why I teach Sunday School

I sat down with the elementary-aged children Sunday morning and began talking about the books of the Bible, trying to help them understand where to find each one. We have a shelf with identical wooden blocks shaped like books representing the 66 books of the Bible. Students can pull these out and practice putting them in order.
“Pick a book from the books of history,” I said.
The first, second and third graders had to think a moment. The categories are in colors, which helps, and sometimes another child gives them a hint.
They finally chose Nehemiah. “Now tell me something about Nehemiah,” I suggested. The child did not have a clue. I quickly reviewed the Bible lesson we had had on Nehemiah’s prayer and his return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
“Okay, now you pick a book of prophecy,” I told the next child.

The girl pulled out Jonah.
“Tell me the story about Jonah.”
The child’s totally blank look told me she had no idea.
Well, perhaps she did not know the story. This was the first time I had seen her at church.
I turned to a girl I knew had been there often, “You tell us the story about Jonah.”
She grinned and began, “Okay, there was this whale and it swallowed Jonah and then it puked him back out.”
“Well thank you!” I paused, “How did he get into the whale? What was he supposed to be doing?”
Her eyes darted around the room for a clue.
An older girl wandered into the classroom. I asked her to tell the story of Jonah.
“This man was supposed to do something for God. He didn’t. He got on a boat and then he was inside the whale for 10 or 12 days.”
Okay, we had a little work to do.
By then another student had arrived.
“So where was Jonah supposed to be going?”
“To Ninevah.”
“Right. He was supposed to go over land that way and he went out to sea the other way to Tarshish.”
“What was he to do in Ninevah?”
“Tell them to get right with God.”
“Okay, and it was not just a whale, it was a great fish that God had specially prepared or he would not have lived three days inside of it.”
The lesson that week included a lot of review questions about the day’s lesson and the previous three weeks of lessons. The only way to ensure children learn is to teach and then review the same lesson over and over.
I never anticipated teaching first, second and third graders. I considered working with proficient readers more my style.
Then about seven years ago I sat in this same class with a visiting grandchild. The teacher (who moved away a month later) obviously did not come prepared with a lesson. She flipped through the Bible story book and decided to talk about Jesus walking on the water.
For the next couple of minutes she brushed lightly over one of the Bible’s more fantastic stories and somehow the conclusion to the lesson was, “Go to college and get a good education, so you can get a good job.”
Stunned, I asked, “Would you mind if I told the story? I just studied it this past week.”
Laconically she agreed and I regaled the children with the strength of the storm, the fear of the disciples, the solidity of the water wherever Jesus stepped and the faith of Peter to even ask to step out of the boat.
That was the day I decided to volunteer to teach that class.
This year I also returned to sitting in the Wednesday night program where I work with children on learning their verses and realized anew how few children come from homes where parents take the time to teach the Bible, read and talk about Bible stories or work on memorizing verses.
I needed to have that experience of casually asking students to tell me the familiar story of Jonah and the whale. I needed the reminder that there really is a reason to teach children whether in Sunday school, junior church, after-school programs or Wednesday night programs. Not all children know all the answers to all the questions. It is our task as parents, grandparents or just interested adults to further their spiritual education.
It is a privilege and a challenge.