Monday, December 16, 2013

Pastor Stuff: Sunday School

Growing up in church I cannot remember a time where I did not go to Sunday School.  Sunday School has always been an integral part of the "church experience".  It was where all the "fun lessons" and the "deeper stuff" was often given to us.

Yet, if the studies coming out recently are accurate, it would seem that Sunday School does more to hurt the chances of young people to come to faith more than encourage it.

Now, I am not one to tout numbers too hard, but I understand the philosophical value to noticing trends... and this is not a good one by any means.  It just doesn't seem to make sense.  How can MORE knowledge of the Word cause more injury to our changes to bring people to faith?

God's Word rains down from heaven and does not return to Him empty (Is. 55: 10-11).

In fact, I found a salient point made by a CPR class I was taking recently.  When someone is not breathing and unresponsive you cannot do any MORE harm to that person by performing CPR on them.  In fact, you are increasing their chances of survival ever so slightly by doing something versus nothing.

And I really like that analogy for Sunday School because according to the Scripture we're already DOA (dead on arrival).  We can do no harm in providing more knowledge... so far as it is truly Biblical knowledge.

To be sure, I'm not doubting the efficacy of false doctrine to steer people away from Christ.  Paul thought it truly an important point.  Most of what he wrote about in the New Testament is in refutation of errors and heresy and promotion of the true gospel.

However, much can be said of providing more opportunities to draw out the sophistication, complexities, and mysteries of Scripture and its importance to ALL people.

Whether you are a child or an elderly adult or anything in between the Sunday School can be beneficial for faith.  It can be a haven for thought, engagement, and questions.

Practically speaking, it's when the soldiers go off to the shed to sharpen their swords.

If anything, the problem is that we don't realize that we engage the world with dull blades!  And with faulty equipment, how can we be prepared for what the world has for us?

From my limited experience it would seem that today's Christians are much less Scripturally read for various reasons:  1.  They're over read with the breadth of knowledge out there available, 2.  They're overs saturated with other preoccupations, 3.  They have no possession of desire to learn more because they think they've made it, just to name a few.

To be fair, there are many factors that may draw people away from the Sunday School.  However, the underlying problem across the board is understanding the value and wisdom in prioritizing our Christian education.

Let's be honest...

Many curriculum out there is watered down to the point that it feels like a waste of time.

Many out there have lost the drive to dig deeper and explore more sophisticated questions.

So what can we do to change that?  Well, I can't say there is one solution, but I have a few ideas that I try to implement.

  1. Teach more sophisticated material - You'd be surprised how students react when you give them more than they can chew.  Being reminded that there is MORE to learn can encourage people to value the insight they receive.  A wise friend of mine once told me that they prepare for Bible Study by giving a ladder for his students to climb.  That's because if you only give a footstool they can only climb those two steps, but if you give them a ladder they may fall... but they'll still be higher up than with the footstool.
  2. Mix up the material - I have found that having a "devotional" week once a month in Sunday School has been helpful in letting students engage with Scripture directly... because a lot don't do it on their own.  It's amazing how insightful the thoughts the Holy Spirit can give to others.  Usually, I have half an our where they do it on their own before we go through it together and collate, add, or explore the insights more.
  3. Read MORE - It's amazing how a little insight can really light a fire in the belly of a teacher.  By reading more and over preparing the frustration may set in the teacher with how little the students are learning.  But that can be a good thing as it inspires the teacher to find ways to be a) more effective and b) show their excitement for God even more to their students.  Ultimately, teachers are examples for students.  We should explore what it means to be "an example" of Christ to them.
  4. Show your students the plan - If you have a road map to the destination you should show it.  This is so that everyone can be on the same page.  More so, it shows that you are prepared as a teacher (even if you're not) and there are things your students can look forward to.  
  5. Try not to be mechanical about it - Getting into a groove is one thing.  Having your style can be a strength.  BUT, the church is always in flux.  It's organic.  It's comprised of people and their nature as creatures should be taken into account.  We can all use a little variety sometimes and challenges that meet us face to face.  So Sunday School can be tailored to your organic group.
These are just a few things I do, but what do you or your pastors do to fight the statistics?  I'm curious.  

