I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids

Several years ago I met with a woman distraught by her son’s rejection of Christianity.School design

She said, “I did everything I could to raise him right. I taught him to be like the ‘heroes of faith,’ with the faithfulness of Abraham, the goodness of Joseph, the pure heart of David, and the obedience of Esther.”

She wondered why he rejected Christianity.

I wondered why it took him so long.

Here is how we destroy the gospel message

Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum. You’ll find:

  • Abraham was faithful, and God made him the father of a nation. So be faithful like Abraham.
  • Joseph was a good little boy (unlike his “bad” brothers), and God made him Prime Minister of Egypt. So be good like Joseph.
  • David had a pure heart (unlike his brothers), and God made him King of Israel. So have a pure heart like David.
  • Esther was an obedient girl. God made her Queen of Persia and she saved God’s people. So be obedient like Esther.
  • Finally, if we fail to be good, Jesus will forgive us (a “P.S.” tacked onto the end).

What’s so bad about these Sunday school lessons?

Nothing really. Except that they lie about God, they lie about these “heroes of the faith,” they lie about the Bible, and they lie about the gospel. Apart from that, they are pretty good. Oh, they also create “younger brother” rebels and “older brother” Pharisees.

Is the gospel our central theme, or is it a “PS” tacked onto the end?

The gospel storyline

The message of the gospel—the entire storyline of scripture—is God’s loving pursuit of people who run from him as fast as they can and who live lives unworthy of his love.

That’s why it’s called grace.

But our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and God will love us and use us. It’s the total opposite of the gospel. It’s a counterfeit of the worst kind.

The inside out of the gospel

The wonder of the gospel is not the love of the beautiful; it’s when Beauty kisses the Beast.

The Beast isn’t loved because he has changed; the Beast is changed when he is loved. Joy doesn’t come when he’s loved for his beauty; joy overwhelms him when he is loved in his hideousness.

If the Beast were loved for his beauty, it would be an unbearable burden. Any day he might be scarred, and soon he will certainly be a wrinkled old man.

So why do we burden our children with the unbearable load of “being good little boys and girls like the heroes in the Bible”? We wouldn’t load a pack mule with the burdens we place on our children.

There’s gotta be a better way

Let’s teach the wonder of the gospel. Let’s show our kids that God loves us … simply because he loves us. In our beastliness. That he loves us before we are good.

That his love isn’t vague sentimentality, but it cost him his most precious treasure to turn us into his prized possession; that the storyline of the Bible is God’s Search and Rescue mission to find the dying Beast and kiss him into joyous life.

  • How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
  • How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
  • How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
  • How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her. *

Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.

We may believe in the innocence of youth, but our children know better. They see the children in the schoolyard (and they see us at home!). They don’t need the counterfeit gospel of pack-mule-moralism; they need the kiss of the Beauty.

Maybe we do too. Besides, it’s what the Bible in fact teaches.


My friend Bob Rinella created a four-week kids Sunday school lesson plan around this article. You can see his lessons at: Heroes of the Faith.

To read more about the beauty of grace and the prison of moralism, see my book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids(It cost about the price of a couple large lattes; definitely affordable! You can read it as you sip your latte. And get inspired at the same time.)

BookCover_1500x2400Chapters include:

  • Why Do Our Children Leave the Church?
  • Graceless Goodness: The Problem with Moralism
  • The False Gospel of “Just Do It”
  • The Ugliness of Religious Righteousness
  • The Insidious Danger of “I’d Never Do That”
  • We Read the Bible the Wrong Way

To read more about this book–what people are saying and various quotes–visit my book page.

* To read my answer to objections of my depiction of Esther, see Was Esther an Unwilling Sex Slave or a Compliant Collaborator?

See also, Why Do Our Children Leave The Church?



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  • Great article! My husband and I work with youth including teaching Jr. High Sunday School and I totally agree with what you are saying here! So much of our SS curriculum is just so “fluffy” – it’s sad really because chances are that for most kids it’s about all the Bible teaching they are getting each week. We owe our kids more…thanks for sharing!

    • Kat Michael

      The best part of leading our church’s Sunday school program was changing to the Godly Play curriculum. Not only did it suit our small, multi-age group better than traditional curricula, but it encouraged the children to absorb the biblical stories in full — not edited and presented to ensure the children reached the “right” conclusion. Teachers resist changing because it requires more preparation, but in class the curriculum is calming and consistent, and allows for the most marvelous connections… made by the children themselves. I encourage everyone to leave “fluffy” prepackaged curricula behind.

      • Megan O’Rourke Jones

        My favorite line out of the Godly Play curriculum is in the lesson about the Ten Commandments: “I know, these are hard. God didn’t say these were the ten easy things to do. He said these are the ten best things to do.” (approximate quote). Kids have no problem seeing the difference. Asking the children to draw their own conclusions in Godly Play leads to some amazing insights. Other curricula out there are also valuable. I also appreciate the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum for older children.

        • LisaZ

          Megan, I love that quote…that the commandments are the *best* things to do. It’s a goal. It’s something to strive for…but God’s love is not conditional upon meeting those goals. It’s such an important lesson. <3

          • Jime

            They show us our need for a Savior..

        • John

          This post is not intended to criticize but to bring in another view.

          Should we still be teaching our kids ten commandments as the ten commandments? Galatians 3, Paul clearly teaches that “he who does the law live by the law” but there is none who can fulfill the law (all 319 or so found in Deut.)

          So then by teaching the 10 commandments (which i find odd since there are so many more if we are to teach the whole Law), are we not feeding them Judaism?

          If I understand Galatians 3 correctly, Paul says ALL of the law has been fulfilled even the ten commandments and we no longer live by it! Rather we are to obey the person of Christ, with the Holy Spirit as our guide. And some of the old law may happen to “coincide” with the OT law, but this coincidence does not validate the OT law as the path to life (which we mustn’t confuse).

          So ultimately we must be teaching the WHOLE LAW as a historical story of God trying to show Israel that they were transgressors side by side with the grace and wisdom of God to free us from the WHOLE LAW through Jesus Christ and now we are not to obey the Law anymore (for we cannot gain righteousness through it or by it) but only through having faith in Christ and obeying Christ as our King.

          What do you think? (I have a hard time with teaching students/kids the 10 commandments / law without teaching JESUS alongside it and His resurrection)

          • Megan O’Rourke Jones

            Hmmmm…well, following the Godly Play curriculum means that the Ten Commandments are presented as part of the history of the “People of God”, after leaving Egypt, while wandering in the desert messing stuff up, not just in a vacuum, which I appreciate. Typically, the time before Advent is spent covering the Old Testament, Advent is spent preparing for the change that Christ brings, and the rest of the school year is spent exploring parables and events in the life of Christ, especially the Mystery of Easter and the Resurrection. I encourage students and teachers to discuss the relevance of what they are hearing.

            I have been sitting here thinking about this for a while now :).
            I see the 10 commandments as relevant, but I agree that they need to be presented in appropriate context, as should everything that we teach. Jesus should be there at all times – one of the best questions I got from a student was “What does this have to do with Jesus?” So we worked on answering that together. It was a different situation – we were decorating placemats for Meals on Wheels, but I still love it that she caught me and reminded me of why we were doing what we were doing.

          • Josh

            I believe the Law exists for one reason. To display the impossibly high standards that a holy, righteous, just Judge holds for his creation. To force us to be honest with ourselves and see that no one ever has or ever will fully and consistently adhere to even a single commandment. To see that even our best is filthy rags, and that justice demands punishment. Just as the rest of the OT does, the Law points to Jesus. It shows us our helpless state and our need for a Savior. The Law was never a path to salvation, because it was never possible for anyone to uphold it. Rather, it was/is a practical visual of the vast expanse between God’s holiness and our depravity. A chasm that could only be bridged by the cross. For these reasons, I believe it is absolutely critical and crucial to teach the OT Law. Not as a moral code to uphold. Not as a way to gain favor with God. Not for the betterment of yourself or those around you. Because, of course, what the Law could not do, God did in Christ. But ultimately we must teach the Law because God has displayed Himself to us through it. This is the standard that God judges us by because it is the standard that He has never broken. It is an accurate description of His character. And it is a condemning picture of our rebellion. If we want our kids to understand the Gospel, they must first understand their hopeless condition before God apart from Jesus. The Law does that for us.

            • Hi Josh,

              You have a great perspective. I agree that the law reveals our shortcomings, our total inability to live as purely as God designed us to live. As you say, our righteousness is filthy rags.

              But I especially like it when you say this, “But ultimately we must teach the Law because God has displayed Himself to us through it.”

              I believe that God’s self-revelation is equally part of the purpose of his law. As Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46) and “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (vs 46). Or as CS Lewis said, “We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.”



          • IcarusBen

            If we ignored Deut., then Christians can’t get all huffy when some homosexual couple asks to be married! But bacon being forbidden? Mindless nonsense.

    • bobfriel

      Sarah, my wife was a pre-school director and involved in early childhood education for 27 years, and we were also involved in junior high ministry back when our kids were growing up. After retiring from the fire department I got a teaching credential in CA and taught at a prestigious Christian school in Westlake Village, including 9th through 12th grade students. I currently substitute for a large school district for middle school and high school. We raised three wonderful kids who are now 40, 36, and 32 and they are believing Christians, married believing Christians, and love God. My wife and I taught our children all about great men of God like Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses in the Old Testament, and Peter, Paul, Stephen, and so many others who lived their lives for Christ that they were indeed heroes that were called righteous men, friends of God, Peter- the “Rock” Christ would build His church on, and Paul, who followed Christ and brought the message of Christ to the gentiles. Our kids desperately need roll models, for in many homes, even many Christian homes, they live their lives in such a way that many are falling away from the faith or leaving their faith. We need to teach them that it is possible to live lives that give God the glory, that sin has real consequences, that they need to be “in the world and not of the world.” and stop justifying being like the world. There is so much that is not “fluff” in the lives of the Bible heroes why not focus on that? This curriculum is sadly wrong and will not benefit the young people you are teaching.

      • dug-g

        Peter is not the rock that christ built his church on….Peter’s confession that JESUS is the incarnate son of GOD is that ROCK!!!

        • bobfriel

          The point is not to wrangle over words as we are admonished by the Lord not to do. Taking my words, out of the context intended if you place them in context,

          • Jim

            Wonderfully put. Great job!

