Sunday, June 27, 2010

When Education and Religion Got Separated

In the last post, I told you there were two things that had happened since schools became the main academic teachers and churches became the main religious teachers. Whereas Sunday schools began as a way of teaching academics and training in religious instruction....the churches and schools had since split up those responsibilities. I also discussed the first of those changes and that was that religion left the public schools.

The next change is the one that we are still smack in the middle of today, in my opinion. And here is where I'm wading into the waters known as "trouble." I'm NOT trying to step on any one's toes here....just reporting what has occurred to me.

This next change, that is still ongoing, is that learning is leaving the church. Have you noticed this? In the 70s when I was growing up, we always had an "Education Minister." He was in charge of selecting the curriculum for all the classes from the nursery to the older adults. The 9:00 Bible hour and the mid-week Bible classes were his domain. He recruited teachers, made sure they had everything they needed, and kept the Bible classes running smoothly. In fact, the church we attended when the girls were really little had an education minister.

You don't see a lot of education ministers today. Mostly because, we don't have an education mindset when it comes to Bible classes. I know this is certainly not true everywhere in America....I'm just telling you what I see from where I stand. (And I don't live in Podunkville either--so I can see quite a lot from where I stand.) In fact, we have moved from "Christian Education" to "Children's Ministry." Do you hear the really big difference of focus in those two phrases?

To me, "Christian Education" implies that my children will learn at church. "Children's Ministry" implies that my children will be ministered to at church. Do my children need to be ministered to? No, not really. However, all the seekers' kids need to be ministered to. But surely they don't need to learn. That doesn't appeal to people. People don't want their children to learn at church. They learn all week. What they want is for their children to have fun and like church. I have known families who left their church home to find another and did....because their kids liked the DVD curriculum and upbeat activities.

In fact, we really don't even call it Sunday school or Bible class anymore. Now it's "Kid's Quest" or "Journeyland" or "Kingdom Kids."

So I know this little boy who goes to a more traditional old-school church (ha ha) and he can say all the books of the Old and New Testament. He's 6. It's really not that amazing...he just goes to a church that still believes in teaching. In general, what I see is that of course our children are still learning something when they go to Bible class, but they aren't learning a sequential scope and sequence set of things that you can be sure all 5th graders will leave the children's program knowing. We aren't set up like that anymore.

It's ministry, not Christian education. Will the pendulum swing back the other way? Maybe. But maybe it doesn't even matter. I'll explain why next time.

Last post in the series found here.


  1. Brenda,this is just so what I am strugggling with right now.Of course I can teach bible at home and service but sometimes it is nice to know others find it important as well.I want my kids to find thier joy in Jesus not in an activity even a well meaning church activity.

  2. Well, Brenda, this is very astute of you, because I have a confession to make.

    When I was 8 or 9, I could recite the 23 Psalm, John 3:16, The 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes, Romans 10:9-10, and the books of the Bible in order. And I didn't learn it at home!

    My big girls, can recite the books of the Bible, and the 10 Commandments. And maybe John 3:16, I think. I'll see when they wake up, lol. And they didn't learn it at church! Do you notice the difference between what I learned at a very early age in Sunday School and what they didn't learn in all their years of children's "ministy"?

    Of course, I now understand that what they don't know is MY fault. And thankfully, they do (at least 2 of them) have a desire to read the word and I dscuss with them Biblical principles and what have you. But straight Biblical knowledge? Not much.

    For so long, I had the mindset that they would learn these things in Sunday School, the way I did. I had the "let the professionals handle it" mentality that permeates so much of Western thought.

    I am not making the same mistakes with my younger kids, and the older ones are listening along, so they're getting it now. Better late then never, I guess.

  3. So true, Brenda. The only biblical knowledge my children know came from my husband and me. That's humbling.... and I need to step it up a bit.

    When my oldest came out of her class on Saturday night, not five minutes later did I ask her what she learned, she said, "I don't know."

    Looking forward to the rest of your take on this, Brenda!

  4. Our church still has Sunday School. They teach Bible verses, and events, and the adults STUDY lessons. Oh, and Sunday School is BEFORE church, not DURING church. Having it during church just for the kids to get out of church is wrong. Kids need to learn to sit in church. It's important for them to worship with the family and know why they are there.

  5. We go to a Mega church and you have hit the nail right on the head. I do see a desire to change things though from other families so we will see what happens. We have started mid week Bible studies for the younger children. I am very glad I am able to stay home and teach my kids, because you are right, they would not be learning these things at church.

  6. I have a question.It is one I am asking myself and am just throughing it out there to all of you.If our children arn't learning anything or very little or even worse the things we are keeping them out of school for.Why are we myself included sending them at all? LucyT

  7. Very good, Brenda. At the last church we pastored, the ladies who did Sunday School were big on having children do memory verses, and then come upstairs after Sunday School to recite those verses before the adults in Adult Sunday School. But, one lady in the church told me that a family once left the church because their children objected to that (that was before we got there -- we don't know who that family was). Seems a lot of parents don't want their children's brains taxed by having to learn anything. Sending children home with lots of handouts and coloring sheets seems to go over pretty big with a lot of parents. Our children got pretty good teaching at the Sunday School at that church and at the VBS. You have to have a group of dedicated ladies as we did who make it happen -- they ran a good Sunday School the old-fashioned way. Not many children stayed for it, though. Most of the parents didn't stay for S.S. either. Children have to be given what is good for them, not just what they want. We insist that they eat good food, don't we,and not candy all the time? Mary R.

  8. sad but true, the shift is from learning to entertaining. Do our children really need more entertainment? We left a bible teaching/educating church about 9 months ago when we moved and are still searching for a new church home. Loving the series and looking forward to hearing your take (which isn't far from mine) in the coming post!

  9. I agree! [taps gavel] Hear hear!! As a teacher, trying to keep kids' attention of all grade levels (I understand my situation is different here on the field, we even have kids who don't speak English...) is very hard. Not many are interested in memorizing verses, and their parents aren't interested in helping either. That makes it hard.

    I don't remember an education minister when I was a kid, but we went to a really small church. I DO remember having one teacher though who fit "Don't have sex before marriage" into EVERY lesson. Even when we studied the book of Daniel.

    Not sure why I threw that out there, but there it is. Thanks for posting this!

  10. The difference between education and ministry - hoooooooooooo. Thank you, so very very much, for putting into words what it is that bothers me about so many VBS and cutely-named Sunday School programs (the reason I've not found anywhere ELSE to send my son).
    Mrs. W, you are so very blessed, because what you describe is definitely not the norm nowadays. But I had never thought to put the problem into such a succinct, cohesive thought. The difference between education and ministry.
    The last incarnation of our parish's Sunday School - and it was called that - was run by women enthusiastic to educate. If it were still going, my only problem with it would have been that it was still during church. But those teachers burnt out, and FAST, because it wasn't what the KIDS wanted or expected. Why do they have to learn things on Sunday? - seemed to be the attitude. And so we currently have no Sunday School at all.


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)