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Why Teachers Should Tackle Tough Topics in Sunday School

April 8, 2021 jill Blog
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By Nathan Johnson

“Why…why…why?” Now that’s a question kids love to ask—on repeat. They ask it day and night: when they wake up. when they’re supposed to be eating, when it’s way past bedtime.

The more they ask, the more you might want to rip a pillow open and fill your ears with the fluff. But kids have a good reason for asking that question.

They’re curious. They want information about things they don’t understand. For young children in particular, almost everything about the world is new.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that there’s a kid’s book called “Why?” on the bestseller’s list right now. (Man…why didn’t I think of writing a book like that?)

National Geographic hit a gold mine when they published this colorful, illustrated tome of explanations (1,111 to be exact). It has everything from classics like “Why is the sky blue?” to “Why don’t we have flying cars yet?” (Back to the Future fans are wondering the same thing.)

In any case, it’s no shocker that this book is such a success. Kids want answers about our planet and life in general, and this vibrant volume delivers.

But kids want to know the answers to some trickier questions, too. They want to know why they have to follow rules. They want to know why Mom won’t let them eat an entire bag of candy. They want to know why Grandpa is in a nursing home.

And sometimes, kids have uncomfortable inquiries about “grown-up” topics.

In the last 12 months, we’ve had a bitter political season, tragic racial tension, and, oh yeah…a worldwide pandemic. As much as we try to shield our kids from grown-up topics, it was pretty hard to miss what was going on.

In Sunday School, this leaves us with an important decision. Will we do things exactly the same as we’ve always done them?

Or, will we carefully and strategically bring up the issues of the day, and help point our kids to the answers in God’s Word?

No, I’m not talking about debating politics with a 6-year-old. I’m talking about explaining to them how politics and “loving your neighbor” go together. Or how racial tension and “made in God’s image” should work.

You don’t have to dive into every little detail of these sensitive subjects, but avoiding them all together is a mistake.

Why? (Glad you asked.) If we refuse to address their questions, they’ll search for the answers elsewhere.

So, we have two choices: give them God’s answers from Scripture (and possibly get a bit uncomfortable) or happily avoid the subject and let kids get their answers from culture.

Be careful of the choice you make. If the research tells us anything, it’s that kids crave a “real” and “authentic” and “vulnerable” environment at church.

They don’t want us to “gloss over” sticky subjects. They don’t want to feel like their faith in Christ is completely disconnected from the world in which they live.

Sadly, this disconnect between “the outside world” and church is one of the main reasons why 59 percent of young Christians leave the church, according to Barna Group. Twenty-two percent said they believe their churches were guilty of “ignoring the problems of the real world.”

Let’s consider that our wake-up call. Yes, it’s easier to stick to “sterile” storytelling. But by doing so, we risk losing a generation.

It’s time to be real with our students. It’s time to pursue deeper conversations and connections with them. If we can achieve that, we can help them in their pursuit of a real, meaningful relationship with God. And when that happens, they will turn to God’s Word when they wonder “Why?”

Tips for Tackling Tough Topics

You may not be as cool as the teens on TikTok, but you can influence your students as much (or even more). It’s important to take advantage of class time to have real conversations about the issues going on around them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that diving into the “deep end” can be a real doozy, so here are some tips for discussing subjects like politics, race, and pandemics:

  1. Make Sunday School a Safe Space

No one should be mocked for asking a question or sharing a fear. Make your classroom anti-bullying policy clear. That being said, if a child asks an inappropriate question, offer to discuss the matter privately (and in a parent’s presence).

  1. Dedicate an Entire Class to a Tough Topic

Are your students whispering constantly about election day or racial tensions? Dedicate an entire lesson to the subject. Instead of simply rehashing current events, focus on how God wants us to respond during troubling times. Share examples of people in the Bible who dealt with similar issues.

  1. Have a Designated Question Time

Let the final 15-20 minutes of Sunday School be for questions. You can allow kids to submit questions anonymously or via social media throughout the week, and then choose some to answer on Sunday. Question Time gives kids the chance to share their concerns. It also gives you insight into what your students’ biggest worries are (and what subject you might want to teach about next!).

  1. Use Conversation Starters

Kids keeping quiet? Have an extremely shy class? Use conversation starters to help them open up. (Examples: How do you think people should treat those who don’t agree with them? Have you seen something on the news that really bothered you? How has being stuck at home during the pandemic made you feel?)

  1. Share Biblical Principles

Starting a heated debate isn’t our goal here. Focus on “What does God say?” rather than “What’s my opinion (or your opinion) on this subject?” Also, you may not find an answer you need perfectly packaged in a single Bible verse. However, there are biblical principles to guide every aspect of life.

  1. Don’t Worry About Knowing All the Answers

Not everything has an easy answer, and some questions can’t be answered at all. Be honest, and focus on making your students feel safe and heard. For example: What will happen if my entire family gets sick? I don’t know, but God promises He will help us and never leave us.

Nathan Johnson is the founder of Better Bible Teachers, which is dedicated to teaching the Bible to kids in crazy and interesting ways,