          • Christina Gavenda

            This article isn’t encouraging sinning so that grace may increase. I think you’re reading personal opinions in to it. Kids are marching away from the church, 80% don’t come back after they leave high school.

            Why? I am so thankful that the Bible doesn’t skip over their history. Am I smarter than the Bible? Should I edit the Bible? God put the whole story there for a reason.

            God thought it was important for us to see that David was chose, had “mighty exploits”, Knew him personally and yet still arranged to have sex with another man’s wife and then had the man killed to save himself from shame. He never fully recovered from that sin yet still went on and loved God…

            Why do you want to edit this? Don’t be scared of the whole story, or your whole story. What would we do without godly people who openly share about their histories with adultery, gambling, envy, gossip, lying, porn, or sex outside of marriage? God LOVED him in his mess! Should I expect to be any holier than David? I pray I won’t walk into his sins, but what if I do? Does God leave me to my own devices? No. Like with David, he rescues me. Always he rescues me.

            • Thanks for your thoughtful response.

              I loved your thought (expressed as a question): “Why do you want to edit this?”

              All heresies add or subtract from scripture. Let’s not edit; let’s understand.


            • bobfriel

              Should “you expect to be any holier than David?” And “what if you do (sin)” you ask? Your editing of the story of David (not mine) left out something vital about David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Following David’s sin, God sent Nathan to speak about consequences. “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.” You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.” David’s response? “I have sinned against the Lord”. Nathan goes on to say, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” (God’s abundant grace). Your editing of David’s story leaves out the consequences of David’s sin. “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will DIE.” (Consequences of sin). Next time you ask, “I pray I won’t walk into his sins, but what if I do?”, always remember that “God’s rescue” is followed by God’s consequences (death of an innocent child) for that sin.” Our students, and their parents I might add, do need to hear the whole story of David as you claim. They look around the church and their own homes, in too many cases, and see hypocrisy- which is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. In these times, the world and especially our kids are desperate for the “Church” to live lives that reflect our Lord and his Word. We need to teach them- no, we need to demonstrate to them, by our actions and deeds. They have had enough of adultery, gambling, envy, gossip, lying, porn, and sex outside of marriage. They desperately need role models and the truth. Unfortunately, they won’t find it from Samuel.

            • Ouch.

              Bob, I am strongly in favor of morality. Nowhere will you ever hear me (or read from me) any advocacy of the sins of the flesh. And I hold the traditional Judeo/Christian norms of what constitutes sensual morality. I suspect you and I would have a virtually identical list.

              But–for the most part–attacks on sensual immorality is always about “them,” “those sinful people.” What about us, you and me, other non-sensually immoral people?

              Jesus has lots to say about the moralistic, the pharisees, those who get their identity from their good deeds. It wasn’t the prostitutes and pimps who judged Jesus, it was the moral scribes and pharisees. Even Pilate said Jesus didn’t deserve the death penalty.

              When Paul writes to the Galatians, “Are you ending in the flesh,” the “flesh” Paul describes (here) is not sensual flesh but the flesh of self-righteousness.

            • Great response. Thanks.

          • Hide From The Truth!

            I think the best part is teaching children the wonderful message about the power, wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and how he isn’t even powerful enough to empower two sinless people who were God’s own likeness, and whom, even with no sin nature didn’t even have the Spiritual power to stand against a talking reptile full of lies, and embraced the decision that because some talking snake told a lie or two, death was preferable to life with the God who’s Spirit of power and wisdom indwelt them.

            That these sweet children have a wonderful life to look forward to which is filled with religions demanding they do what even God’s Spirit-filled perfectly sinless likeness couldn’t:, BELIEVE, and if they find they simply cannot, they have an eternity of burning flesh to look forward to, willingly supplied by the God who loves them. .

            I love to see the twinkle in their cute little eyes when I show them 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 7:13,14 which teaches that God doesn’t even get what he wishes from his own creation because his omniscience, omnipotence & omnipresence means he couldn’t even figure out how to create beloved children who would exercise their free will by choosing righteousness and obedience to God in the belief of true faith over evil, sin and death.

            Why express the Life of the Spirit of the living God within when they may instead somehow decide, in their sinless God-likeness and sin nature-free God-image, to choose the antithesis of their own essence, evil over good, wrong over right, DEATH OVER LIFE?
            Well, because it’s completely reasonable and perfectly logical that evil & death would be impossible for Spirit-filled and sinless creations to turn away from since death would of course be so appealing to true life, and evil so beautiful in the eyes of God’s sinless and Holy Spirit-filled creation of true goodness.

            Then I like to close with letting them know how much the religious love to avoid logic and reason, so I make certain they know never to question or rock the boat with clear thinking.

            Remember, I tell them, the truth is beyond the power of we Spirit-filled believers to fathom, and must be hidden in lies, myth and fairy tales so that we should never ever need to think for ourselves or we might find ourselves cast out with the rest of the Christian wounded.

            God bless. Be warmed and fed.

      • Christopher Erik

        This thread is a couple of months old but dear God the above comment is so disturbing. Where do I begin? “early childhood education for 27 years . . . retir(ed) fire department . . . taught at a prestigious Christian school in West Lake Village . . . raised three wonderful . . . believing Christians, married believing Christian and love God.” Rolling out one’s spiritual credentials makes perfect sense when making a defense of “role model religion.” This brings to mind another impressive bio written by one of our favorite “faith heroes”:

        For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as (σκύβαλα) rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil. 3:3-8

        So Bob, despite your credentials as fire-fighter, teacher at prestigious Christian school, and father to wonderful God-fearing children, can we agree that “circumcision” or “capacity righteousness” is not where it is at? The apostle Paul underscored this point time and time again by making his own failures and weaknesses the subject of his teaching. Consider the a teaching lesson Paul makes out of Peter’s negative example, Gal. 3:11-14. The foundation of the gospel is God’s grace not “great men” so do us all a favor stop looking down your nose at people who are genuinely trying to make disciples by trying a radical new tact . . . choosing honesty with the text and emphasizing “poor in spirit” over “spiritually accomplished.”

        • Jason G

          RE: Christopher. Very well put. We would all be undone apart from Christ. Let me boast in Christ alone. Point to heros as models for behavior (Paul says ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’) but do not put confidence in the flesh.

  • Jeff Andrechyn

    Thank-you Sam for the bravery to question this established tradition. We need more people willing to look like a heretic to bring real change to an institution like Sunday school that is failing our kids miserably. Whats worse is this very institution then blames the parent when the child departs.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Jeff,

      It wasn’t bravery … it was more, hmm, frustration. I want kids to hear the Bible lessons, but ALL the lessons and the REAL lessons, not the moralistic, created lessons.

      And I think we continue these thoughts as adults. When things go wrong, we say, “I must not be in God’s will; I must have blown it.” And, of course we do blow it. But the real lesson is that God is caring for us and directing us in the good and bad. Look at Jesus; he was perfect, yet…..

      The gospel is NOT: we are good so God loves us. That’s moralism. The gospel is, we weren’t so good and God pursued us and loved us; his love makes us great!

      • Lyn

        EXCELLENT! Wow…I’ll be chewing on this today, for sure. It’s so true, when things go wrong, our Sunday School primed brain accuses us…we need balance that teaches God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust, that if we are “doing it right” we will face tribulations, and persecutions, and difficulty…because we are not greater than our Master…but it doesn’t change who HE is, and how HE sees us.


      • Julie J.

        And we should reflect His love in the world… not simply say forgive me and take me to heaven after we neglect our community… Our goal should live a life that reflects the life of Jesus. How many Christians truly do that?

      • Sallyanne

        This is a great article!! Just curious if there is a curriculum that doesn’t do this or if we just need to make our own?

        • mellowpj

          We have a small church and we have been using “What’s in the Bible” videos by Phil Visser. They present God’s rescue plan of salvation by teaching His whole plan through the Old Testament as well as the New. It helps children and adults alike, understand how God was working from the beginning to redeem us and rescue us from the penalty of sin.

        • Gen

          Godly Play. I second the other commenter. It doesn’t make the stories easy. It doesn’t teach the moral. It presents the stories in a way accessible to everyone from pre-K through adult.

        • Anna

          Check out Precept Ministries Discover 4 Yourself Bible studies for children. We do these in Sunday School. http://store.precept.org/c-32-discover-4-yourself-kids.aspx Not only do the kids learn the stories but they also learn how to study the Bible for themselves.

        • Libby

          Check out Orangeleaders.org

          • Sara

            I’ve been using the Orange curriculum and actually trying to switch out of it for the reasons described in the article above. (At least the 252 Basics version for Elementary age kids)

        • Elizabeth Ann
          • Tiffany

            Yes, we are using Children Desiring God and the whole premise of the curriculum is to be God centric as the article above is describing. God and Jesus are the heroes! Very good materials.

        • I love the Jesus Storybook Bible! http://www.jesusstorybookbible.com/

        • truthseeker43
        • Sheri

          Great Commission: Show Me Jesus is an excellent curriculum that year after year shows the theme of God redeeming His people.

        • Jenny

          There’s free curriculum that emphasizes grace at http://www.wonaz.com/store

        • Julie

          New Growth Press has the Gospel Story Curriculum and it is fabulous! (but expensive). Every lesson is centered around Gospel application.

        • sparkhouse has some great stuff. Holy Moly and Connect in particular. http://www.wearesparkhouse.org

    • bobfriel

      SInce when do the parents get a pass and the burden and the burden and responsibility becomes that of the church or Sunday school. It is the parents in too many cases who are failing their kids by living lives that do not reflect they believe what the Bible says. Specifically, it says the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man (Mom or Dad included) has much impact in the lives of their children. You have it backwards, because the church is not an institution, it is God’s people, and they need to live like they believe in what they preach. Going to church and dropping off the kids at the Sunday school door expecting them to instill a Godly faith in the hearts of their children is the problem with “the church” today. Sam’s teaching is not brave but shortsighted, or worse. My wife spent 27 years in early childhood education and I got a teaching credential when I retired from the fire department, worked at a prestigious Christian school in the area, and worked with 9th and 10th grade students. I now substitute for middle school and high school students and was very involved with youth when my kids were growing up. The idea that we “burden” our kids with standards they cannot meet is hogwash, because it is Christ through the Holy Spirit that lives within us, that gives us the power to lives that reflect His kingdom. We need more heroes, not less, and students need to see men (and women), and especially their parents, that live like they claim they are. The Apostle Paul changed the world by his willingness to walk like he talked. It is about time more people follow in his footsteps.

