Monday, October 22, 2007

Sunday School Shenanigans

I’ve managed to make it through my third Sunday of teaching Sunday School this fall and I think I’m finally starting to realize that trying to rectify what I expect to happen in class and what actually happens is futile. It’s like forcing Felix Unger and Oscar Madison to set up house together. While the former approaches the situation with an orderly, and well-thought out plan, the latter is determined to obliterate all sense of order under a pile of dirty laundry and empty pizza boxes.
My lesson plan may say “The children will now join hands in prayer” but what it should say is “The children will now drag all of the chairs into the center of the room and try and make a fort.”

My grand plan for this year was to separate our single all-age class into two age groups.
The idea was to keep the rambunctious youngsters from distracting the older kids, and allow the rambunctious youngsters to experience a curriculum that wasn’t over their heads and thus cut down on the boredom inspired rambunctiousness.
Sounds good on paper.
While the older group has become easier to teach, the younger group’s behavioral problems have intensified. With the older kids no longer acting as a buffer, the little ones are bouncing off of each other like a bunch of hyper active pin balls; egging each other on and working the whole group into a whirling dervish frenzy.
I’m this close to adding a roll of duct tape to our box of worship items that we bring to class each week…….”yes you may light the worship candle Timmy, but then I will have to re-bind your arms to the chair.”

Kids are predictably unpredictable, but thankfully it can often be in a good way.
The first week of class I kept both age groups together to work on our Sunday School bulletin board. For the lesson portion of the class we all sat together on the floor rather than sitting around the library table or scattered around in the various assortment of chairs we have in the room. Sitting on the floor in close contact with each other brought an intimacy level to the group that surprised me. I had intended on talking about the early church and how the first disciples followed in Jesus’ footsteps, but the lesson plan went out the window as the kids began asking questions that they’ve obviously been harboring for quite some time but were never given the opportunity to ask.
The source of the biggest questions also surprised me. The six-year-old who rarely pays attention in class and usually prefers to spend the 40 minutes wrestling the other boys for the ‘comfy’ chair; the 8-year-old girl who is determined to do the opposite of whatever I’ve asked her to do, and the pre-teens who sit off to the side rolling their eyes and perfecting their best too-cool-for-school postures. All of them sat there on the floor, looked straight at me and peppered me with questions that had me grasping for answers.

Questions like:

How do we know there’s a God?
How can God be everywhere at the same time?
How come we can’t perform miracles like Jesus did? Aren’t we God’s children too?
Why can’t we see God…is he a person or a spirit?
Why did Jesus die?
How did God make Mary pregnant?
How does God see what we’re doing if he doesn’t have eyes?
Was Jesus God or was he a human being like us?

We have a hard enough time tackling questions like these in our adult Sunday School class so how does one go about explaining Christian theology to a child? Sunday School theology is easy to dispense when all we’re talking about is the lessons we can learn from bible stories….be nice to others, take care of those who have less than you do, love your enemies, give and forgive. It’s another thing entirely to try and explain complex theological concepts like the Trinity, the purpose of the Crucifixion, and the Virgin Birth. In the United Church of Christ we have no set beliefs on any of these theologies, but trying to explain the diversity of beliefs that exist in our church is difficult when you’re dealing with children who are used to receiving black and white answers. Children prefer certainty, not ambiguity……hell, I know plenty of adults who don’t deal well with ambiguity.

While it was disconcerting to stumble through these questions and try to give answers that didn’t entirely confuse the kids, I was ecstatic that the kids were even asking these questions, and for whatever reason they felt comfortably doing so with me on that day.

For yesterday’s session I had the older kids and I tried to recreate the intimacy we shared on that first day by having them sit on the floor. But alas, after a chorus of complaints about sore backs and not wanting to muss up the dress they wore to church I relented and let them sit in the chairs. With each child sitting in their own self contained world with 2 feet of upholstered chair arms and empty space separating them, they slipped back into their pattern of half-paying attention and giving the pat answers they thought I was looking for with my questions.
Their wonderings about God and how they fit into this world once again filed away under things too silly to talk about in front of their friends.

Oh well, I enjoyed the magic while it lasted.
Now, where did I put that duct tape….the Christmas Pageant rehearsals are just around the corner.


Anonymous said...

I am SO looking forward to my first day as a Sunday School teacher.... Thanks for terrifying me!


eileen said...

Hmmm...I'm teaching middle school kids.

It's intimidating, fer sure. But, oddly rewarding.

MoCat said...

I'd still like to have the duct tape on hand just in case...of course the "Jesus Loves You" streamers they have in the Cokesbury catalog will also work in a pinch. ;-)