While I was in Cleveland, my host Rev. Derek Witcher, drove me from the hotel to the church. Cleveland is like most urban cities – a church on every corner, sometimes two or three.
His services start at 10 a.m., so that means that we were in the neighborhood, rolling during what should have been most churches’ Sunday School hour. It was depressing – several churches had no cars in front of the building; others had two or three; others had less than 15 and only a couple had what you could describe as a decent crowd.
Is Sunday School dead?
Does someone need to compose the obituary?
Has Sunday School outlived it’s usefulness?
As a pastor, I too have to deal with this issue. I am thankful for the house full or near-capacity but I’m frustrated because the numbers of Sunday School students is woeful. I’m begged, prodded, cajoled, preached, and still the response is anemic – and I’m not the only pastor with this testimony.
I looked up the history of Sunday School.
This is from Christian History web site by Timothy Larson:
“It is important to realize that Sunday schools were originally literally schools: they were places were poor children could learn to read. The Sunday school movement began in Britain in the 1780s. The Industrial Revolution had resulted in many children spending all week long working in factories. Christian philanthropists wanted to free these children from a life of illiteracy. Well into the 19th century, working hours were long. The first modest legislative restrictions came in 1802. This resulted in limiting the number of hours a child could work per day to 12! This limit was not lowered again until 1844. Moreover, Saturday was part of the regular work week. Sunday, therefore, was the only available time for these children to gain some education.
The English Anglican evangelical Robert Raikes (1725-1811) was the key promoter of the movement. It soon spread to America as well. Denominations and non-denominational organizations caught the vision and energetically began to create Sunday schools. Within decades, the movement had become extremely popular. By the mid-19th century, Sunday school attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sunday school. Working-class families were grateful for this opportunity to receive an education. They also looked forward to annual highlights such as prize days, parades, and picnics, which came to mark the calendars of their lives as much as more traditional seasonal holidays.
Religious education was, of course, always also a core component. The Bible was the textbook used for learning to read. Likewise, many children learned to write by copying out passages from the Scriptures. A basic catechism was also taught, as were spiritual practices such as prayer and hymn-singing. Inculcating Christian morality and virtues was another goal of the movement. Sunday school pupils often graduated to become Sunday school teachers, thereby gaining an experience of leadership not to be found elsewhere in their lives. Even some Marxist historians have credited 19th-century Sunday schools with empowering the working classes.
In both Britain and America, universal, compulsory state education was established by the 1870s. After that, reading and writing were learned on weekdays at school and the Sunday school curriculum was limited to religious education. Nevertheless, many parents continued to believe that regular Sunday school attendance was an essential component of childhood. The trend for permissive parenting in the 1960s, however, meant that a widespread culture of insisting that children go to Sunday school whether they want to or not (especially when the parents were not themselves going to church) was abandoned.”
Sunday Schools are being dropped at many major congregations in the country. The trend seems to be to make Sunday a day of worship and another day a day of biblical education. I remember in a previous pastorate that one of the churches in our district got rid of Sunday School and you would have thought the church had committed blasphemy. However, they developed a non-traditional learning program including off-site options and they are still going forward.
I think there are five basic problems with today’s Sunday School:
1. The Lessons are not relevant to today’s needs. Because of traditional publishing schedules, the uniform lesson series is already created for the next 5-10 years. No options for change.
2. The Lessons are not thematic. Generally Sunday School curriculum is to take you “through” the Bible for a period of time – not to examine any themes like Marriage, Family Life, etc.
3. The Lessons are not media savvy. You get a book. No power points, no media clips. That means the presenter must become a living presenter (which I try to be when I teach my class).
4. The Closing format is outdated. A lesson review? Let me get this right – there is NO OTHER EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION that has a review of the lesson that you just spent an hour dealing with, except for Christian Education. It’s a waste of time and cuts classroom time.
5. Finally, burnout is an issue. Most pastors understand this. We’re losing good people because of attrition and because of burnout. They are not trained for this, for the most part, they are volunteers, but the demands of family, activities, etc. wear out their productivity.
What say ye? Is Sunday School “done?” I’d like to hear your feedback in the “Comments” section.
This weekend I was the guest of Rev. Derek Witcher and the Israelite Missionary Baptist Church of Cleveland, Ohio. It was the very first time I’ve ever set foot in Cleveland and it was worth the journey. Pastor Witcher is a pastor’s pastor – he knows how to treat a pastor, fellowship, feed (smile), and he pastors one of the great congregations in Cleveland. I enjoyed the worship experience and as he told his church, “Pastor Houston has some come-back in him. He will be coming back.” Praise God for HIS faithfulness to this preacher. If you are in the Cleveland area, you owe it to see Israelite in action – well oiled, fine tuned, and serious about ministry. We praise God for one adult female giving her life to the Lord and being led in the sinner’s prayer by Pastor Witcher. Awesome!!! Thank you Pastor Witcher, First Lady Witcher and the Witcher Children and Church Family for your hospitality. Also, thanks to the Cleveland pastors and preachers who hung out with us as well.
While in Cleveland I went by the historic East Mount Zion Baptist Church which is pastored by one of my icons of my young ministry, Dr. A. Charles Bowie. East Mount Zion is a wonder to behold. They don’t make churches like this anymore. It’s majestic, high ceiling, ante-rooms, hundreds of thousands of square feet and a very impressive family life center named appropriately after Dr. Bowie. Dr. Bowie is entering the latter stages of his life, but he has been an encourager and I am always impressed by his linguistics. He talks majestically – like you can tell he has spent some serious time with the Lord. What drew me to Dr. Bowie as a young preacher was that persona and I pray I can develop it as well – to feel as if that when someone comes to talk with you, you’ve interrupted a personal conversation between him and the Lord.
