Why Sunday Schools?
This article is the first in a new series covering many different aspects of Sunday school work. The October issue will feature a discussion of the teacher and his qualifications.
Sunday School was over, the classes dismissed. The children had gone, and the teachers were chatting in small groups as they moved slowly towards the door.
“That young rascal, Billy, is a case if I ever saw one,” groaned a weary teacher, thankful that the session was over. “What a character! At times like this, I wonder if it’s worth it all!”
Most teachers feel this way occasionally; if not always for the same reason, for numerous others just as discouraging. And at times like these, it is good to re-examine the purpose for doing Sunday school work. In fact, it is good to keep this purpose before us always.
The Ultimate Purpose
Why Sunday schools? They can only be justified in terms of God’s ultimate purpose — and that purpose is His own glory (1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31).
It was God’s purpose in creation that we should be like Him; so we can only glorify God as we allow Him, by His Spirit, to fulfil that purpose in us (Gen. 1:27. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; 11:7. John 15:8. Gal. 5:22-23).
Hence, in Sunday school work, it should be our main purpose (1) to manifest a godly character before our pupils, and (2) to strive for the reproduction of that character in them.
Christ, the Image of God, is seen in every Christian teacher who continually reckons himself dead to sin; who hourly yields himself and his members unto God; who constantly abides in Christ; who always allows the Spirit of God to fill him and thus to bear in him the fruit of the Spirit, which is likeness to Christ and to God (Col. 1:15. Rom. 6:11-13; 8:4; 12:1. John 15:4-5. Eph. 3:15-16; 5:18).
Since this is possible only to a child of God, the purpose of Sunday school work must comprise the divine intention that the gospel of Christ be taught to every creature (Matt. 28:19-20. Mark 16:15. Luke 24:47). In other words, we should strive to win boys and girls to the Saviour; moreover, we should not be content merely to sow the seed; it is His will that they should all be saved, not simply evangelized! (Matt. 18:14. Luke 19:10. 1 Cor. 9:22. 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:4. 2 Pet. 3:9. See also “O Ye of Little Faith,” Food for the Flock, February 1959, page 30).
If we are striving to fulfil God’s ultimate purpose, we should not be content to tell children the same few stories year by year. Rather, while seeking to present the gospel whereby they can be saved, we should also cover a broad range of Bible books and topics, thus building the foundation for a developing Christian life that will truly glorify God when the child eventually accepts Christ (2 Tim. 3:15-17. 1 Pet. 2:2. See also “Let Us Sow More Seed,” Food for the Flock, June 1958, page 113).
The ultimate purpose of God goes further than this, of course; it includes His intentions for the Church (Matt. 16:18. Eph. 3:9-11). Sunday school objectives fall short of the divine standard when if we fail to aim at building up the Church through evangelistic efforts whereby children should be saved and added to the Church, and through a teaching ministry whereby these young converts should develop and mature into godly Christians (Eph. 4:11-16. Col. 1:2829).
The Practical Purpose
For many practical reasons, Sunday schools lend themselves to the fulfilment of God’s ultimate purpose in creation, redemption, and the Church.
First of all, the Sunday school deals with children and young people, often the special objects of the Saviour’s care (Matt. 18:1-8; 19:13-15). The Lord thus demonstrated the lasting value of teaching children at an impressionable age, thereby influencing a whole life for God.
This work has a special value today when the home and the public school do so little for the spiritual welfare of youth and when so many other agencies give support to the belief that health, education, and entertainment are more vital.
Interesting enough, however, non-Christian parents often recognize the value of Sunday school training, even when they do not bother to engage in religious activity themselves. In its appeal to parents as a means of influencing their children for good, the Sunday school is indeed a marvellous opportunity.
Such a community service can have immeasurable results if carried out faithfully with divine wisdom and power. After all, we must serve our community if we hope to convince them that our teaching is true (1 Pet. 2:12). Particularly in a new residential area, the Sunday school can prove its worth as a means of reaching religiously indifferent parents as well as their children. This is specially true when Sunday school is held simultaneously with a gospel meeting for adults.
Special events serve not only to maintain children’s interest but also to attract parents that would not come to gospel meetings. The annual “treat” and picnic have been traditionally used for this, but there are numerous other occasions for reaching adults through their children; e.g., programs at Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the re-opening of school in the fall.
The influence of the gospel may go beyond the children to their parents through visitation of the home, especially when the pupil is absent. Also, visitations for “bringing our records up to date” seldom fail to find an open door through which our interest in the children can be shown. At the same time, a tract and invitation to adult meetings can be left without offending.
Viewed in this way, the Sunday school is a channel for distributing Christian literature — to adults as well as to children. This is a fine method, for the delivery of the message can be backed up by the testimony of a spirit-filled life in which God can reveal the love of Christ towards child and parent alike.
The Conscious Purpose
Unfortunately, it is possible to give mental assent to the foregoing ideas without realizing consciously either the ultimate purpose of God or the practical value of Sunday school work as a means of fulfilling His purpose.
There is a glaring lack of concern about our failure to fulfil God’s purpose. The Sunday school is a well-established institution, but our failure to achieve its purpose perturbs us very little these days!
It is quite futile for us to talk about the ultimate purpose of God and practical purpose of the Sunday school method if we do not realize these purposes consciously and make them a part of our daily thinking.
Are we as teachers consciously taking advantage of all the divine resources for living Christ-like lives before our pupils? Or are we “going through the motions” in such an unspiritual fashion that children sense our cold carnality more often than a warm spirituality?
Are we consciously working towards that day when the likeness of Christ will be seen in each pupil? Or are we content with the mere fact that they come and sit and appear to listen?
Are we consciously praying that the gospel seed will get into every heart? Or do we simply tell them another well-known Bible story that we happen to have “thought” of at the last minute?
Are we consciously sowing the seed with an expectation of conversions? Or do we remain smugly self-satisfied, consoling ourselves with the puerile notion that “this is the day of small things,” while thousands of pupils leave school unsaved?
Are we consciously teaching the whole Bible? Or do we hide behind the pretense that organization is unspiritual, thus trying to conceal our own laziness and indifference about teaching all of the Bible systematically?
Are we consciously trying not only to win souls, but also to edify young converts so that the Church will grow in strength as well as numbers? Or do we rashly assume that, once converted, young people will automatically follow in their parents’ footsteps just because “it was good enough” for mother and father?
There are some happy exceptions, thank God! But speaking broadly, assembly Sunday schools are not nearly fulfilling the ultimate purpose of God; nor are they nearly realizing the practical purpose and value of the Sunday school method. And the most obvious reason for the whole sad state of affairs is the simple yet tragic fact that our professed beliefs are not a conscious and indispensable part of our thoughts and lives.
In other words, we simply do not practise what we preach! And only when we do, can we ever expect the Sunday school to fulfill its divinely ordained purpose of glorifying God.