      • Arm Jo


      • Suzanne Heinrich

        I agree with you but you are missing the point of the article. Although the article makes it’s point in an all or nothing framework, it’s intent, I think, is to show that we are leaving grace out of the message. It is only when we realize we are powerless, left to ourselves, to be sinless and please God (the point of the 10 Commandments). It is only when I (we) meet Christ, sinless, and holy God, at the cross, suffering for my sin, do I see the extent of his love and pursuit of me. It is in this grace offering, that I did not deserve, that makes me want to please and live for him. That grace offering was the ultimate expression of love. Because of this gift and sacrifice, I desire to surrender all, my life, my goals, my heart and my mind to him. ONLY by living in him, by grace, do I have the power to live a life more and more pleasing to him. Bible heroes are examples of sinful human beings, who desired to live lives pleasing to God. If we leave grace out, we are relying on our own power to be “good”, that is pride. And pride will certainly lead to a fall. Without grace, we have no hope, and are powerless to live the life God intended for us.

      • Guest

        Man, I hate to see brothers and sisters getting angry with each other

        Regardless of how we “interpret” the Bible, God’s word is God’s word for a reason. We see people who are sinners, because everyone is. We then see the transformational power of God’s love and calling in a person’s life. We do not read about the people of the Bible and identify them as being good of their own inherent goodness. The message in every case is that this person was loved by God, was obedient to God by choice and in the end was changed and used by God. To portray “Pillars of Faith” as inherently good will cause conflict in the minds of children who can not live up. To portray Pillars of faith as changed men and women, obedient men and women will show children how to model the good lessons those Biblical figures represent and give a basis for sharing the transformational message of Christ with the rest of creation, sinners in need of transforming.

        • Thanks. Yup, portraying “heroes” as inherently good is the exact opposite of the gospel.

          But then the gospel has been attacked since day one. Actually since the garden.

  • Fred

    Sunday school is just one of the symptoms. It is the mixture of the American Dream, come, work hard, you can get ahead, that is incompatible with the Gospel of grace. It has turned much of the church into the American business church. God loves his church, his people. It is all about relationship and little about organization.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Fred,

      Great comment, ” It has turned much of the church into the American business church.”


      • lance adams

        I agree with church becoming as business. Our pastors that are “called” to lead the flock, are becoming more aware of nothing but a paycheck. Its not a business, quit treating God`s house as if it were an open check book.

    • Brett

      A critical observation. I completely agree.

    • Tom Howard

      Amen! And amen!

    • Julie J.

      AMEN! The Church has lost its way and so have most self-identified Christians!

      • Greg

        Wow, you must know the inner souls of “most self-identified Christians”. Congrats.

        • Steve

          Luke 13:22-30; Matt. 7:13-14

    • edj

      Oh this is so true. We see it in how we handle everything from missions to new parking lots. Is it efficient? we ask, instead of asking, Is it of God?

  • Garth Aamodt

    I appreciate this author’s point of view which he states in essence is; “Do we set kids up to “quit” because we teach discipleship requires effort to become godly, “good” people?” Maybe that’s true for some who abandon God but I personally don’t think it is the message of trying to be good and obedient that is driving kids to atheism. (Frankly, the world could use a lot more messages on obedience, righteous living, and submission to God.) I think kids go atheist because they buy into the concept that “science” has disproved God and we no longer should accept “superstition” as authoritative over doing whatever we want to do. Most of the lapsed Christians or anti-God people I know are full of pride, and yes even arrogance, that they are more “enlightened” than the rest of us. If there’s any message clearly taught in scripture it is “the pride cycle”, where men forget God and rely on their own understanding. They reject God because they elevate themselves! So should we stop teaching discipleship in lieu of just teaching “love”? Heaven forbid! If we only teach grace (justification) we ignore the other half of the equation (sanctification.) Teaching kids that God requires nothing, and they are always forgiven even without repentance or submission to God is a) false doctrine b) ultimately harmful. When people are falling asleep or getting lazy, you don’t wake them up by whispering and fluffing their pillow. You blow a trumpet and ask them to get off their butts and DO something…like repent, abandon pride, and “become” disciples of the Master. The scripture says “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It doesn’t say “by their large comfort zone ye shall know them.” So I guess while there is a “nugget” of truth in this authors comments, (teach the love of God) there are also “rocks” of false doctrine, as if Churches are to blame, when really pride and disobedience are to blame. We should not slacken the message that discipleship requires effort just to let weak, nominal Christians stay comfortably asleep in their unsaved comfort zone. Why would we want a church where their members can remain unperturbed by discipleship? A church which doesn’t help its members to understand obedience, and “being good”, is no better than a book club, or Kiwanis, or any other social invention. The woman in this story should NOT be told its the fault of Sunday School teaching her children they need to “be good”. The problem is her kids let pride and laziness and disobedience overwhelm the lessons they should have learned IN sunday school.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Garth,

      I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your answer. I agree that we all (kids and adults) need to be taught obedience. Jesus was obedient even to death.

      The problem I have is confusing obedience with the gospel. True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we “obtain” the gospel.

      We need to teach kids (and adults) not to lie, cheat, steal, covet, etc. Absolutely. And the world would be a better place if everyone followed the ten commandments.

      But that wouldn’t change our hearts.

      You talk about “proud” people who have rejected the gospel. Sure, I’ve seen them as well. But I bet I’ve seen more religious people who are proud, “Thank you God that I”m not like this sinner….” That pride comes from ignorance of the gospel.

      The gospel says we are worse that we admit (thus no pride) but we are loved more than we dream (thus great confidence). But the confidence doesn’t come from our behavior. Our behavior comes from the confidence we are loved.

      I agree we should teach morals. But let’s make sure we don’t confuse morals with the gospel.


      • Garth Aamodt

        Pride can indeed cut both ways. I think the parable of the father with two sons, the first who said he would go and labor in the fields (but never went), and the second who refused to go and labor (but later repented and went) was told for a reason. Some who claim to “be saved” but never actually “do” or “change” will find their profession means nothing. “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Others who rebel, but then repent and “do” God’s will shall be welcomed into heaven. I fear too often we leave an impression that God “takes” us to heaven. I view it more as our choice. I fear we err when we teach; “We can do nothing to please God.” I don’t believe that. The bible says the heavens rejoice when a sinner chooses to repent. So, of course our actions please God. I think we must become sanctified as well as justified but many churches only emphasize the justification part that Christ does for us as a free gift. That is not the end of the salvation equation. God does not want robots or he could have made us sinless and kept us in the Garden. God allowed us to fall and then He invites us to come back. But we must choose with our own free will. If we become what we “eat”, why would that principle not apply to our spiritual life? Every day we must choose obedience and faith over sin. So teaching kids to “be good”, to follow the examples of the righteous, to avoid the sins that entice us–all of that should be taught from our pulpits and Sunday Schools. I see you don’t mean to negate that aspect, but the message of preaching the love of God, as if “adding” obedience lessens the message of love, is where I would see a risk of some false doctrine creeping into your message.While I agree we should not take pride in righteous choices, neither should we view them as “optional”. We must change our natures, which we do by what we choose. I don’t think therefore that you can “confuse morals with the gospel” because they are intrinsically linked. They are inseparable. So in a very real sense then, the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and Esther ARE the gospel. Children and adults need to see the goal of living a godly life as part and parcel of loving God. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” We can’t do it perfectly. But we cannot disassociate what we “do” with what we “believe.” However one tries to split the baby, the point remains that teaching kids that they need to “be good” is okay.

        • Heleg88

          While I see your point so much of the scripture you quote is out of context. For example the depart from me I never knew you, is reserved for those who claim to have done the work of God and spent thier entire lives trying to earn theire righteousness through good works. It ties into the idea that God will spit you out if you’re luke warm being translated as meaning not “onfire” enough for God, when it actually is referring to the mixture of law (usually termed faith in christianese) and grace or the new way of Jesus. Due to the nature of the Law (which is death) if you violated it in any way you were guilty of violating the entirety of it and since Jesus fulfilled the Law you are now held to none of it. Law, or religoius rules breed disobedience because they teach you to focus on sin (a moot point thanks to Jesus) and what is in your heart comes out of your mouth. Repenting again and again has you confessing a sin nature instead of acknowledging a heavenly one. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it matters who God says you are and what Jesus has done. As far as choosing obedience and faith does it not say that God writes his desires on our hearts? The will of God is not discovered through rigorous religous lifestyles or constant church attendence it is a deep seated change brought by the acceptence of you are in christ and a relationship with the Father leading you to lose your sin nature because you are not focused on yourself and how you can do better, you are focused on the cross.

          ps Also the knowing by the fruit thing is about christians judging non believers not other “lazy christians. in fact we all stand and fall before our own masters as is outlined in Romans.

          • Garth Aamodt

            Heleg88: I know some believe as you do, that Christ overlooks any and all evil in “approved” Christians. Therefore when you state; “since Jesus fulfilled the Law you are now held to none of it. Law, or religious rules breed disobedience because they teach you to focus on sin (a moot point thanks to Jesus).” I disagree that “law breeds disobedience”. No. Disobedience breeds disobedience. Your idea that by simply pretending that law no longer exists eliminates sin is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. I perceive you may misunderstand Paul. Paul in Eph 2 and Gal 2 clarifies that he’s talking only about the law of Moses being fulfilled. He’s condemning the Judaizers who were telling his gentile converts they had to ALSO obey the law of Moses. Paul was sick and tired of the “jewish Christians” boasting that their Mosaic works made them holier than uncircumcized “gentile Christians.” Therefore Paul was teaching that the “works of Moses” are not required of Christians. He was not saying “good works” of sanctification are not required of Christians. Christ offers justification. Men must work on their sanctification. Salvation is usually a process, not an event.

            Paul rejected having to obey the law of Moses now that it was fulfilled in Christ. THAT and only that is the “law” that was fulfilled. Therefore, the Ephesians and Galatians did not need to obey the “law of ordinances” contained in the law of Moses. Some Christians twist Paul’s words to think he was teaching that sin is ignored for approved Christians. Christ and the apostles never taught that Christians are excused from sin. They taught just the opposite. In fact, the false doctrine rampant among Christians today is the nonsense that sin no longer counts for a Christian.

