By Charlsi Lewis Lee
I remember sitting in a class in seminary about preaching the gospel of Luke. Fred Craddock taught it. One of the things Fred talked about was the fact that he always taught Sunday School before he preached on Sunday morning. He appreciated, if I remember correctly, the continuing conversation that moved from a casual, yet intentional, study of the text to the more formal experience of “overhearing” the gospel as it is experienced in worship.
I have always appreciated the idea of Sunday School as sort of the first taste of the gospel on Sunday morning. It functions a little bit like that first cup of coffee. Your eyes and ears aren’t quite fully open and you aren’t fully prepared for the day, but you begin to focus and tune in to the experience.
Churches I have served have always struggled with Sunday School attendance, especially adult Sunday School attendance. In fact, at one time I heard an elder—yes, an elder— say “I don’t need to go Sunday School. I learned all of that when I was a child.” Now, I love Robert Fulghum and what he has to say about learning the basics of life in Kindergarten: no hitting, share, blah, blah, blah . . . However, I do not believe he meant that one stops processing, evaluating, considering, reconsidering and listening at wise age of five or 6. We learned the basics about human relationships and interacting with one another as children. But, Lawd help us, if we are done there.
My understanding of scripture, my knowledge of the world and my experience in life is vastly different than it was when I was learning the basics of Christianity in the tiny little classrooms of the small town church where my daddy preached or even years later in the larger more citified congregations where my mother pastored. And I am so grateful . . . I do not want to be stuck in a world that looks exactly the way it did when I was 5, 8, 11 or even 16. I certainly do not want to understand the gospel in the same way either.
Sunday School has always been important to me. When I last served a congregation as a pastor, they weren’t engaged in Sunday School and I missed it. Now I serve a church as an elder and I am one among many. I teach the Adult Sunday School quite a bit and I love it. This class welcomes a rich variety of experience, economic standing, theological background, and education. In other words, it rocks.
Most Sundays we open the scriptures to the gospel lesson and engage one another in a conversation about what it means to live out God’s calling in our lives. Two churches share the same worship space: one is Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the other is Presbyterian USA. Together we experience Sunday School. Our discussions are lively, passionate and full of grace. We do not always agree, but we do grant each other enough space to understand.
I did not learn that in Kindergarten nor did I learn that in my Sunday School as a child or even a teenager. I learned it from years of encountering God in in the church, in the workplace, in school—ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone—at home, on the street, and even at the grocery store.
Sunday School is so much more than listening one more time to the stories we have heard over and over again. Although, I have to admit, I do like that part. Sunday School is about practicing the presence of God with others who want to practice as well. It is about arming ourselves with the tools it takes to fully embrace life in God. It’s about disagreeing and still loving. It’s about recognizing that we don’t know everything even if we can recite chapter and verse. It’s about celebrating diversity in and through the gospel.
Now, I don’t always feel up to the task of teaching. I often feel unprepared or unfit to share the good news of Jesus Christ with so many others. Yet, almost without fail, by the time Sunday School is over and we are shifting gears to worship, I am grateful for the opportunity. I am changed for the better because I have had the chance to go to Sunday School and ask the hard questions. I am lucky that I don’t have to answer everyone else’s questions. My job is to invite them to be asked and consider what the possibilities might be.
I hope you have rich Sunday School experiences in which you are honored to share. I pray that whether it’s Saturday night, Wednesday morning, or Thursday afternoon that you are encountering the gospel and “overhearing” the good news.