There are never any easy answers to the problem of people leaving our churches or having a lack of interest in church... but it's not a numbers game.  We know we are the minority.  More so, we know that if any good comes about this it is because of the Holy Spirit.  So trust Him.  Use wisdom.  

Above all, let's remember that it's God who is the cosmic surgeon.  All we do is CPR in waiting for His hands to work on the hearts of our people.  Be brave, there's really not much worse you can do for your people unless you do nothing.

Confessions of a Gospel "Brute"

If you're an Asian American Christian who has been in touch with the news on the internet you'll know that as of late there has been a lot of controversy surrounding race.  In particular the race issues that stem from two recent incidents involving the prominent pastor Rick Warren and a conference featuring a video depicting ministry as "Karate Kid" style training.

In response, you can see there have been a myriad of blogs, statements, and even a letter written and signed by various "leaders" of Asian American Christianity.  However, as I reflect upon these events I cannot help but wonder if this latest reaction to racial insensitivity is, in no small part, a result of our own doing.

To be sure, this issue between Asian Americans and White Americans has been stewing for quite some time.  Recently, there was that racist Texan on "Big Brother" who told some Asian girl to "make some rice".  Then there was the "Chink in the Armor" incident with Jeremy Lin.  There was also the John Piper incident some years ago when he said was astonished that the "Asian face" was the face of missions.  And of course, the list goes on and on and on...

As of late, it seems that Asian Americans are starting to find their voice in American Christendom and they're not afraid to use it.  Personally, I think that it can be a good thing... yet, it's also a dangerous thing.

Historically, Asian culture has been a point of fascination for Americans as well as humor.  Early on there were a lot of racially charged overtones.  No one wants to remember that the railroad was built on the blood and sweat of Chinese migrant workers.  No one wants to remember that the immigration of Chinese was at one point limited by the US Gov't because they feared the overwhelming swell coming into the country.  No one wants to look back at the internment camps of WWII where many Japanese American families were displaced and often looted of their property.

Asians have been caricatured by White Americans in film, often made fun of by slurring accents and exaggerated "Asian" features.  Yet, by the same token Americans are drawn to the mysteries of the East.

Bruce Lee was really the first one to effectively import the culture into the US as a culture of beauty, mystery, and exotic.  Through dynamic action sequences, his brilliant film work, charismatic nature, and suave move to really mystify the culture Bruce Lee was able to build a bridge with North America.

Soon to follow were Kung Fu films, Eastern medicine, and many other distinctly "Asian" things being imported into the country.

Yet in the move to mystify Asian culture, the bad came with it:  2nd Generation angst.  Asian Americans, born in this country seeking a distinct identity could not be embraced by their native North America nor could they themselves fully embrace their Asian roots.

As a result, many Asian Americans are divided among themselves.  They are a people without a country, land, or place of complete belonging.  They are a people longing for an identity.

But, that's why I love the gospel.  It has provided the answers to these questions we're looking for.  Being a Christian, the answer is clear.  As Revelation 21 tells us, this will all pass one day for the New Jerusalem.

In other words, I don't have the confines of culture to define me... I have Christ.  I have a country:  the high countries.  I have a place of belonging... with my own kind... Christians.  And I am satisfied.

When I was in college I was part of a fellowship called Asian American Christian Fellowship.  I have many fond memories of that time, but since then I found the moniker insufficient to describe the person I am.  In fact, I prefer the label Christian Asian American.

My citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.  And though I still get upset over issues of race, it is not because I am yellow in skin tone, it's because of sin in this world and the lingering injustices that lay to waste my LORD's original intentions for this world.

Revelation 21 carries many of the great mysteries and wonder I desire to focus on.  A city adorned as a beautiful bride.  It's a city which is complete; 12 giant pearl gates open to all the nations of this world, 12 gates which never close to me, 1 focus and source for light in Christ, and there shall never be an unending banquet table.

In the mean time, I am still a brute.  I am one who is easily swayed by much of what is in the world.  I get upset and frustrated with the battles going on with Asians and whites, especially with this Christian infighting and lack of decorum... but I am reminded by my African brother Augustine, "Semul ustes et peccator"...

I am a sinner and a saint... until eternity comes and the righteousness of Christ allows me to find His comforting presence and peace away from all this.