            • Garth Aamodt

              (Cont’d) Christians are NOT excused from sin and will also stand in judgment. Sin exists because where much is given, much is expected. He who sins against a greater light has a greater condemnation. (John 9:41) Christ raised the bar for heaven. He did not lower it. He gave the sermon on the mount (paraphrasing) about “ye have heard in time past that.adultery is a sin, BUT I TELL YOU THAT HE WHO LOOKETH UPON A WOMAN”… etc. Christ talked about figuratively plucking out your eyes, and cutting off your hand–rather than losing heaven. Why would he say that if sin doesn’t count? Christ taught that Satan desired even Peter, but he had prayed for him that he would not be overcome. Why would Christ do that if Peter was incapable of being overcome it would be better for fallen Christians had they never believed. Paul said; ““Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived:” (1 Cor. 6:9–10). He was speaking to believers. We need to remember that justification without sanctification is only half way to heaven. I believe in free will AND sovereign will. I don’t believe that Christ expects nothing of his disciples. I believe he expects a lot. I believe therefore in a balanced salvation, where Christ has done his part, and offers us grace, but not if we do nothing. (The parable of the 3 servants with talents, where only the one who did nothing was condemned. The other two, though with different yields, both got the same reward.) THAT is what he asks us to do–and that means learning to be good is not an option.

            • DonnyShawn

              Garth, you stated “we must change our natures.” How do WE change our nature? By definition, one’s nature is what it’s built upon. The nature of a rock is to sink in water, whether it wants to or not. Or let me put it another way, how does a dead man make himself “undead (born again)?” He doesn’t, man is incapable of changing his nature – only God can do that. That’s the whole point of God pursuing and choosing us. That’s the whole point of salvation through grace alone . That’s the justification part. You also stated “justification without sanctification is only 1/2 way to heaven,” but as asked by others, how much sanctification is necessary to get into heaven?

              This is not at all to discount the sanctification of a saved person or the discipline/discipleship of a follower of Jesus. Yes, we are known by our fruits and 1John 1 makes it clear that if there is no fruit after an extended period of time there is legitimate reason to question one’s salvation. But sanctification and discipleship is for the saved person, not the unsaved. And yes, I would agree that it seems some in this string have erred too much on the side of grace and forgotten the truth side of the equation – God does expect believers to live a constant life of obedience and repentance, which again is only possible through the Spirit.

              But please remember which comes first – Justification. One cannot be sanctified without first being justified, and one can not earn justification through sanctification. Hence what I see as the point of the original article. It is God’s grace and love that saves, thus that is what should be taught first (along with our fallenness and need for salvation). Obedience doesn’t save. Obedience doesn’t change the heart. I’ve seen my own kids “be good” while still having “bad” hearts (actually I’m guilty of having faked goodness at times too). And without a heart change, there is no salvation.

            • Garth Aamodt

              Donny, I think you and I are sympatico. I agree with everything you said and yes, you do have the order right. Indeed, we would have no reason to strive for sanctification if we don’t first grasp and accept the concept of justification (the love of God via Grace). My point all along has not been to promote legalism. Rather it’s been that BOTH justification and sanctification are integral. Theologians, IMO, have too often failed to find the balance between free will and sovereign will. So some pretend that free will is immaterial, as if God must do everything and we just float along on fluffy clouds. Tra la, tra la. I don’t see that in the Bible. When grace alone is held aloft as ALL we need, we miss the mark just as much as those who would hold our good works of discipleship aloft as ALL we need. My concern in this thread is the teaching of being “good little boys and girls” is being represented by some as antithetical to the gospel. It is in fact the second chapter in a two chapter book. I get the sense that some would tear the book in half or even insist that the second chapter poisons kids toward atheism because they only want to teach a cuddly God. It’s ironic that the Jews saw only a vengeful God, to obey out of fear. Christians swing the pendulum too far the other way and see only a “Buddy God” who gives us a hammock while he carries us to heaven full of our unrepentant sins if need be. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

            • Christopher Erik

              My God, how does one man have so much to say. Is there anything in the Bible about someone who won’t shut up. I mean, do you really believe that your barrage of thousands of words is somehow godly or edifying. Honestly I’ve just skimmed through this blog and you are every where. I’m sorry but it looks like megalomania and I know that isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit.

            • Christopher, slow down and take a breath.

              I want open discussion, not ad-hominem attacks.

            • bobfriel

              If I didn’t know better Garth I would think you were sent as an angel of heaven. I know your not but I so thankful that you have such a wonderful way to express God’s truth and refute false teaching. It is in many cases destroying believers and their children and leads to the statistics that show so many professing Christians are defeated, sick, dying, or dead. They have nothing to stand upon as they teach their children the false messages and doctrine. I am in a Bible study of 15 men every Monday and all of them have lost one or all of their children to this world. Some were leaders in the Christian community on their campus at high school and now live like world. One of our members, a respected individual in our community and a leader of his church has sons that have departed from the faith they were taught. We saw the signs in their young lives as they went to high school, but were powerless to bring to their attention that they were not addressing the divergence in the lives of their children from the faith and teaching they were providing. We must speak out in these days when so many look to teachers that will “tickle their ears” with what they want to hear in the first place. I am a substitute teacher in middle and high school and I see impact of this culture and the unwillingness for parents to address sin in the lives of their children, in a loving but firm way. This is especially troubling when I realize some of the students come from Christian homes. I worked at a prestigious Christian school for 2 years and saw first hand the impact of not teaching that sin has consequences even when forgiveness is given, whether by our Lord or by an administrator at the school.

            • Heleg88

              I agree that he is correcting Judaic Christians. But I’m not pretending the law doesn’t exist…For you and I as Gentiles it never did, Judaic law was never offered to gentiles and we were “lost and in the dark without hope of salvation.” Also I would say that the “a man who looks at a woman” thing is definitely Jesus pointing out to the pharisees who were convinced that they were holding to the standard of the law under their own strength, that no work can meet God’s standard. Its why Jesus had to die, God entered into blood covenant with himself through Jesus and we(as is tradition in blood covenant) benefit as witnesses. And Christ did not raise the bar for heaven, I mean no disrespect but that notion is absurd, in order for a bar to be raised the goal has to be attainable first. And since no one could achieve heaven until Jesus paved the way, he opened the door. No one comes to the Father except through me. Not except through me and all the good stuff you had better have done. If you can santicify yourself from sin than Jesus’ death was unnesseccary because you could have attained it if you tried hard enough. But no you cannot sanctify yourself for God is a being of pure good and justice. And because of that you cannot, as we earthly beings have a habit of doing, quantify sin. If you have lied once in your life than to God you are the same as a mass murderer. It is a single qualifing check box, sin or no sin. And God views our sin (as a being that exists outside of time) as far as the east is from the west and paid for once and for all on the cross of Christ. As far as God is concerned for a believer, sin doesn’t exist. God was not kidding when he said forgave and forgot. For us to keep bringing it up to him again and again in repentance has to be insulting or make us seem downright crazy, because we are confessing to him things he cannot see. “Look Lord I lusted after a woman, please forgive me!” and God is like “What now beloved child, bathed in the blood of christ, are you talking about.” It is the heart of God much as in the story of Mary Magdalene which is often taught with the message of “We all sin.” when its actual message is so much stronger. Mary should have been stoned under the law, but Jesus drew a line in the sand and said “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” and they all left, now the best part “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condem you, go and sin no more.” the important thing here is that at the end Jesus could have held the stone and killed her and been justified under his own stipulation as he was the only one without sin, but no he lets her leave with grace and love which eliminates her desire to sin, the love of Christ having changed her nature.

              And Jesus did say that to Peter, before he died, before the veil was torn. Now we are not overcome because we have the living god inside of us and the helper to guide us and when the devil tries to condem you for “sin” our response should be to point to the cross and say “No I am not that way anymore, I am a new creation.” and then we can walk boldly into the Throne Room and sit at the feet of our Abba Father.

            • karenrice

              There is no biblical proof that Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery. She had been demon possessed. Catholic tradition – not biblical proof – has Mary as a prostitute/adulteress. Just an FYI.

            • Rachel

              “That and only that”?? No, the Scriptures say that Christ died to cleanse us from sin (not just Mosaic law) and save us, and all we do to receive that is believe and confess:

              Romans 10:9-10
              That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

              John 5:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

              To quote just two verses out of many. Yes, sanctification is a process, and requires our efforts and obedience. He’s called Lord for a reason, after all. Sanctification is becoming more like Christ, in deeper fellowship with Him, and more spiritually mature. But that is different from salvation… we can not earn salvation except by believing, and that is not something that gets “undone” by not believing enough, not living holy enough, or whatever. You’re making the age-old mistake of turning salvation into something that is at least partially reliant on man’s behavior, therefor something we at least partially earn and could take credit for. Only Christ’s blood can accomplish it, and He says that none shall be taken from His hand.

              The idea of salvation as a process is about as legalistic as you can get. How many good works do you have to do, how long of living a holy life, til you know you’ve made it? And if you get that far, how much sin or messing up will wipe it out? What about the thief on the cross who Christ said would see Him in Paradise? He didn’t have much opportunity to work his way up to this supposedly raised bar. Your statements are not only unbiblical, they are the type of thing that discourage believers and destroy faith.

            • Garth Aamodt

              @ Rachel. I never said you’re saved because of a quota of good works. I said the cumulative effects OF good works (“free will” choices)–in which we consistently repent and improve–develops our discipleship. (Sanctification) It’s required to BECOME a “just” person, whom God makes perfect by grace. Two steps. Not one. But too many Christians think all they have to do is enter the gate, but not make the actual journey. You ask “how long of living a holy life til you know you’ve made it?” The answer is ALL your life. It never ends. The Bible never states life owes you some guarantee in mortality. Paul calls it “the hope of our salvation.” This notion that you’re suppose to “know” you’re saved now, before your story is over, is sectarian salesmanship. Yes, salvation can be relied upon now if we continue. Christ said we must endure to the end. (Matt 10:22) But in the literal sense, I believe salvation is suppose to remain a future event so we live for Christ ALL of our lives. Therefore, you should always be prepared. Perseverance. It ain’t over till it’s over. The race, as Paul said, must be a good one, right up to our last breath. Yes, we can be assured we have the hope and promise of eternal life, but at no point do the scriptures tell us to coast to the finish line. Why do you allege it discourages believers or destroys faith to live for Christ every day? I think you have it backwards. Thinking you’re saved now, with no further discipleship effort required actually breeds lazy, hypocritical, and vacillating Christians. I’ll take a striving, persevering Christian over a condescending, sleeping Christian any day.

