Week 79: "How can we support more engaging Sunday School classes?"

Question: "Our branch church is fortunate to have several willing Sunday School teachers, for which I'm grateful.  But I've heard my kids and some of their peers comment that the teachers "don't get them." What can we do to support the teachers and students, and to encourage successful Sunday School classes?"

RESPONSE 1: John Kohler

I think any teacher worth his salt has to pray about how to teach a class that is inspiring and healing. And it should come as no surprise that the answer is going to come through prayer and love.

I think we just need to really love Science, live it, and be excited about it! And then, I think we simply have to love, love, love those kids. I know a teacher who had a group of Junior High kids. This woman was passionate about the lesson; she valued it beyond measure. I am sure she prayed a good deal about the receptivity of her students and their inherent desire to participate. The interesting thing was she never actually gave an assignment, but based the class each week around the Bible Lesson, mostly about how to dig into it, how to summarize each section and find special passages that resonated with them and think about why it touched them. At first, it was mostly her sharing her great enthusiasm about what she was finding. But it wasn’t long before all the students were coming in with pages of homework to share. She led by example.

Another teacher got her students more engaged by letting them take ownership of the class. This 8th/ 9th grade class was really quiet, and seemed to lack any interest. We agreed to pray about the class, knowing God was the true teacher and could meet every need.  We also prayed to eradicate any form of animal magnetism, which would try to mesmerize the class into a state of apathy. The next week, prayer led her to ask the students what kind of issues they would like to address. At first they remained quiet, but she had prepared a list of things she was working on. The next couple of weeks she shared the kind of answers and comfort she was getting from our “pastor,” and particularly the Bible Lesson, about these topics. After a few weeks, the kids were bringing up topics, and healing ideas, the class was off and running.

Sometimes we need to “be instant in season, out of season,” (II Tim. 4:2) trust our prayer, and trust God to give us the ideas that we need in the moment that we need them.  But if we love Science and love, love, love the kids, they will feel it.

RESPONSE 2: Kate Robertson

I can remember feeling this way...as a Sunday School student, and as a Sunday School teacher. And in both cases the solution came from realizing that Mrs. Eddy's definition of "Children" (see Science and Health, pp. 582-583) referred to everyone in the class--teachers and students alike.

I can't recall anywhere in the Bible, or in Eddy's writings, where there is a reference to the "adult" of God. We are all children. So when she says, in her definition of children: "not in embryo, but in maturity" (Science and Health, p. 583), she is offering us a profound insight on the kind of visionary relationship that fosters mutual respect.  I believe that this provides a strong platform for understanding one another; it goes beyond not just the teacher "getting" the student, but the students "getting" the teacher.  

This kind of mutual respect fosters genuine interest in one another's day-to-day practice of spiritual discipleship, and the practical insights this allows each participant to bring into the classroom. In this environment, both the teacher and students are willing to listen to the other's inspiration with compassion and appreciation.

When we all come to Sunday School as curious spiritual thinkers -- not students or teachers -- suddenly there is an opening for the kind of relationship in which care blossoms and the spiritual insights we bring to class are a gift of love.  When I was in high school, a teacher that was interested in my love for dance, and came to a see a performance, was able to reach me more affectively by referring to God's choreography in supporting my growth in grace.  And later, as a teacher, my familiarity with characters in popular children's literature allowed me to connect noble traits with characters they loved.    

At one time, William Johnson, in his role as Clerk of The Mother Church, responded to Charles M. Veazey's (Superintendent of The Mother Church Sunday School) request for clarification on how to teach the Sunday School lessons by saying, "I know of no absolute rule for teaching all children or scholars even of the same age.  It should be the prayerful study of the teacher to learn just what each scholar needs"  (The Mary Baker Eddy Collection).

This kind of willingness to discover what each "scholar" needs is the most valuable guidance we can get from our leader on how to make our Sunday Schools vital, practical, and engaging. It makes the heart, the most important teaching tool for facilitating mutual respect and a deeper interest in the practical application of Christian Science.  

