I recently had the privilege of witnessing four Sunday School teacher training events for Shine sponsored by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. It is inspiring to see the dedication, creativity and love demonstrated by our Sunday School teachers.
One of the trainers’ emphases — and one of the keys to the pedagogical approach behind our new curriculum, Shine, and Gather ’Round, its predecessor — is to get the children to ponder “wondering questions” about the story. I wonder how Rachel felt about that? I wonder why Peter did that? What does that say about God?
With such an approach, tough questions aren’t seen as a challenge to the authority of the teacher. On the contrary, they are signs that the children are listening deeply; they’re getting it. At a point in one training workshop, the trainer had just finished demonstrating a labyrinth laid out with rick-rack on a bed sheet. She took a stone, representing a burden, and slowly and prayerfully walked a spiral into the centre, where she set down her stone and picked up a feather, a symbol of God lightening her burden, before slowly spiraling back out. Children as young as two can participate in and benefit from this spiritual practice.
When it was time for comments and questions, one participant, whom I had taken to be a Sunday School teacher (albeit a young-looking one) piped up and said that she resisted the idea of there being a long circumscribed path to God at the center. Rather, through her relationship with Jesus she celebrates her straight and immediate access to God.
Wow, I thought, she gets it! She may not fully get the idea of the labyrinth as a valuable spiritual practice we can use in Sunday School to teach children to pray, but she gets Shine; she gets the idea of not artificially stifling her questions or her passion but bringing them both into the Light.
It was only in the car on the way home that I learned she was not a Sunday School teacher at all but a very precocious 13-year-old student, who came to the training because she did not want to miss an opportunity to learn more about Christian education in her congregation. In a room otherwise full of adults, she challenged one aspect of the labyrinth prayer. Though I like the labyrinth, and have frequently seen it used to great effect, her comment affected me in a different and more important way. I was reminded that it is not just our teachers and superintendents who can inspire us but the students themselves.
Craig Anderson is the marketing and sales manager for MennonMedia. He lives in Kitchener, Ont. This first appeared on MennoBytes.com, MennoMedia’s blog.