Saturday, August 31, 2013

See God: Reflections on Summer Sunday School

Originally published as my pastoral quarterly report (boy that sounds official) in our church newsletter - this article says a lot about what God's been teaching me this summer. I still have much to learn and put into practice.
- Michelle

Although my area of responsibility includes families and women’s ministries here at NFC, summertime is predominately about kids. Programs such as 3M (Monthly Marriage Maintenance) and Women’s Bible Fellowship take a break and I enjoy a summer focused mainly on the younger members of our congregation. Sometimes this is a great thing—but a few Sundays ago I found myself staring blankly into the eyes of a third grader.

I fancy myself a pretty good Sunday school teacher, but this particular morning my plans were being tested in every way, and I felt sorely lacking in “child-management skills.” As I tried to get the group of 11 kindergarten through 5th graders to pay attention to the Bible lesson, it was clear this was not going to “work” the way I had imagined. The wiggly kids were set on “extra wiggle.” The child who “doesn’t like Sunday school” let it be known to the entire class and me in a loud voice as I instructed them all to turn to 2 Chronicles. He then proceeded to put himself in a trash can, much to the class’s delight. The tired one sprawled out on the carpet, put his Bible over his face and proclaimed “it’s dark in here.” Another ripped some pages in the borrowed Bible while flipping back and forth trying to find the New Testament. The girls and boys chatted and giggled while I plunged deeper into the lesson, determined to get through the curriculum I’d prepared. A volunteer helped by taking two of the most disruptive children in the hall, leaving only 9 kids for me and a second volunteer to reign in.

Somehow I made it through that lesson, and we regrouped outside. The game I created on the spot went surprisingly well. We made a circle and threw the red ball to a friend while saying a characteristic of love. We threw the white ball after naming a quality of God. They paid attention and rattled off some great things about who God is and what love means. The game came to an end; snack was about to be served. I glanced at my watch. If open worship didn’t go too long we might have only about 5-10 minutes left of class. I took a deep breath. I knew there was no way the majority of the class would go back in and do the worksheet…even if it could be cut, folded, and stapled into a little book about God and his totally awesome love.

And then—the question I’ve never been asked by a child: “What is it like to teach Sunday school to kids?” I paused the most pregnant of pauses—and looked into her wondering hope-filled eyes. For a moment I couldn’t think of anything to say. I finally stumbled over something about it being fun, except when it’s difficult. Snack was ending and it was time to get the crew back inside. Her excellent question got lost in the shuffle, but my heart was cracked open by its convicting Holy Spirit power. How could I not think of anything meaningful or loving to say? Me—the children’s pastor who tries endlessly to get others to join this important ministry with children—so lost in my own plans for the morning that I forgot it’s about God, it’s about being there for these kids and listening to them.

Why doesn’t he like Sunday school/church? Why are they so tired? What is so funny? What stories do they have to tell? How might the new toy I set out at the beginning of class be used to capture their attention during the lesson? Why didn’t I just do class outside from the beginning? Why would a child want to know what it’s like to be a Sunday school teacher? What did she need to hear to feel affirmed? What moment did I miss by being so caught up in my “ministry plan”?

If I had that moment again I’d tell her: “Teaching Sunday school is one of the most humbling, joyful, frustrating, entertaining, silly, and important things I am honored to do.” I’d let her know I love her being in class and how she brings me so much joy with her thoughtfulness. I love her questions and I appreciate her kindness. I see the Holy Spirit at work in her life and in the words that come from her mouth. I’d also share with her that I see God in the trash can, rolling around on the floor. I see God in the children desperate to get back to the building toy so they can be creative and successful. I see God in giggles and whispers, in the words of children and in their questions. I see God when I take time to pay attention.