Encouraging Lifelong Learning in Ministry to Children and Teens

We all have images of what we think life was like during the time of Jesus. Or the early church. Or in more recent church history. These ideas may or may not have any basis in reality. Often they are picked up from random sources and stored away in our brains without much consideration. Unfortunately, holding onto these notions can undermine our ministry if we aren’t careful.

Let’s consider for a moment Bible classes for children and teens – or what was once known as Sunday school. The first modern Sunday school class was held in 1780 in England. Its purpose was to teach biblical morals to children who were poor and/or orphaned. It was hoped that this moral teaching would help these vulnerable young people avoid a life of crime.

Originally, only for boys, girls began attending within a year. By 1850, two million British children were attending weekly religious classes. Styled somewhat after the synagogue schools in the time of Jesus, they used the Bible to help them teach children basic reading and math as well. In fact, this was the only education many children received at the time. Classes lasted for four or five hours each week.

What does this have to do with your ministry and its Bible classes? Whether it’s the synagogue school Jesus and his siblings attended, the early Sunday schools in England or the Bible classes of your youth, Bible classes for children and teens until recently have had a strong and critical spiritual educational component. Teachers and students took them very seriously. The classes were designed to help young people build a strong faith foundation based in large part upon a knowledge and understanding of scripture. The classes often intertwined religious and secular education, as God was understood to have created everything that could be studied. Adults knew that the faith and moral character of their students depended in large part upon the quality of these classes and their effectiveness.

But spiritual learning wasn’t confined to childhood. In the time of Jesus, adults would spend time together – even at social gatherings – discussing scripture. The New Testament writers encouraged lifelong learning of not just the facts in scripture, but the commands, lessons and principles contained in it. Even Christian adults in more modern times were encouraged to be enthusiastic, independent Bible readers and attended Bible classes often two or more times a week. There wasn’t an attitude of having read through the Bible once as being sufficient for a strong Christian, but rather that Bible study was a lifelong pursuit.

Somewhere along the line, churches and ministries lost their way. Having a general remembrance of a few basic Bible stories became considered a depth of biblical knowledge. Entertainment became more important than learning. Socialization was at times a higher priority than learning or shaping character. Some places even began to view Bible classes for children and teens as merely glorified babysitting. Qualifications for Bible class teachers were reduced to someone who was breathing and could keep their students alive for an hour. No one knew or seemed to care what was or wasn’t been taught behind classroom doors.

While parents still bear the bulk of the responsibility for teaching and coaching their children in the faith, the truth is that many young people don’t have parents who can or will take their responsibility seriously. Bible classes are the best hope for these children and teens and for the most part, we have failed them. We have to make serious, meaningful changes now or Christianity will continue to falter. Any revival needs to begin with how we teach and train our young people.

Really examine the Bible classes your ministry provides. Are they truly providing a meaningful spiritual education? We have several tools to help you through the evaluation process. ( http://teachonereachone.org/volunteer-training-resources/) Be honest. Take responsibility for poor choices. Make changes. Put meaningful spiritual education back in Bible classes.

Categories Elementary, Faith Based Academic Program, Mentoring, Parent Engagement, Special Needs, Teens
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