            • Anonymous

              I think that the reason kids leave the church is much more than Sunday School. Kids see their youth pastors trying to be trendy, wearing the same clothes they are wearing, which looks ridiculous to them. They get mood music instead of real worship. They get outings instead of Bible studies. I’m talking about generalities, not specifics. And, look down through these comments. Kids see adults picking and arguing over semantics, people who want to “one-up” others over meaningless arguments. They hear their parents gossip at home. They get object lessons instead of Bible memorization. They don’t get standards, that this is right, this is wrong. They don’t get the compass that they need, so they drift. It’s not Sunday School that fails them, it is the church, and the parents who don’t choose more wisely in many cases. Churches that choose “community” over real teaching. That’s just my opinion, though. I grew up in a church that really taught their kids Scripture, truth, the gospel, and how to follow the Lord.

            • Jeremy

              Garth, you get it. Well said. I am a Mormon and though we may have things that we would disagree on it is certainly not on this topic. I’ve never heard of such a thing as “approved” Christians and the thought that God would overlook sin for such would mean that He has favorites. He is no respecter of persons and loves ALL of His children. And even though we may have entered the waters of baptism and began a new life as disciples of Christ, He cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance or “overlook” the sins of anyone. To do so would make him seem petty and would would put Him on a level even with many men in this world, which He is not.

              The price was paid for all of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and that becomes effective for each of us as we repent and become more like Him.

              You mentioned that where much is given, much is required. We have to continue to do our best to be “even as I am”. (His words, not mine)

            • Ryan

              “Christ offers justification. Men must work on their sanctification.” While I do agree that we do have a huge responsibility in the sanctification process, we should not overlook the role that Christ plays in it. First and foremost: giving us a new nature. Morals are important, but they don’t originate from themselves. God’s purpose for us is that we be conformed to the image of His Son. You are right, sanctification is a process, but in that process we are not alone. Philippians 1:6- “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus;”

              And beyond that, God’s grace doesn’t stop at justification. Jesus as the surety of our covenant (Heb. 7:22) is able to provide in full anything that we fall short in. That is not an excuse for sin, but, the reality is, justified Christians do sin. However, we have a hope in the midst of our imperfect effort to become like Him.

              The Gospel of grace and love goes beyond justification.

            • Josh

              I think one point that needs clearing up here is that there is indeed a difference between Discipleship and Sanctification. The latter is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer to change their nature and thus their motivations. While the former is the practice of good works, and the desire to grow more christ-like, on the part of men in response to sanctification. While the two are intrinsically linked they are not the same thing.

              And if you’re going to quote scripture please, please, please ascertain the proper context and connection.

            • Garth Aamodt

              Josh, I agree with your distinction and yes they are intrinsically linked but also distinct concepts. I think I am using the proper context and connections. Hermeneutics is essential, and I’m a stickler for honest context. But just because someone may be use to hearing only one “version”, does not mean when you have it challenged, that the challenger is wrong. Nothing I’m saying is outside of context, but frankly, many pastors have watered the scriptures down to a “feel-good-no-effort-required” message. I believe that is a false gospel message. Look how many preach a message of prosperity, or a message of “salvation only takes a moment”. It’s epidemic in evangelical and charismatic rhetoric. That message was never scriptural. I simply point out how THEY have distorted the context of scripture! Nothing I have said is unsupported by context of scripture. But some Christians have never heard the pre “new-age” version and have not challenged tradition.

            • Tricia Hunting

              I don’t hear anyone saying they believe “feel-good-no-effort-required” to you. I hear those conversing with you saying that it is the work of the Holy Spirit in you and your relationship with the Lord after salvation that gives you the power and the desire to be obedient. A relationship with the Lord is not something that takes one second, no one is talking about people who pray a prayer and never go any further. I have been taught both ways and have tried both ways and I can testify that when I focus on trying to be really good and obedient I can’t do it, I fall short every time. However, when I focus on the Lord and my relationship with Him sanctification starts happening. It is Him in me, not me and my goodness….HIm working in me to accomplish His will.

            • Garth Aamodt

              I think even the start of this thread was based on the idea that we shouldn’t even discuss an expectation of righteousness, even in Sunday School. The allegation was that kids should not get any message of “performance”, but only of “acceptance” from a loving God who will love them regardless of their behavior. And even more specifically, way earlier the discussion was based on the idea that “there is no law that applies to Christians”. It was alleged that Christians will never have sins counted because they are always and automatically forgiven. Antimonianism concepts like that are what I began refuting. There are also some,– even the premise of the entire thread–that we should not emphasize or even discuss “being good”. The premise was offered from the beginning that we should only teach grace. And nothing but grace! It was even postulated that even mentioning bible heroes would ruin our children who could go atheist if they had any notion in their little heads other than God being warm and fuzzy and never expecting them to actually become righteous. I don’t think I’m wrong therefore to point out how wrong-headed that thinking is.

            • Garth Aamodt

              Ryan–I agree Christ in integral in the process and this is why the scriptures consistently use the analogy of a “marriage” between us and Christ. A partnership–a union! I presume in this discussion we are talking that as a given.

            • Broc Verschoor

              At the end of the day, I think the important thing to note is that there are levels of validity within what everyone here is saying. With that I would just like to say that I think that getting nit-picky over the details is in some ways just as much an issue. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT JESUS CHRIST BE CENTRAL!

            • Annette Z

              I’m just going to enter this debate momentarily and ask, “Where does the Spirit fit into all of this?” I think it is the ministry of the Spirit will support both stances effectively. It’s the third way, not legalism, not antinomianism. I encourage you both to read 2 Cor. 3. As a Christian, your new responsibility is not “work on your own salvation” but realize that you are under new management: that of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a “pull up your bootstraps and try harder, Christian!” it’s an “obey the Spirit”. You see it’s not God who does the saving and us who try our best to be sanctified. God does them both (PTL!). Galatians 3:24 addresses the role of the law, namely, to be “our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Well, how is our faith built up, and how are we sanctified if we are free from the yoke of the law? Well, Paul answers that in Galatians 5:13-26, which basically says, “LIVE BY THE SPIRIT”.

            • Garth Aamodt

              Annette, there is I fear a reality disconnect for Christians from the ideological vs. reality of daily living. Sure it’s formulaic to say “God puts a new spirit into Christians.” But what does that mean in reality? Does the spirit then force you to obey? Are choices some how “less personal” or “done-by-the-proxy” of the Holy Ghost? To say we have access to more inspiration is true. But we are not given some dispensation from making real choices, are we? Those who say that God puts a new spirit in Christians must then answer how that absolves us when we don’t do what we should. If that were literally true Christians would live perfectly. Is our free will suspended? Are we robots? Don’t we still have free will!? So while I agree “obey the spirit” is the goal, we are not literally “externally” sanctified, as if just spectators. Sanctification must be “internal” or it has no power to change us. That REQUIRES agency–our deep involvement by free will. We are not insulated from error and sin. Free will is still the key. Human beings do not have the spirit literally “make” them do anything. Nothing! So while I agree that the Holy Ghost, spirit, conscience will prompt us, it cannot force us. Therefore ultimately we–you and I–not the H.G. actually live our lives. So though it sounds profound, I don’t agree when you say; “You see it’s not God who does the saving and us who try our best to be sanctified. God does them both.” That is not my experience. I propose God’s spirit enlightens, inspires, teaches, but then I must hearken. God does not then literally “do them both.” The HG is a comforter, A testifier to truth. A higher conscience. But it cannot replace my will or God is only a puppet-master and christians mere puppets. I still must choose.

            • Annette Z

              Garth, the practical application of “living in the Spirit” is one that is going to look differently for every Christian. That being said, I understand that your experience may not be that you feel that God is doing the work of sanctification. But again, I cannot rely on your experience as a standard of truth. Eph. 2:10 says, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” I agree that there is a role that free will plays. I was not denying that earlier. Free will can be used to serve either master, the flesh, or the Spirit. I believe that there are many Christians today that don’t have a clue of what it looks like to “walk in the Spirit”. It seems really wishy-washy and difficult to define. The Law certainly comes in handy for that! But the illustration that made it clearer for me was that of a man who visited a city with the map. Things were clearly laid out but he still ended up getting lost and didn’t end up seeing all the sights he had intended. When visiting the same city a second time, he had a tour guide with him that not only knew what the map was saying but had a much greater understanding of the history, monuments and told him much more than the map ever could. The same could be said about the Holy Spirit. He’s our Tour Guide for life. (John 16:12-15) That doesn’t mean that we always listen to Him or take his guidance but if we do, we’ll learn a lot more, as well as getting to where God wants us to go. Again, this might sound idealistic but I am in the process of learning how to listen to the Spirit’s leading in my life and I can’t even tell you how much of a difference it has made to becoming a part of what God is doing around me. Do I still sin? Of course I do! In fact, the Spirit has convicted me over things that I didn’t even consider sin before I started to listen to Him. Sanctification is certainly a process that requires a person’s free will to become sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. That person still has the free will to either obey or not. But as life continues, this person will realize that being obedient to the Spirit’s leading will produce a harvest of righteousness…not perfection because we’re still in our fleshly bodies.

            • Garth Aamodt

              Beautifully said and I can agree with all you said. That idea of a mentor–with me being the ultimate decider–is exactly correct. It is a partnership. I think some christians view it as a pilot-passenger relationship, instead of a pilot-copilot relationship. And, with my view of the key role of free will I would clarify that WE are the pilot, and the HG is the copilot, though one could claim that the more in-tune we become those roles should eventually reverse, for a mature Christian.

            • Annette Z

              I really like your honest evaluation how initially we are the pilot but as we become more mature, the roles should reverse. I completely agree!

            • Laura Halleron Eskridge

              It is Christians like you with all of your theology talk who turn so many people away from church and God. I believe God is much bigger than all this talk back and forth. I believe it is very simple. Love each other and treat each others with love and respect. It is very simple, that is what Jesus did when he came here, and he said to live like him. Period end of sentence.

            • HI Laura,

              I appreciate your participation, and I’m really glad that you believe in loving each other and treating each other with respect.

              But even that–teaching loving and respect–isn’t the final answer. Because we can’t truly love until we’ve BEEN loved. So the answer beneath the answer is we have to receive His love first; and then we can go and love.

              Teaching love and respect alone–I hate to say this–but it is a type of moralism too. Don’t get me wrong: we SHOULD teach love and respect. But we need to rely on His love for us first.


