The Sunday school movement was begun in the 1780s by a publisher named Robert Raikes. His goal was to provide education for boys who worked in factories six days a week. He taught them how to read and write using the Bible as his textbook. The movement was a precursor to the public education system, spreading throughout England into Ireland and America.
Churches today offer Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School, small group studies, and other opportunities to be educated in the Christian faith. Most Christians do not attend Bible college so the local church is their primary source of biblical teaching and instruction. This is as it should be, for the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) to whom God has gifted “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).
Every church must educate its members in their faith. Education can take many forms and is not limited to Sunday school. Your church should experiment and choose the form that solicits the most interest and participation from your people. Whatever form of education your church offers, an effective education ministry:
- Equips students to handle the Bible. Rather than enabling students to depend on our ability to handle the Word, we should equip them to handle it for themselves. We should equip them to read it by exposing them to its contents and assigning readings from it. We should equip them to defend it by posing and responding to objections to Christian faith. We should equip them to obey it by highlighting its commands and practical ramifications. In other words, we should teach them what to believe, why to believe it, and how to obey it.
- Addresses students’ needs and concerns. Our teaching should relate to what is happening in our students’ lives. Each stage of life contains its own challenges and each person approaches these differently. We should identify the difficulties associated with our students’ stage of life and address them with clear teaching from the Word. We should help our students understand what God wants for each stage of their lives.
- Involves students in the learning process. There are many teaching methods available to us. The most commonly used is lecture. While lecture is required at times, there are more interactive methods that should be used on a regular basis. We should expect our students to do more than sit and listen; we should involve them in the lesson and expect them to actively participate. This increases their retention and enhances the learning experience.
- Transforms students’ character and lifestyle. Our goal as teachers is not merely to inform our students but to transform them. Our teaching should cultivate their awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in their lives. It should encourage them to respond to His efforts to make them like Jesus in their character and lifestyle. In other words, we should teach them to be like Jesus in who they are and how they live.
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