It’s Sunday morning.
How many families are fighting to get their kids out the door today, and into that Sunday school classroom?
When I was a single mom, I used to look at the clock on a Sunday morning and count down the hours and minutes until my sons would be checked in to their Sunday school classes. I knew I would then have an entire hour to myself, to breathe, to pray and even cry. And when they would fight me, I would become more forceful, more angry, and more determined to get them out the door, into the car, into the car sear, out of the car seat, out of the car, and into the church because don’t they know this is what Jesus wants for them?
I have already written about how difficult the sensory experience of church is for my oldest son. But that’s not the only reason why church has become so difficult for my family.
I am grieved over how many times in the past few years my younger son, who does not have the sensory issues his brother suffers from, has also been in tears before, during and after church.
He has dyslexia. He has a processing delay that slows down his ability to think through things by about 30%. He has the IQ of a genius – which sounds pretty amazing and is, but also significantly frustrates and angers him in situations where he knows he should be able to “get it” but, no matter how hard he tries, can’t.
He just started 3rd grade, but often cannot read the word “the”.
At times, when he is reading, the words rearrange themselves, and he actually sees letters floating off the page.
When listening to a lecture style of teaching, if not significantly slowed down, he literally cannot keep up with processing all the words.
And if the environment is full of other children talking, he will likely shut down, completely overloaded, and just stare at the table or color on a piece of paper.
So you can imagine the experience of Sunday School for this one…
When he was younger, it was different. Oh my goodness, he LOVED it.
It was play based. The teachers were snuggly. They spoke slowly and entertained him with amazing Bible stories.
As he got older, the curriculum changed. There was more reading, more memorization, more questions that required really thinking through the answers. Mostly, it just got faster.
One Sunday, he was told to sit off by himself for a little while because the game they were playing required reading and he couldn’t keep up.
One year, there was a fun contest associated with memorizing ten Bible verses. A swim party reserved only for those who were able to say all ten was the motivating prize.
The next year, there was another for memorizing and reciting an entire psalm. The reward was an opportunity to go to a special ice cream party and celebrate.
He asked for help in class. I know he did because I got an email from the teacher saying that he needs to practice more at home, and that she just couldn’t help him enough in class. I understood. I emailed her back and let her know that he had been practicing every single day of the week.
At one point in all of this he asked, “Why does Sunday School have to be School?”
I know what you are thinking…why didn’t we just talk to the Sunday school teacher and let her know about his learning disability?
The answer? Because we didn’t know.
We wouldn’t know for another seven months.
Why Does Sunday School Have To Be School?
I believe that every single person I have ever met in children’s ministry has a true heart for children. Some of the kindest, sweetest, most determined to help and serve men and women I know have been my sons’ Sunday school teachers, including the ones mentioned above.
This is not, in any way shape or form, a judgement against them. They worked, and still work tirelessly to do the best they can, often at their own expense, to help encourage children to follow Jesus. I am truly grateful for them and want to acknowledge their commitment.
This is also not just about learning disabilities. I can think of a little girl, who irregularly visited church, had a home life that was obviously tough, and really, really wanted to get to go to the swim party with the other kids.
She didn’t know the verses.
This is about rethinking Children’s Ministry, to be inclusive, to be welcoming and fun, and to be accessible for all kids, no matter what their circumstances.
In matters of faith, it seems to me that Jesus meets us all right where we are, without comparing us to other believers who are further along, or asking how many Bible verses we have memorized. I am grateful for that. Unfortunately however, that was not the message to my son. The message he got was that he was not as good as the other kids.
The teachers didn’t make him feel that way. Of course not.
But by being excluded, and seeing most of the other kids easily able to keep up, he felt different, singled out, and less than.
In fact, on more than one occasion, he said to me that he was not smart enough for Sunday school.
When we finally learned his diagnosis, it all made sense. He wasn’t lazy or disengaged. In fact, he was likely working harder than any other kid in his class just to keep up.
And, after he told us that he thought Jesus didn’t really love him, we made the decision to take the pressure off and learn about Jesus entirely at home, and in everyday conversations with other friends and family.
My husband and I still attend church as often as possible. We love the body of Christ and want desperately to worship along side a community of believers.
We invite our children to come with us, every time. Sometimes they surprise us and come along. Most of the time, we work out babysitting or take turns staying home.
As we have moved away from the traditional Sunday school environment, both of my children have blossomed, but particularly my youngest. Not only does he rest in believing once again that Jesus loves him dearly, he has started to ask questions about being baptized. We could not be happier or more grateful for the changes we see God making in his heart.
We are good – this is not about my family. My heart is for all the other kids who are headed to Sunday school today and are dreading it.
I pray for wisdom for their teachers. I pray they will see these little ones hearts.
I pray for children’s ministry leaders, that they would seek programs that include and inspire as fundamental elements of every activity in the classroom.
I pray for that little girl who didn’t get to go to the swim party. I hope she comes back to church. I pray Jesus brings her a friend.
It’s Sunday morning.
Let’s worship together the Creator of the universe with joy. Let’s approach every single child in our church the way He does –
with lavish grace,
and with scandalous love.
This post originally appeared on Not The Former Things in 2014.