Embracing Complexity in Sunday School

Sep 14, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Rebecca Ninke

Last school year, because of the pandemic, it worked out for me to lead my little church’s one-room Sunday school class online. I wanted to do this because you get to know church kids so much more personally and because after writing Sunday school curriculum for twenty years, it’s always healthy to get a dose of reality using it yourself!

One of the things that surprised me about working with grade-school kids was that, like their older siblings in my confirmation class, they raised current events in discussions. While part of me wants to shelter them from much of what goes on in our world, I also thought it was pretty cool to weave together their ideas on faith with current cultural issues. After all, a living faith is engaged in the world, including on the playground!

I realized quickly how cultural issues are also personal issues to many, even at a young age. There are kids in your church growing up struggling with issues related to the many facets of identity, disability (perhaps not yet diagnosed), mental and physical health, family addiction and dysfunction, and so on. Many of the heated cultural debates relate to their often-silent struggles.

The challenge for us in the church trenches is to create the kind of environment that expresses God’s love and teaches a faith woven into the complicated lives of kids and their families. This is no small thing! Will today’s kids—when they are adults—look back at their faith home growing up and remember it as a safe, supportive place? We confess that we in the church have not always gotten this right.

One of the beautiful things about teaching scripture to kids is that those stories offer countless examples of complicated, imperfect people. Those often-flawed folks, not so different from us, were nonetheless utilized in God’s unfolding story even before they had completely figured out faith—or themselves.

We want our kids to know that God is always at work in their sometimes-messy lives too. Teaching faith to kids has never been about sanitizing our faith history (woven into the world’s complicated history), but rather about conveying how God loves us despite our faults.

As Martin Luther wrote, we are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way.

Topics: Children Ministry, Sunday School

Rebecca Ninke

Written by Rebecca Ninke

Rebecca is an author, freelance writer/editor, and pastor.  She currently serves two churches in the Madison, Wisconsin area.  She also has two kids, two dogs, two cats, but only one husband. Rebecca Ninke teamed up with her ten-year-old daughter Kate to write the picture book, There’s No Wrong Way to Pray—a kid-friendly reflection on talking to God in the everyday moments of life. There’s No Wrong Way to Pray is available for purchase at wearesparkhouse.com by searching PRAY.


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