First Baptist Church was in good hands on Sunday. I’m going to be listening to CDs this week to hear the word preached by two of my sons, Minister Andrae Walker and Minister Timothy Taylor. I’m godly proud of both of these men and look forward to hearing their sermonic presentations.
When flying home today it was the bumpiest ride from Chicago to Louisville I’ve ever experienced, including hitting a couple of air pockets. We normally land north to south, but because the conditions were so bad, we flew over Louisville airport, circled around and landed south to north. I don’t complain – it’s better to land than never to have landed at all.
I’m grieving the loss of dear ones in my life – Sister Alice Perkins, Sister Alice Newsome and Deacon Mack Haynes. Check out “Homegoing of a Saint” to read about their lives.
Another weekend of NFL Football has come and gone. The results were:
– Baltimore 23, Cleveland 16 – it was never that close.
– Atlanta 30, Carolina 28 – ATL is FOR REAL.
– New England 52, Buffalo 28 – Somebody needs to call the SPCA, it’s terrible to watch buffaloes whooped like this.
– Minnesota 20, Detroit 13 – I thought this was supposed to be “the year.”
– Houston 38, Tennessee 14 – Houston has no problems, Tennessee you have a problem. Time to blow the team up.
– San Diego 37, Kansas City 20 – Ho hum…
– San Francisco 34, New York Jets 0 – I would say a QB change is on the horizon.
– St. Louis 19, Seattle 13 – Serves you right after last week’s game Seahawks.
– Arizona 24, Miami 21 – Gone are the days of Czonka, Kiick, and Warfield. Miami is fish food.
– Denver 37, Oakland 6 – What shoulder issues? Manning’s playing like a young man again. Oakland, turn off the lights on your season.
– Cincinnati 26, Jacksonville 10 – No way to be embarassed at home.
– Washington 24, Tampa Bay 22 – This was a great game. If RG3 is not rookie of the year, there is no justice in this world.
– Philadelphia 19, NY Giants 17 – Very entertaining game. Stratergery just didn’t work for the Giants, but they made it a great game.
– Dallas vs. Chicago Bears –
I predict Dallas by 8. (#*&@)@__#*@^^@()#&^)!@_* Romo!
During the weekend two persons dear to my heart went home to be with the Lord.
In 1991 I was a candidate for the pastorate of the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Fresno, California. I was recommended to check the church out by Dr. T.L. Lewis and I applied for the congregation. I heard from the Pulpit Committee and they scheduled me to come to Fresno. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of money (I still don’t) and they arranged for me to stay in the home of Deacon Mack Haynes and his family. Mack was one of the members of the largest families in the church, the Haynes family. I remember that several of their family members had a tee-shirt that said “It’s a Haynes thing, you wouldn’t understand.” Mack was very gracious to me and I enjoyed talking with Mack. He was a walking encyclopedia of information about Mount Pleasant and the thing I appreciated about him was that he would tell you what was on his mind, hold his ground when necessary and change it if it could be proven otherwise. I came to Fresno twice as a candidate and both times I stayed at his home. In October 1991, I was called to be their pastor and for the first few days, until the parsonage was ready, I stayed at his home. Mack was one of my faithful deacons, consistent in Sunday School, the Voices of the Mount Choir, the Men’s Chorus, and he was one of the best encouragers of young people I can recall. He loved his pastor. When I was called by the New Hope Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, I held a meeting with the Deacons and I remember Mack saying, “Pastor, I still love you. That will never change.” He proved it. For many years, whenever I travelled to Central California, I made it a point to stop by and find Mack, his brother Junious, Willie Green, John T. Adams, Gaylon Aldredge – those men were my backbone and support at Mount Pleasant. They protected their pastor, gave me great counsel, and even shared some history and some jokes with me (I won’t dare share them here). I called Mack a few months ago and he was Mack – laughing, opinionated, and asking “Rev., how are you doing? It’s good hearing your voice.” My condolences go to the entire Haynes family. He was a member of that church for easily 60 plus years. He joined the church initially with his brother, Naaman Haynes and his sister, Earlene, and he served as Junior Deacon, Senior Deacon, Supervisor of the Young Peoples Choir, Secretary of the Trustee Board, and he wrote in 1980, “I love greeting all of you each Sunday morning . . . I still enjoy and look forward to Sunday as I did when I was a youngster.” He passed away on Saturday enjoying one of his favorite past times, football. Mack said to me once when I told him I was a Dallas Cowboys fan, “Rev., if we knew that, we may not have called you.” He was a great 49ers fan. Rest in peace Mack. I’ll see you in the morning.
For several years I had the privilege of serving as the guest evangelist for the North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church under their legendary pastor, Dr. C.W. Newsome. Dr. Newsome took a liking to me as a protégé of sorts and in his latter years there before his retirement, he would bring me in regularly to preach. Matter of fact, I preached his final communion service and encouraged the membership to save their disposal cups in remembrance of the many years of labor that Dr. Newsome provided for them. His wife, Dr. Alice Newsome was one of the sweetest first ladies of a church that I’ve ever met. She was an accomplished, trained musician and whenever I came to North Richmond, she insisted that I would get on the piano or the organ. Every time I preached, she made it a point to give me a word of encouragement after each sermon. I actually candidated at the North Richmond Church in 2005 before moving to Nashville. I would see her at the St. John District, the California Missionary Baptist State Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, when her health allowed. I loved me some “Miss Newsome” and I would send her cards every now and then just to let her know I was thinking of her. Rest in peace Miss Newsome. I’ll see you in the morning.