Why Do I ‘Still’ Go To Sunday School?
Carmichael Crutchfield, Ph.D.
Department of Christian EducationJune 2014
All of my siblings tell the story of our growing up at Barrs Chapel CME Church in Como, Tennessee where all seven of us were lined up on a pew each Sunday morning for Sunday school and worship. For as long as we can re
member our daddy, the deceased Mr. W.T. Crutchfield (much later became Rev.), who was the adult teacher and our momma Mrs. Zora Crutchfield faithfully took us to Sunday school.
After college, as a young adult, I still went to Sunday school and often taught. After I got married I still went to Sunday school. When I accepted the call to preach I still went to Sunday school. When I became a pastor I still went to Sunday school.
Now as the managing editor for Sunday school and a General Officer I still go to Sunday school. Why? This question came to me while sitting in an adult class recently as I listened to the teacher and class members talk about the lesson.
I often say during classes and workshops that I lead that “all I know about the Bible I learned in Sunday school.” Although this is not completely true, it is the basis for one of the reasons I still attend Sunday school and why I see it as important. I go because I want to know more about the Bible. There is no place available inside or outside the church for a systematic bible study except in Sunday school.
This has become clearer to me over the last 20 plus years as I have been involved in the developing of the Sunday school lesson outlines through the Committee on Uniform Series of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Hours upon hours are put in by a variety of people to develop the lessons we see each week in our Sunday school book. Before we even read the scriptures for the week and the lessons in our Sunday school books produced by the CME church’s departments of Christian education and Publications, literally hundreds of hours of preparation have taken place in developing these quality lessons. For the last twelve years some of those long hours have been my personal hours.
I am appalled and most disappointed when I go to churches and the literature being used is not the adult student book that I have added my labor to many other people’s hours of work. Likewise, I am even more dismayed to see teachers not taking advantage of the richness found in the teacher’s book. I often wonder why are pastors and members doing this injustice to their denomination and to the people in their local church by using someone else’s literature. I remind you the first reason I go to Sunday school is to learn more about the Bible in a systematic study. This has been working for me all of my life.
A second reason I still go to Sunday school is to participate and take advantage of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit that transformation takes place. This is one of my latest reasons for going to Sunday school. Around 2003 or 2004 I developed a workshop entitled “Transforming the Church Through Sunday School.” Sunday school is a place we can change the church through teaching the need to move outside the box of traditionalism as we refer to it.
I argue that traditionalism is not as much our issue as lack of knowledge about learning and learners. In that workshop I argue that teaching should be transformational. It is my belief that all of education forms and transforms. Over a lifetime Sunday school has formed a love of God in me. Teachers who prepare themselves help Sunday school to continue to be transformational for me.
Transformation takes place in the lives of students and teachers who take the Bible seriously and see it as the living Word of God. For the last four years I have provided an online Sunday school outline for the church. There is a life statement followed by a life question that is answered by the scripture for the lesson. Life statements and questions are generated based on what happens in many adults life. This is the focus of the lesson.
Lesson goals are then provided. The first goal is always given to address the cognizant (head), i.e., what knowledge we are to gain from the lesson. The second goal addresses the affective (heart) part of our humanity. It ought to cause some type of reflection within us. Lastly, the goal of action is given which addresses what this lesson will cause us to do.
The focus or unifying principle and lesson goals come from the Committee on Uniform Series of the National Council of Churches in the United States of America. This is part of the hundreds who involve themselves in the preparation of the lessons.
Also provided in our online Sunday school outlines are lesson challenges that call for us to take the lesson seriously as we apply it to our lives. In my teaching at the Seminary I always want students to know something, be something, and then do something. These are the goals of Sunday school each week that are part of formational and transformational teaching and learning.
When my father taught Sunday school in the 1960-1990 time period his students were primarily those of the silent generation (born between 1925-1945) whose learning characteristics in general included being logical (left-brained) and appreciative of consistency. The lecturer made sense to them, for the teacher was the subject and the students were the objects. Today we work primarily in adult classes with boomers (born between 1946-1964) who are more interactive, acquainted with the computer, and can do quick scanning, but appreciate details. I am not addressing later generations purposely because each one brings its own dimensions.
The box that I refer to often is that we have to lecture and that we have to do what I call passing the book around asking people to read. To get out of the box we have to familiarize ourselves with learning issues, such as, multi-intelligences, developmental theory, and learning styles. We have to constantly ask ourselves, “How do learners learn?”
The church can be transformed as we transform the Sunday school. This requires that we turn our Sunday school conventions into learning labs on best practices and techniques. I love children, youth, and young adults, but not at the expense of neglecting and ignoring middle age and senior adults.
The third reason I still go to Sunday school is because it expands my love and reverence for God, therefore, it improves my worship of God. There was a time I said, “God is Good.” Now I say, “God is Great.” As I have learned from the Bible God’s greatness encompasses God’s goodness, whereas, God’s goodness sometimes is self-serving and limiting. I will illustrate. In a recent workshop I asked those participants why is God good. Most of the answers I received were based on what God had done for the individual, e.g., woke us up or gave us limbs to use or got us here safely. So I ask for the people who didn’t wake up or don’t have use of their limbs or didn’t get here safely, is the God they serve good? This came very real to me in 2011 when my wife died. I was not able to say “God is good,” but I could say, “God is great.”
To say God is great places no conditions. Good means something I approve of or welcome. I don’t approve of death or welcome it, especially to a young wife. Great on the other hand means something that to the extent or intensely considerably above the normal. I love the song “How Great Is Our God.” And I love the song “How Great Thou Art.” I love these songs because they speak of a God who I love despite the vicissitudes of life, such as, sudden death.
The final reason I state at this time why I still go to Sunday school is the challenge and the opportunities it offers to grow as an individual, Christian, and as a member of the world that I live. Each week the lesson gives students an opportunity to gain greater knowledge of the Bible and other aspects of being a follower of Jesus Christ. The lesson also challenges my heart and finally it causes me to take action. Sunday school presents to us each Sunday the challenge to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8 NRSV).