  1. Hymn 115 includes the promise, "When we doubted, sent us light..." One summer I asked to teach the teenage (CIT) class at a CS summer camp. These kids expressed no interest in CS and nobody else wished to teach them. We met for seven Sundays that summer, and I began by asking them to join a Code of Secrecy. Whatever was said in SS stayed in SS. They were puzzled, but agreed. Then I asked if they really felt the Scientific Statement of Being was true? They hesitated, but under the code of secrecy they all doubted it was true. So we decided to spend future classes trying to discover if it contained even one tiny grain of truth. We began by examining a rock. Was it really solid? How did it look to a bird, to an ant, to an elephant? The views were different. Which view was "right?" Eventually they concluded the rock might really be in the eye of the beholder, like an idea in mind. They were AMAZED to learn Mrs. Eddy agreed with them! (Misc. 27: 27-30) After that, our classes became more active. The CITs sometimes met during their brief daily free time to discuss CS! Near the end of summer, the entire camp attended a lecture by Lenore Hanks called "The Myth of Matter." She used some of the examples we discussed in class. I saw the CITs nodding. On the way out, one CIT slapped me on the back and said, "That was right down our alley." Forty years later, one of the CITs (now an attorney) told me he still uses our summer camp discussion points when teaching his SS class today. "When we doubted, sent us light...."

  2. I've taught all ages through the years and have found that really "listening" to the students, without being tempted to automatically come up with a "solution" for them, has produced the best results. Both responders above listed being child-like, prayerful and loving - not having a personal adult agenda as to what the student needs to learn, but meeting the students need right where they are. Young people today really like to have dialogue. They do not want to be "lectured" to, but they do appreciate and are looking for unconditional love and guidance in their spiritual growth.

  3. In our Sunday School, we recently decided to begin distributing myBibleLesson to each child in those age groups in our Sunday School who could within reason read and understand most of it. [There is a license plan available from JSH-Online which allows this type of distribution for a nominal cost.] I expect that this will make the Lesson more visible and also facilitate additional discussion. We already have some good discussions in these classes, this will simply provide additional framework.

  4. I know I've wrestled with this question a lot myself, both as a student and teacher. Recently, I've been really grateful for our global Sunday School community which truly is striving to better embrace and engage with all students. There are actually weekly calls, for Sunday School teachers and staff, which we've been using as an opportunity to share ideas about how we can engage more with our students and communities. We've been using Radical Acts (time4thinkers.com/radicalacts) as a foundation for seeing how we can really break out of the box of any limited views we might hold about Sunday School - when it is, where it is, how it is, what it is. If you'd like to join us, please visit this page in the Sunday School section: http://christianscience.com/member-resources/for-churches/sunday-schools/radical-acts/weekly-conference-calls-for-teachers-and-sunday-school-staff

  5. I have to remember myself as a SS student seventy plus years ago. As my reading skills increased, I was willing/eager to read a section of the Lesson each day...or maybe at first it was the same section each day. I remember a desire/responsiveness to instruction in SS. The world has changed a lot; instructional strategies have also changed. But what I remember most was the (my) innate spirituality. Recognizing that each child includes a "dormant understanding (that will rouse them) from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science...." may be the most important support for SS teachers. (quotes fron the definition of church in SH:583:15-18.

  6. I love these answers. Can't wait to teach Sunday School again!

  7. Thank you for the link John. I look forward to joining the call next Tuesday. It is important to me that the kids especially are aware of the global outreach and connectivity of those studying and practicing Christian Science. Currently I teach highschoolers and each Sunday and we begin class with the students sharing a bit about their week and the opportunities they had to pray for themselves and others. I come prepared with a topic for discussion but love it when the kids bring in something different and we spend time using the computer to search related CS cites, look up references in Concord, and turn to our books for divine answers and solutions. They are encouraged to use these resources during the week. We had a very engaging talk when a student brought a friend who wanted to know what we think happens after death. Turns out most of my students wanted to know too and everyone stuck around when the discussion continued beyond the hour. This "friend" has returned several times. I never miss an opportunity for a refresher course and will surprise my students with a quiz covering the basics outlined in the Manual provision for Sunday School, Article XX. I get a kick when parents tell how their child triumphantly applied the Truth they learned in Sunday School and overcame challenges in course work and sports. Inspired by a video on Church Alive, our Sunday School began a journal to record 100 healings this year.

  8. Fawn, I'm looking forward to being with you on the call! And of course to anyone who wants to join :-) We're playing Radical Acts/the Game next week (1.15.13 at 12pm Pacific / 3pm Eastern) and it would be wonderful to hear your contributions!

    One of the biggest takeaways I've gained from the discussions on our calls is the vast importance of the fact that Sunday School is NOT for an hour around a table once a week. If students (or teachers!) feel roped in to a pre-defined box or situation, there's an automatic (even if 'unconscious') rebellion against being just plopped somewhere. But if, instead, Sunday School is an idea, an attitude, and on a certain day at a certain time you all gather to SHARE how you've been living Sunday School, and to explore, TOGETHER, how you can dive in even more…well, then who wouldn't want to engage with that?

