracy – and today’s generation is the most biblically illiterate generation in modern history!
The Old Wine Skin
I have been saying for a long time that when it comes to our Sunday schools, the church as a whole is stuck in a 200-year-old wine skin. What do I mean by that? Sunday school was birthed in the mid-1800s —about two hundred years ago. Interestingly enough, in the very beginning, Sunday schools used to go much deeper with kids by having them read large portions of the Bible every week and take them through catechisms, which were summaries of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers. They taught church and biblical doctrine to the street urchins! There was radical reformation in those societies in those days because of it.
I’m not sure when it changed, but it was fairly quickly, when a variety of Sunday school unions stepped in and started setting down policies for their denominations. It wasn’t long before the “powers that be” decided that the only thing kids could understand were the Bible stories. Since then, we have pretty much all continued to teach kids in our churches the same way—just teaching the same basic Bible stories over and over and never going any deeper into God’s word or Christian doctrine.
Thus, my statement that our Sunday schools are 200-year-old wineskins, and it’s just not enough for kids today! True story—kids are leaving the church when they become teenagers thinking they know everything there is to know about God and the Bible, and have no further need for going to church! Why??? Because they’ve never heard anything more than the same Bible stories over and over.
The Children of this Generation
But it’s even more than that. If you haven’t noticed, today’s generation of children are highly engaged in activities way beyond their years in our typical thinking. They want to do everything and be involved in everything. They live to go beyond the expected norms in music, art, sports, gymnastics, education, science, dance, acting, and so much more!
If you will, the old wineskin of culture said kids couldn’t do hard things, they had to stay in their lane and only engage in the really challenging things when they got older. But the new wineskin of culture says there are no limits to what children can do! But that thinking has still not seeped into the church! So, what does the old wine skin look like in the church, more specifically, in Sunday school?
No anointing in our kids’ services. It’s not even a consideration. We never think about whether there should be an anointing in Sunday school or not!
There’s no move of the Holy Spirit. There’s no spiritual encounter with the living God, except once in a while we offer them salvation or pray for them when they are sad. It’s really hard to have a move of the Spirit when everyone is sitting around tables kicking each other under the chairs and shooting spit wads when the teacher isn’t looking. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare.
Then, as I’ve said, because there is no deeper feeding of God’s Word than stories, the teaching stays spiritually shallow. That’s kid-code for “boring”!
I recognize we’re in a new era where the majority of kids in the world have never heard any of the Bible stories, so there is a great need for them.
However, whether kids have never heard them before, and are hearing them for the first time, or whether we’re teaching kids that have grown up in Sunday school and heard them a hundred times, there are still some major changes we need to consider to capture the hearts of our kids for the kingdom.
Kids hunger for the presence of God. They are hungry for a touch from God. Their little minds are hungry for more challenging information that cries out “give me a greater reason for believing in God and the Bible than Jonah and the whale!” And they want to be a part of a bigger story. They want to be a part of what God is doing in the world today, and not just hear the grown-ups talking about it.
So, if that’s the old wineskin, then what is the new wine skin of children’s ministry?
The new wine skin consists of three vital elements: 1) meat, 2) equipping, and 3) presence. Let me explain.
Meat of the Word
Meat: this means we need to be teaching kids the meat of God’s Word. It’s giving them solid food—i.e., doctrine. We say in our ministry, “kids cannot live by Bible stories alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!”
We as Christians don’t just believe the Bible is a good book. We believe Hebrews 4:12, that the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit—judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. And we need to embed God’s Word in the minds of our children for this reason. It’s in our Sunday schools and our homes where we need to ground them in the Word of God, making Bible concepts and principles a part of our everyday conversations. Because, without a knowledge of God’s Word, they are so easily talked out of their faith in our culture.
Equipping Our Kids
Equipping: Ephesians 4:12-16 talks about the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. What’s fascinating is it tells us this is exactly what needs to take place for the maturing of the saints so we can measure up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. Children who can be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever, they sound like the truth.
Therefore, if we are going to properly disciple children and see them mature in their faith, we need to be equipping them for the work of the believer’s ministry as outlined in Mark 16:15-18 and Luke 4:18. It’s teaching them to do what Jesus did, walking in signs and wonders as a daily lifestyle. The assumption is that if anyone is a follower of Christ, regardless of age, they need to be equipped and discipled to follow Jesus.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is a hands-on generation. They are no longer satisfied to sit in a chair behind a table and listen to us talk. They want to get out of their chairs and do something! The kids in this generation are being taught to be activists. They’re going to save the rain forest. They’re going to save the planet from global warming. They’re going to raise money to dig water wells for poor people in Africa who don’t have water.
So, we can either let the world teach them to save baby whales, or we can teach them to save souls! The choice is ours! But they will get involved in something. And if there’s no room for them in the church, they will go where they can be used and fully embraced.
So, what does this look like in our churches? We need to teach kids to hear God’s voice, be led by His Spirit, how to pray deeper prayers than a simple “God, bless Mommy and Daddy and my dog Spot!” They can be taught intercessory prayer, how to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, how and why they should pray in tongues, how to heal the sick, how to operate in the gifts of the Spirit, how to prophesy and more!
And we as church leaders need to teach their parents to work on these things at home! It’s not enough for kids just to experience them once or twice a month at church. And most parents have no idea how to disciple their kids.
Encounter the Presence of God
Presence: kids need to encounter the presence of God. They must have their own personal encounters with Him in order to take ownership of their own faith. They cannot live on their parents’ experiences. They need to know for themselves that God is real! Did you know that over half of the children who have grown up in our churches tell us to their knowledge they have never felt God’s presence or heard His voice? if children do not have their own encounters with God, they are left with religion without relationship. All they have is head knowledge with no heart knowledge! If this is true, God will never be real to them, and we will lose them for sure. How is it even possible that children can be raised in a spirit-filled church and walk away claiming they have never felt His presence?
We need to be creating opportunities every week for kids to experience the presence of God in our children’s ministries. This is where we take time out in our services to specifically to spend time in the presence of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not even on our radar in most cases that this is something children need, much less become proactive in providing those times of intimacy with the Lord.
These are all issues I have with traditional Sunday school. No meat of God’s Word. No training, discipling, or equipping of the little saints, and no presence of God on any regular basis. So, ask yourself – is the Sunday school your children attend the old wine skin or the new wine skin? Because it matters!