            • Laura Halleron Eskridge

              Good answer but what about people who have never heard about God and live loving and respectful lives. Or an atheist, they can also be loving. I don’t believe you have to even believe in God to have God in you, he is just there, built into our DNA. I see it all the time, I work with a host of different people, I know atheist or agnostics who act more Christ like than most Christians,

            • Garth Aamodt

              Laura, yes, I agree the gospel is just that simple. You sum it up well. But it’s also okay to have books, seminaries, theologians, and deeper thinkers who find the discovery process enriches their faith in God. Isn’t it? While I would never tell you that you’re not allowed to be satisfied with simpler concepts about God, I would hope you would allow others to find fulfillment by asking deeper questions. That’s okay too, isn’t it? What you find simple others might find simplistic. So, I’m glad you embrace the quickly-grasped concept of Loving and Living the gospel. I agree! Condensed to a sound-bite, that’s the same thing I’ve been saying with all this talk back and forth. But let’s agree it’s okay to have more than one way to build love for God. Gee, I hope some folks enjoy discussing big issues without being turned away from church and God. There sure seem to be a lot of books on the topic, so somebody must benefit I suppose from the deeper explorations. I think there’s room for both the surface and the depth, since indeed “God is much bigger”. A big God sometimes generates big discussion. So while saying you think we need to treat everyone with love and respect, maybe you could spare a little for me without suggesting I’m driving people away from God just because some here look a little deeper than maybe you personally need. I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come across that way because I think you can tell I love God as much as you do so let’s be happy there’s diversity in how we find and try to serve that big God.

            • Laura Halleron Eskridge

              I do respect your opinion, even more now that you showed me respect by not trying to beat me over the head with text and theology. Thank you for that. And I mean that with sincerity. I can appreciate your perspective that, yes some people do desire more in depth study, I misunderstood your discussion for brow beating. That is what I am used to. I read the article and appreciated the honesty in how they were approaching their teaching, I liked the idea of teaching my child that God loves her even if she is bad, that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. Because none of us our perfect, and that is to much for anyone to carry. I like the thought that God loves me in my beastly anxiety ridden depressed state, that I don’t have to change for him to love me, that he is going to somehow find me in this place and pull me out of it. Not the other way around.

            • restored2x

              The Greek word for “workmanship” in that verse is better translated as “poem” – we are God’s poetry. Many people may not understand the poem that my life has been – the victories and the defeats – but God is the author, not I. I think the emphasis on “sanctification”, and “obedience”, is used to create people into the image of “The American Christian”, or a good Baptist, or a good “Full Gospel” believer – not a true Kingdom participant. Not judging, just an observation from someone who has 30+ years experience in ministry and life. I refuse to be insulated, and become ineffective in allowing people to read and comprehend the incredible and wonderful message of grace and rest in the poem that I am, and am becoming.

            • Annette Z

              I am neither American nor Baptist but I can understand that these labels in themselves have certain baggage tied with them that can in certain ways limit the growth of a Christian. I have recently broken out of a “mould” that also had limiting aspects to it and have found that my walk with the Lord has plunged depths that I didn’t know were possible…and I’m just scratching the surface.

            • sp

              i’m disappointed, but not surprised, that this article has generated comments like these. i think of it like “christian-ese”. just like “legalese” for lawyers, where words are meaningless for anyone but veterans of the profession. these are the tables jesus turned upside down. the legalese of the faith.

              the article is about raising kids. and within minutes and hours christians are squabbling with themselves about proper lexicons of salvation and sanctification, which newest curriculums should be bought, whether esther was coerced, chose, repented, forced or participated with consent in sex outside of marriage, and about who has more pride, those outside the church or those inside, and how exactly to quantify that pride. and we wonder why our kids are disgusted with the faith.

              i went to christian schools, had mentors, joined youth groups, led camps, led intervarsity fellowships, went to seminary, learned biblical and modern hebrew, lived in israel, got the designation reverend. and to this day, i feel the presence of God more when i am with those outside the church than inside it. i try, and fail, and try again to be a follower of christ, but I have an increasingly difficult time labeling myself “christian” anymore.

              i have a two-year old, and another on the way. and constantly am thinking about how to pass on the faith, pass on my love for God, and demonstrate the love God has. and i honestly am scared of raising her in the culture of north american christianity. we are the pharisees of the bible. arguing about interpretation, and blind to the opportunity to share healing with a broken world.

              my daughter will not learn about God from the most popular montessori based curricula, or whether we get to sunday school each week. in fact, i’m a little less concerned that she learn as much as what i was taught, and more concerned with how i model Christ to her: do i love the unloveable in a tangible, daily way, including those the church loves the least? am i indifferent to the homeless, the addict, the single mother, the depressed? do i drive by them? why am i not with these people on a daily basis? who am i feeding, literally? how much waste am i producing? how are we sharing our possessions with those around us – not on christmas, not with tithes, but literally every day? Jesus being homeless was not figurative. it was literal. jesus touching the lepers and talking with the prostitutes was not a figurative lesson, so that we could feel good about ourselves when we pray for these people in our comfortable pews. that was the gospel message. a life lived with the un-liveables. touching the untouchables. willing to heal when everyone else just wanted to hear themselves. the gospel. when will we, when will i, take it seriously?

              more and more, it seems the north american church distances itself from the jesus of the gospel.

            • Tammy Mullinix

              Well said! While reading a few of the comments~I was thinking the same thing. Bottom line~~ parents are failing our kids~~ NOT: the teachers~ NOT Sunday School~~NOT the church. Prayer might have been ‘taken out of school’ ~but CHRIST lives w/i the heart of man~~ & THAT ~no one can mess with. We~as parents~ have failed our children to be Bold~Compassionate~Bright Light examples~ therefore~our children are confused & rejecting.

            • restored2x

              Thank you.

            • aBeliever5

              Pretty story (from a wordly point of view), but it is this story that is the lie, not the preaching of good examples of faith in the Bible. This story attempts to mesh many great doctrines of the New Testament into one new recipe for understanding the Gospel. Unfortunately, if there were a way to do it, I reckon the apostles and Jesus would have come up with it first. But as it is written (2 Timothy 4:3):

              “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (NLV)

              This new doctrine leaves out the new nature we have in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), instead focusing on the relationship between God and the “old nature”. This “old nature” is under wrath from God regarding the unsaved (Romans 9:22), and it is reckoned to be dead for the saved (Romans 6:11). Nice try, Satan, but no dice (talking about the spirits that inspired this, not the persons who wrote it)!

          • Ross

            Great post!

        • SALVATION is instant. SANCTIFICATION is a process.

          • David Adkins

            I would disagree that salvation is instant. To my limited understanding, salvation itself is a process that doesn’t end until your last breath. The Eastern Orthodox call it “deification”.

            • Josh

              Salvation is a multifaceted idea. Justification, which is all that is absolutely required for admittance into heaven, happens at the moment of acceptance of Jesus as lord and savior, thus allowing for deathbed conversion. While Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer to change their nature. Both combined create what is known as Salvation.

        • Karen

          I agree that morals and the gospel are intrinsically linked. The challenge is the order: most churches teach be good to get the gospel. This is wrong. The order is: get the gospel (as a gift), allow the Good News to work morality from the inside out i.e. receive His love, receive more of His love, and then keep on receiving His love….morality will naturally follow without effort.

        • Chris P

          As I read all these posts and counter posts it appears to me that it many of the respondents know it all, whether it is God’s will or science. Providing evidence, whether it is statistics, observations, or Bible quotations.

          I don’t know God’s will, all I have is faith. Faith is not knowlege – so for example I would not say: ” So, of course our actions please God.” To me nothing is of course. I would say: “I have faith our actions please God.”

          For some children, youth, and adults it is this expression of certainty, this knowledge of God will, that is confusing as they try to understand there own faith or the apparent lack of it.

          People who know God can make understanding and trusting once faith difficult. Some will go to extreme in the name of God, knowing that God wants them to act. They may then get the attention by the world through news coverage. Whether that certainty of knowing God’s is expressed in acting on their position on war, abortions, immigration, or many other issues, they make it hard to distinguish a faith in God and knowing God’s will.

          Abraham Lincoln expressed it so well: “I can only trust in God that I have made no mistake.” I understand that he acted in faith, with doubt, to do what he believed to be right. He never knew whether he was right, not before, not while, not after doing it.

          I don’t know whether the suggestions provided in the post or the many responses identify a path forward to a better Sunday school curriculum,. I do feel that the discussion may be improved it is more focused on faith.

        • bobfriel

          Garth, I wrote Sam as a result of my daughter-in-law’s reference to Sam’s teaching and, after reading the article, was very concerned with what I read. She is raising our grandkids with ideas such as Sam’s and it is having an adverse affect on their lives as she doesn’t think their sin is that big a deal and they are loved by God anyway, so what’s the big deal. We are praying that our son, who was raised to understand and believe as you have clearly set forth in your reply, will take the leadership role and address the actions and words of his children. We raised 3 kids who are now 40, 36, 32 who love the Lord and have made a difference for the better in our society. I am thankful that your words had the right balance of love and truth. I only hope that others who read them will understand the importance of raising their children to live lives that reflect their confession of faith.

      • Julie

        “The problem I have is confusing obedience with the gospel. True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we ‘obtain’ the gospel.” Well said! I think that for too many believers, performance has taken the place of grace. I know I have struggled with this in my own life, often beating myself up whenever I fell short of God’s standard. Such feelings of condemnation are not of God (“For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) but from the flesh and the devil. Our pride makes us feel like we can somehow measure up to God’s standards through our own performance, moraltiy or good works. Then when we fail, guilt and shame set in, robbing us of our security and peace in Christ. When we beat ourselves up over our failures, it is an affront to the gospel. It is like saying to Jesus, “Your blood wasn’t sufficient to cover my sin.” Thank you for reminding us of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

        • Beliefs of the Heart


          You wrote that so well. Thanks. I especially love your line, “It is an affront to the gospel. It is like saying to Jesus, ‘Your blood wasn’t sufficient to cover my sin.'”

        • Stacey

          That was so beautifully stated. Exactly what I was trying to put into words for a friend who is struggling.

      • Julie J.

        Beautiful, simple and well said: “True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we “obtain” the gospel.”

      • treedweller

        Only a few of the Ten Commandments have any relevance in this world, unless you believe god is a self-aggrandizing ass. Teach kids to treat others how they would like to be treated. That would make the world a better place. Teaching them to “obey god” forces them to decide which version or which god at some point. Most of the atheists I know left the church at that point. The bible says love your neighbor, not love the ones who agree with you.