    Sunday School is not limited, and is not limiting. I am so glad we can all unite in living this. What a joy to be able to bring that enthusiasm of knowing you are in a global family (as you said, Fawn!) under OUR Father, Mother, God.

  9. Dear Church members,

    I am imagining what we did with the littlest Sunday School classes. Some of what we did was visual, tactile, or involved purposeful movement. The children were not yet able to read, but were interested and in school were learning. I also made sure we changed activities, no one activity for more than 15 minutes.

    picture books
    Just telling a story would have to be very simple. But an illustrated story gives the very young children the vocabulary they need to understand the story line. At home I would use the public library to order books on Bible stories to read to my older daughter. Some of these were beautiful books or told the Bible story (of Joseph for example) beautifully. Our Sunday School teachers read some of these books, agreed that Storr did a good job of retelling the Bible stories, but then did not go as far as agreeing to use the books in Sunday School. Next the Board of DIrectors of the Mother Church came to Elsah, Illinois, and I asked if it was OK to use books based on the King James version of the Bible and though some seemed to say yes, the best answer for me was that the publishing society had recently published some board books. Our church bought these for the Sunday School and I used one or two each week, as they went with the lesson. We had books on the beatitudes, Sermon on the Mount, etc. A couple, like Jesus, are a bit long, so we did half the book one week and half the next. After that I did not feel the need to go beyond those books, though there are some beautiful books with the straight Bible story "out there." As much as possible what we read was the story from that week's lesson. I would remind me and the student that each story book came from teh Bible and she would guess whether that particular story was from the Old Testament or the New Testament; I might open the Bible to whether the two testaments are divided and she would touch which part she thought the story came from and say, "New Testament!"
    Also we were careful to follow the Manual for Sunday School. I would say the first part of a beatitude and she might say the second half.
    We had a low bulletin board with pins. I made up cards with the seven synonyms for God. In a class with one girl, she held the cards and we would talk about God and see which synonym we were talking about. God is Love so I am loving. Let's look for a card that starts with a LLLL sound. She would stand up and pin the word. basically, we were just moving rehanging those words. We could illustrate a synonym, etc.
    In an earlier class, about each week we would act out the healing, often in the New Testament with Jesus. The one thing that bothered me about that was that one child would act sick, so blind, or whatever. I recall while I was teaching a very young child, the next class up was under the table for Daniel in the Lions' Den. No running around, very purposeful this is what we are acting out.
    We would stay in the Sunday School as long as we could stand it, about half an hour, but then our class would go outside. We had certain things we would do "out there." First, we practiced being silent as we walked up the stairs to the church lobby, because church could hear us. Then once outdoors the child could talk. Second, we always looked at a flowering bush or flowering tree or anything active in winter. We would look at light green growth on a dark evergreen and I would ask, is this tree growing old or growing young? The girls would say it was growing young. I felt it was a prayer for her grandparents who were young at the time and it was something I wanted the girl to grasp now before there was anything to handle. A third thing we did outside was sit on the front steps of the church and throw rocks. The story of David and Goliath has the shepherd boy choose smooth stones to smite Goliath. Stones are rock, rock is the Truth. So David was throwing truths or the Truth at Goliath and they went right between the eyes on the forehead. So this student and I gave Christian Science treatments each week, not easy, but she got good at it. We handled anything she or I needed to handled. Usually she started with God loves __, the name of her brother who would tease her. We also said that God loved her because He made her. We would reverse any problem and state a truth about it. For each truth THEN we got to throw the rock onto the sidewalk. After we had thrown all the rocks we would pick them up and put them on our table downstairs.
    For the last hymn, as the children learned about numbers, they would find the right hymn number. This might take a long time, but they did it. Not a bad idea to start early on that or hope the rest of the Sunday School is patient, which ours was.
    Basic neatness, push chair in when stand up, put picture books away when done with them. Oh yea, the student would stand on a chair and trace the letters of the wooden sign that said, God is Love. One of those letters was in her name, so that helped her "read" that sign out loud. What does that sign say, "God is Love."
    To support our church, our Sunday School goes upstairs for the last hymn. I respect how as a group the teachers worked out a way to follow the Sunday School order of service (singing a last hymn in Sunday School and hearing the Scientific Statement of Being, then concluding Sunday School, THEN going upstairs for their hymn etc. to be added on after our SS was concluded).

    Change it up within a routine.