sinners’ club: confessions of a sunday school teacher

by ck on September 17, 2012


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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s get the snickering out of the way. Yes, I’m a Sunday School teacher. Yes, I went into it reluctantly. And no, I never planned to like it, or to stay on for a second year. But that’s another story for another time.

I assist in the first grade class, and part-way through our session we join with the second graders. Sometimes it’s hard to keep their attention, especially when the group is a large one. Sunday School has a reputation of being a little stale and boring. It always has. I remember thinking that when I was a kid. So the teachers I work with spend time trying to make the lessons accessable and fun. Like adding personal things to make the stories relatable, creating fun games and activities to get the kids moving, and my favorite – a reward system. The Treasury. (No, not just bribing with candy, though who doesn’t want to end service with chocolate?)

The kids earn points for things like behavior, participation, memory verses, and homework. At the end of class they can use their points to purchase different things from The Treasury. Each item is worth a different amount, so for one point they can get a small piece of candy, or a toy bug, or a tattoo. The points go up to twelve, and for that they can get lip glosses, or fuzzy keychains, or lego characters.

The kids responded to The Treasury immediately, and while most cashed in at the end of each class, some saved their points diligently for the big-ticket items. The end of our last summer class was chaos. The second graders were hovering over the prizes, needing to spend all of their points because they were moving up to the third grade. There was excitement, intense decision making, and lots of last-minute changes. One of the students proudly turned in his 12 points for a Lego character. When he opened it, he found that it was a princess. He wanted his points back. One of the other teachers and I kind of smiled at him. We told him that was the one he chose. And we couldn’t give him another Lego character because other kids wanted them, too. And that was that.

But it wasn’t. Later that morning while I was in the service I suddenly felt compelled to find him and give him another Lego character. I sat there for a few minutes, wondering why God had put that thought on my heart, because I certainly wasn’t thinking about it. I was done thinking about Sunday School. But without the kids and chaos I was able to ponder what had happened.  It was silly of me not to trade when he asked. He worked hard for his points and he didn’t know what character he picked because the package was sealed. And more importantly, I knew God had put the thought on my heart, so maybe there was something else to it. I looked for the boy before I went home. But he was gone.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t get the Lego situation out of my head until I tracked down his parents and sent them a note.  I asked them to apologize to their son for me and offer another character (which I opened and found to be a bandit). He was super excited and showed up the following Sunday before anyone else to claim his prize. And that was that.

But it wasn’t. His mom sent me an email. She thanked me for letting her son pick a new prize, that it was an answer to her prayers. She told me that he had come home from church the previous week so upset that he didn’t want to do the point system ever again. He had been so excited about attending…so excited about everything leading up to the big prize. His disappointment was so great she was worried about how she’d motivate him to try hard in Sunday School again. And how much it meant to him to be able to come back and get a new prize.

I read his mother’s note over a few times, humbled by God’s heart. I had no idea how important it was to this boy to have a gender-specific toy, but God knew. It was so easy for me to focus on everything else. On getting the kids settled with prizes before their parents came. Or making sure everything was “fair” in an overall sense. Or even getting caught up in the excitement our culture finds in gender-neutral toys that I forgot that some kids prefer gender-specific. (Even though I’d bought Legos purposely because most prizes seemed on the girlie side.) But while my focus was on the bigger picture, God’s focus was on this little boy’s heart. On the prayers of his mother. I’d spent all summer trying to make Sunday School fun and memorable and yet  I lost sight of the most important part: the heart of it.

Another confession? Even while teaching kids tools on how to find God in the every day, or how they can trust that He is who He says He is, I still sometimes struggle with why I believe. I understand that there are some things God is concrete about, but other areas where He is purposely vague. And if everything was concrete there’d be no need for faith. And when you have faith-real faith-you meet God. But sometimes it feels backwards. Sometimes I just want it to be easy to understand. For everything to be upfront and obvious, so that everyone would see it, and so that I wouldn’t have to just go forward somewhat blindly, hoping to find my way to the truth.

But then there are the times like this. Where acting on faith, even though it’s not guaranteed, brings the sense of God. Of His omnicience. Sure letting the boy pick a new prize could’ve been written off as common sense, or just doing the right thing. Being nice. And for someone else that might’ve been the case. But not for me. Not that day. I was finished thinking about the class. I’d checked it “off” my daily list, and wouldn’t think about it again until sometime on Wednesday. I was done. But God brought me back to the heart of it.

Funny how He does that. Sometimes He uses an adult to teach a child. And other times, it’s a child who does the teaching.





Sharon C. September 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

Beautiful story. And I too am often shocked at how the mini-humans can often teach me things about God that I didn’t even know were there.

Sara September 17, 2012 at 9:49 am

Love the story! With a child who would have reacted the same, I’m so thankful that you had your heart open to listen. Love love love.

Heather Caliri September 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

God is such a God of details, no? Caring about the hairs on our heads, even the clothes we wear. I am often humbled at how much love comes through the smallest of gestures.

Gigi September 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

And a child shall lead them……

Children can teach us so, so much.

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