      • disqus_nLSDkRqrAe

        Beware of the proverbial pendulum! I agree that we gain confidence knowing that we are loved by God but “Confidence doesn’t come from behavior” is not entirely true. Faith is strengthened and grows in confidence when we obey God’s commands and apply the principles He has revealed to us in His Word. As we obey the reality of their truth impacts our lives and others. That certainly has an effect on our confidence. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    • eve

      As one of those kids who abandoned God (and much later, returned) I’d like to add that it was absolutely the hypocrisy between what was taught and what was practiced that drove me away. I sat in Sunday School and youth group and service listening to adults tell me all about how important it was to be “good” and make “good” choices and be a “good” person, like God wanted. Then I watched the way they acted towards others and the way they allowed us kids to act to each other, and I realized they were all full of crap.

      I had no particular faith in science, and I didn’t believe God had been disproved. I just saw people in church pretending that they were wiser than the rest of us, better than the rest of us, and definitely more “enlightened” or closer to God than the rest of us. I even spent a year exploring the various congregations in my town, trying to reassure my mom who is a devout Christian, trying to find a church that fit what I felt to be true. So many of the biblical stories are about love (yes, anger and retribution and testing, but ultimately love), and yet so few of these “Christians” showed love for one another. In the end, I failed, and in my teen anger and frustration, abandoned Christianity entirely.

      Luckily, years later I met a few people who showed me that there were Christians beside my mother who worked to practice unconditional love for others, and I re-read the Bible for myself, and some of the writings of Luther, and returned to Christianity on my own. I stopped relying on fallible humans, and started trying to practice some of my own love and grace for others and myself.

      And when I finally agreed to teach Sunday school, I made certain that each Sunday I emphasized the parts of the lesson that taught about God’s love and Grace, and how flawed each of us are: myself, the biblical figures, the kids, other adults, etc., and how God loves and accepts us anyways. I know that was a message I needed to hear growing up, and I hope it helped some of my students.

      So no, Garth, I don’t think kids are primarily abandoning faith due to science and Enlightenment arrogance. I think it’s far more likely that many of them are abandoning faith due to regular human arrogance–the arrogance of church adults who want our kids to be better than we are, but in our hopes forget the reassurance kids need about being regular people. And the arrogance of kids, often teens, who feel that no one older “gets it” or is right about anything. Hopefully we can keep remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about God’s love and grace, and just keep working to show that more authentically every day.

      • Ardis

        Hi Eve, I so enjoyed reading your post! I have to agree with you! I RAISED my kids, just like everyone else, expecting them to turn out GOOD! They did, but, also left the church. About 12 years later our youngest son returned. During that time both HE and I, did considerable growing! I personally have grown a lot over my 64 years of life! I used to be VERY stanuch in what I believed, and THOUGHT everyone else should believe the same! But, as the years rolled by, and I came in contact with more and more people, I realized that we are not ALL in the same place of our spiritual walk with Jesus, and that we have to give people latitude. We cannot FORCE them to believe as we do! That is what I like so much about Jesus! He created us with a mind, to make free will choices! But then on the other hand, He also gave us a set of rules to live by, called the 10 Commandments. The first 4, deal with our relationship with God. The last 6, deal with our relationship with others. Notice He gives us 6, and Himself 4! I think that proves that He is MOST interested in us as human beings! I am so glad that I have learned, at least I hope I have, to be more tolerent of people and what they believe. God is good, and He gave us His Word, the Bible, to instruct us, to care for us, to see how much HE loves and cares for us. God bless!

      • Patti

        What I love about your answer, Eve, is that you experienced it personally. I love that you are able to articulate your journey so beautifully. I, too, am a SS teacher & I know I want to be real & practical so that my girls can see God’s word as a tool for their everyday life. A balance between grace & truth requires so much wisdom. The examples in scripture of men & women like Abraham & Esther can encourage our students that if others can stay faithful to God during hard times, then maybe they can too. Sometimes it’s in the way we teach them the biblical principles. Great things to consider from all these discussions…

      • Thank you Sam – I am really glad that I have had an opportunity to read some of the posts on here because it help me to understand some of the feelings I have experienced in my life as a Christian.

      • Georgia

        “…the arrogance of church adults who want our kids to be better than we are, but in our hopes forget the reassurance kids need about being regular people”- I absolutely agree with you eve.

        I am in a similar situation to a younger you, where I have abandoned the church and Christianity having grown up as part of it and a deep believer as a father. I have not returned to the Church and religion despite retaining a belief in God. I’m agnostic I suppose.

        When I was growing up, all I ever felt was guilt- that I couldn’t go one day without doing something that was labelled ‘sin’ whether it was swearing, or lying or judging. I never felt absolved instead it was a vicious cycle. Get to the end of one day, repent and pray, wake up again and start the whole thing again. I never felt loved or clean from ‘sin’ that was going to send me to hell.

        I grew sick of this about 4 years ago. Since then, I have felt freer and a whole lot better as a person. I have learnt more about being a good person from being away from the church than being in it. Moral decisions and actions became choices rather than being ‘extorted’ into it. Science is my profession, and rather than weakening my belief in God, it has instead supported it. I cannot look at the wonder of the world around me and its beautiful complexity without feeling that there was a hand in creating it. “Randomness” does just not cut it as an explanation.

        Reading the original article was a bit of a revelation. It was nice to be reminded that there are different perceptions and ways to think about what we are taught. It made me think that perhaps there is hope for me after all, and that maybe I need to do some more thinking about changing my perceptions. I need to do some reading and come to my own conclusions. Your response was lovely in that I was reminded that I am not alone in agonising over this issue, and gives me hope that one day I will sort it all out.

        • Shawn

          Some good thoughts in the article. The entire gospel does need to be taught. However, there is one part of the article that made me want to throw out an observation/question: It was the sectino on ‘There’s gota be a better way’. Stressing the message so much like that appears to be very similiar to a lot of modern day thinking. That is to say, you can go around doing whatever you want, God will love you regardless. A lot of people have that mind-set and I think a lot of people do end up leaving the church because of exactley that. As long as they claim to believe in God, they can live however they want because He will always love them. A lot of error can come out of this if not mixed and tempered with teaching of what God requires out of his followers.

      • Sarah

        My siblings and I grew up in a conservative Baptist church along with most of our extended family. We witnessed a lot of legalism and backstabbing, gossip, and far worse. Disillusionment came early for us. Many of the extended family are not involved in church or are practicing what I call “moral relativism”, picking the parts of the Bible which they like and ignoring the rest, going along with whatever the world decides is okay. Many were disillusioned by the two-faced nature of the numerous “Sunday Christians” who would teach in our classes (or from the pulpit) and then go home and lead a different life.

        Myself and all four of my siblings are still in church and still believers. My brother is an associate pastor at a church in another city. His is unmarried because he believes God wants him as he is; available for anything the church needs. He once rode a bicycle to another city for the 8th graduation of one of his youth members simply because she had no one else coming.

        My youngest sister is the wife of a youth minister and a Sunday School teacher (who doesn’t use any curriculum, just uses the Bible and *gasp* studies and prays to prepare for her class each week with her husband. Our other sister is a stay at home mother with seven children, who is very involved in her church but more involved with her kids (who know more scripture than I did at their age). She reads to them from the Bible every day and has them articulate back what it means to them (refusing to accept any form of “what she said”). If their study makes them late, so be it. She wants them to know that God is more important than anything.

        I myself am involved in a rapidly growing church (we just bought a new building and it was full on its second Sunday). I also served in the military for four years and spent most of those four years explaining to others why I believed what I believed, which made me take a hard look at exactly that. My faith has only deepened.

        Looking at my cousins who were raised in the same church but ended up in jail or worse, many often wondered what went wrong. I never had to. The difference was our parents.

        My parents have always lived a life in front of us that showed us that they meant exactly what they said. We were poor because my parents gave to others far more than they ever kept. They still do. When we gave our toys to children who lost everything in a fire, our mother didn’t let us give the ones we didn’t want. She asked us to give up the best ones. I was seven and I never forgot what that felt like, especially since the kids didn’t even want the toys. Mom said, “That’s not why we give. It’s the giving I want you to remember.” And I do.

        They’ve always paid their tithes in full, even when we were short on rent. The bills always got paid. They said to serve faithfully and we were at church for every service, every work day. They still are. They invited strangers into our home and loved them like family. We still do. My sister says we were spiritually spoiled.

        My parents have spent my entire life showing me what being a Christian meant. I never needed Sunday School for that.

        • Lynnette

          What a lovely tribute to your parents. I would agree with you. My parents lived their faith in front of me. They enhanced what I learned in Sunday School. They made it real, not just stories. Along with that, they pointed me to God every day and loved me unconditionally.
          My heart aches for those who cannot see the unconditional love of God because of the sinfulness of humanity.
          My heart aches for those who will not see the holiness of God because of the influence of the world around them.

    • 1. If you start your comment with “I appreciate the authors point” your really not listening and you just want to be heard.
      2. this is well written and very lengthy just to say he still believes in doing the same things over and over and get no real change.
      3. Comments like this prove why we need more articles like this.
      4. The generation is being asking for a different realism our generations grew up in. Remember the message of the Gospel never changes, but the way we approach others with it needs to change.

    • Thank you for that response! I believe the reason why those (young and old) give up on GOD is because we fail to grow in our relationship with GOD! We are fed milk too long and we don’t understand GOD because we walk in past mistakes and hold on to guilt (satan) that keeps us from getting closer to GOD! Satan’s assignment is to hold us back from fulfilling the purpose GOD has for us. If and when we realize that when we turn our back on GOD through unbelief or other sins, it’s just an assignment won by the adversary! I’m listening to a series of sermons entitled, “Christian Maturity”. The lessons explains that we are created for GOD through his will and to estabish a relationship with Him. We all were once enemies of GOD (estranged from GOD via Adam and Eve).
      But GOD rescued us from this separation through Jesus Christ! We as Christians must realize that this is a LIFESTYLE that is easy – the bible states, His Yoke is Easy! I now understand that I have the favor of GOD, and am free and although I will be judged by HIM, I am confident in my salvation and that I can live from this point on to the life of Santification. With GOD I will strive to study GOD’s word more and know this help me live a holy life. I know that GOD will cover me because he LOVES ME. I love this new revelation and am excited to spread the word to others.

    • Amy

      Well said!

