“It is quite the fad these days to minimize the Sunday school,” writes the author. “As a result, the Sunday school is often treated as a side issue, and, in some places, kicked about like a football.”
This author writes the truth. And we see the results all around us. We have a population–young and old alike–with little biblical understanding and a shrinking faith in God. Is the church really culpable for possibly de-emphasizing the education hour?
This author would say so. Who is this author? He is Marion Lawrance, a national church leader. He wrote these words in his book My Message to Sunday School Workers–published not last year, but in 1924, a hundred years ago!
A co-worker at Group Publishing shared this century-old book with me, just as Group is now celebrating its own 50 year anniversary. As a publisher of Christian education resources, I found this little book fascinating–filled with truisms that have not changed, and some things that have changed a lot.
Lawrance released his book during a time of social upheaval. “Crime is rampant,” he wrote. “Nations are distrusting each other. There are riots, revolutions, incipient wars, and bottled-up revenge everywhere.” Sound familiar? To respond to these societal ills, Lawrance underlined the need for solid Christian education, even quoting from the Ladies Home Journal of the time: “A democracy of selfish people, having no religious education, will result in the ruin and downfall of the nation.”
Part of that downfall could be found in the prisons, according to Lawrance. He wrote, “Out of 12,562 prisoners examined by the police captain of one of our midwest cities, only one was a Sunday school member.”
HOME AND CHURCH
Though Lawrance acknowledged the primacy of the home for spiritual development, he said, “The home has failed to teach religion to the children as it should. When we remember the vast numbers of our young people who are not now in the Sunday school and, for the most part, not receiving any religious instruction of any sort, it ought to be enough to make American fathers and mothers stop and think.”
Home and church must work together. They need each other. True 100 years ago. True today. Churches that have dropped or downgraded Christian education, and abdicated Christian education to the home, are squeezing the spiritual life out of a generation.
After Lawrance wrote his book, the church in America grew. Sunday school and other forms of Christian education blossomed. “Vacation Bible schools are multiplying,” he wrote. “Many have an idea that children prefer to use their entire vacation in idleness, but the fact remains that wherever these vacation Bible schools are properly conducted and efficiently managed the children are eager to attend, and the results are beyond computation.”
But since, over time, many churches focused all their attention on the big Sunday show worship model, a passive spectator event that had no room for interactive learning and growth. They pulled the plug on Sunday school. They erased the education hour. Some dropped vacation Bible school. The children and youth got sidelined. Some even used the Covid pandemic as an excuse to eliminate children’s ministry altogether. Meanwhile, the portion of young people who claim Christianity has dropped to record lows.
Now Lawrance’s more dire warnings have fresh relevance. He wrote, “The church of the future that neglects its Sunday school is doomed.”
A sobering thought. But old school Sunday school isn’t the solution. Even Lawrance saw that too. Instead he recommended an array of revolutionary concepts that, if adopted, hold tremendous hope–even today. I’ll share those in the next Holy Soup article.