    • Kathy Snyder

      I agree that the pride of “enlightenment” has gotten a hold of many young people. Where the article resonates with me is in the fact that the sort of teaching she gave as an example can lead to works righteousness, another form of pride.
      Ultimately, it is God who changes the heart. Many of those children that were in Sunday School may have been unregenerate, even still.
      Children need to know the depth of their sin in order to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love. Then, striving to live godly lives in not an unbearable burden.

      • John

        Teaching needs balance and a balanced presentation of Biblical truth. I don’t know what curriculum you have reference to but our Randall House curriculum has maintained this balance. Grace is truth but obedience is truth also. Jesus certainly hit obedience hard and was insistent upon it’s necessity. He came to save sinners and transform them into saints. His expectation is not sinless perfection but is a full reverse from the sinful lifestyle of the unregenerate.
        David was a man after God’s own heart from his youth. When he fell into sin God called him on it and turned him back to righteousness. It is the pattern of one’s life that shows who’s Child one is.

      • Aaron

        It’s apparent that the church is in a race and the opponent is the world. The problem is that the church is not running to win. They are competing with the world in a losing effort. The church is typically running a decade behind. It’s refreshing to see someone who realizes the superficial approach employed by many of the church’s teachings. Press on.

    • Lisa

      While you may have a point for why SOME children leave the church I am a prime example of this article. I left the church for many years and did not return until recently when I learned about grace. We were taught that every time we made a mistake (sin) that we were no longer saved, and that the true Godly leaders needed to be perfect. As an adult I understand where they are coming from, but it is still a wrong teaching. As a child I saw everything very literally and not teaching grace to children is a mistake that is costing us dearly. If we do not teach grace, how will these future adults know how to give grace to those around them, instead they are only taught to be self centered about their own supposed perfection rather than understanding that all have sinned and all who have asked have experienced the grace of God.

    • Cherry Messer

      AMEN!!!!! I am so thankful for your voice in this discussion.

      • Cherry Messer

        I wrote this as a reply after Garth Aamodt’s comment on July 23, 2013 at 9:28 am. Why the random placement of my comment?

    • Sarah Beau

      ….and AT HOME! Well said Garth

    • Bridgette

      Outstanding comment, Garth. Each of us is responsible for our relationship (or lack thereof) with God. We can blame others, but ultimately, we either seek or reject God on our own.

    • Eddie Lakey

      Thank you for that insight! You are correct in every detail. If there is a shortcoming in SS it is the failure of providing lessons concerning the evidences for creation that are out there. Atheists are winning the battle by interpreting them from a non- creation slant while the Christian as a whole wont even give the creation side of interpreting the same data. Our world is scarred and “old” looking because the surface was completely destroyed by the world wide flood of Noah. The media and education systems totally dominate these data interpretation to Satans parallel to creation of a multi billion year ago beginning. When these kids are fed this in school as fact but are not getting the Bibical interpretation of evidences in church ( pulpit and SS) they see no reason not to go along with the “world” and ultimately reject the Bible since no one will defend it’s clear teaching on Creation in 6 literal 24hour days. II Timothy 3:16. God is good and loving but also wrathfully when it comes to sin as evidenced all throughout the Bible.

    • denadawD

      First thing- “We should not slacken the message that discipleship requires effort just to let weak, nominal Christians stay comfortably asleep in their unsaved comfort zone.” – how can a CHRISTIAN have an “unsaved comfort zone?” Maybe a comfort zone, but an unsaved one?
      It wasn’t until I was in college when I finally heard someone talk about Jesus’ LOVE for us and how we should actually show Christ’s love to people, instead of just telling them about it. Many Christians are scared to preach the “love” message because they’re afraid of being perceived as a ‘soft’ church. By the time I was 20 years old, I was terrified that I was not good enough for God. I must have said the “salvation prayer” about 500 times. I was terrified that the fruit of my life wasn’t good enough (” by their fruits you shall know them”) – I heard that scripture all the time, and I was so afraid that meant I wasn’t “really” saved. I became a Christian in order to avoid going to Hell, and then I struggled with obedience, as we all do. Because my motivation was avoiding Hell, I lived in fear.
      The thing with the love message is- I want to follow a God that LOVES me. I want to change because of love, not because of fear. When I finally heard someone talk about how your life can change because of God’s love- because that is the most powerful thing about His message- that’s when my life changed. I’m no longer afraid. I trust that He is indeed abounding in love and faithfulness. I agree it’s important to talk about repentance and abandoning pride- but ultimately Love is what changes lives. Christ’s love for us is what led him to the cross. I was told to repent and be obedient ALL THE TIME growing up. It wasn’t until someone put an emphasis on the “softer” side of God that my life started resembling Christ’s. Just because this article stresses love doesn’t mean that everything you mention flies out the window. The focus on love, in my personal experience, is critical to spiritual growth.
      And most people I have met have become atheists because of hypocrites WITHIN the church, not messages outside the church.

      • Garth Aamodt

        @ DenadawD: Yes, we should serve God out of love not fear. But if you think every self-described “Christian” is “saved” you need to re-read Matt 25. Lots of “christians” sleep in an “unsaved comfort zone.” In other words, maybe they said a 20 second prayer, or walked up at a Benny Hinn revival, or got saved in a tent revival, and that’s the last time they’ve ever thought about God. Some even go to church on Sunday and then with the arrogance of someone who “knows” they’re saved sleep with their neighbors wife, lie, cheat, and steal. They think they’re saved without evidence of salvation. I fear there are too many deceived “insulated christians” who believe they have a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. (Google search for Pastor Paul Washer and hear his discussion of unsaved Christians, the “dry, dead bones of unconverted church members.”) God is not a buddy or a playmate in my opinion. I’m glad you prefer the love verses, but that doesn’t erase the Holy God verses where a righteous God also rebukes. His harshest rebukes are actually toward believers! Christians who think sin doesn’t count for them are deceived IMHO. I agree we should obey God out of love, not fear. That’s called free will. Christians who think God’s will “replaces” theirs, and therefore absolves them of their own discipleship, are deceived. That’s what I meant by some Christians who do nothing, are asleep in their “unsaved comfort zone.” Christ warned multiple times about the fallacy of “effortless discipleship.” Churches who preach an unoffendable God are forgetting Paul’s warning; “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3) Heaven is for repentant sinners, not unrepentant sinners.

        • Robert

          So your saying we’re not saved by grace but are expected to continually earn our salvation by acting appropriately… Which is it? A free gift or an earned right? There is no logic under the sun that can assimilate these two. IMHO

          • Garth Aamodt

            I’ve never used the phrase “earn our salvation.” I’ve said that the grace of Christ (justification) is ALWAYS coupled in scripture with our also becoming righteous (sanctification.) How one splits that “becoming”–whether by indwelling of God’s spirit or the free will choices we make–still must result in personal righteousness. (Not perfection but “just” men, made perfect in Christ.) Therefore, when some Christian pastors ONLY emphasize grace alone, they err. When others ONLY emphasize works alone, they err. BOTH are two sides of the same salvation coin and my rebuttal was against some on this thread who proclaim being “good” is irrelevant to being saved. That, IMO is false doctrine. James spent a whole chapter describing how the two are combined, with both faith AND works. Some christians today almost have an aversion to the word works, as if it’s a swear word. No. Works, or rather what we become through our disciple-living, are the other half of the salvation equation. So it’s not that feigned goodness saves you. But the acts which MOLD us into true disciples of God intrinsically will also build a righteous person. One who claims salvation, while eschewing righteousness–or in this thread even condemning being “good little boys and girls”–is not understanding the duality of salvation. Free will is still a key and many modern preachers only preach Sovereign will. The Bible teaches both. We need to also teach both.

          • Garth Aamodt

            I view salvation as a “covenant”. It is a marriage contract. If you married a woman who then never lived in your house, ignored you, and blew off any attempts you made to be together it would unavoidably lead to…divorce. So is your marriage a free gift, or an earned right? Christ makes a contract PREDICATED on your abiding by the terms. The terms on our end are discipleship/sanctification. Christ even offers to give us the holy ghost to prompt, remind and inspire us. He stands at the door and knocks, but he can’t force us to let Him in. To the degree we allow the HG to work within us, the covenant, over time, becomes solid and secure. Those who blow off that “working” toward sanctification will find themselves “divorced” on judgment day, if they don’t repent. That’s why I said Salvation has two co-equal components. Justification AND Sanctification as taught in the scriptures. These are both biblical principles so I’m not sure why you find it impossible to assimilate these two. I actually find it impossible to NOT assimilate these two or else one must ignore Matt 7, 25, the entire book of James, much of Paul’s epistles, and hundreds of scriptures that preach man’s role in obtaining salvation.

        • Josh

          “Christians who think sin doesn’t count for them are deceived IMHO.” What exactly do you mean by “count”? Do you mean it in an aspect of condemnation or notice? Or something else entirely that i haven’t thought of.

          • Garth Aamodt

            Josh, I was refuting the idea of “antimoniansim” where a contributor had written that there is absolutely no law applied for Christians because sin cannot count against a “saved” Christian. Nonsense. The Bible actually directs its harshest criticism and condemnation for believers. Paul–the author most cited for preaching grace, is also the most cited author for the verses which condemn sin in the saints of his day. I am not aware of any scripture, which says Christians will not also be judged for their actions in mortality. Those who preach only a “reward” phase to judging Christians, are not validly citing any specific scripture. That is only a man-made (and I believe false) interpretation of scripture. But the scriptures actually say just the opposite: Example: “But I say to you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” That does not exclude Christians. Christ never said anything about Christians escaping judgment day. We will face it like everyone who’s ever lived. But the difference is that the assets of Christ will then be applied to our deficit. Our “credit” if you will, will be greater than our “debit”. But we will also feel great remorse, swallowed up in the applied atonement of Christ. Those who cannot apply Christ’s “credit” will have no relief to their guilt and remorse. Ours will be assuaged. But using Christ’s mercy as a license to sin on earth would be an offense to God for which we will have to give an account. I believe we will all feel ashamed on that day, but oh so grateful to have a creditor who co-signed for our debts!

            • Guest

              I’m very confused by what you are saying. Are you saying that we are saved by grace alone, but should still work at being better people? Or that we are saved by grace PLUS being good, and if we are relying only on Christ’s death that we will go to hell?

            • Garth Aamodt

              Since theologians haven’t resolved this in 2000 years, it’s not likely we will. The scriptures talk about 2 parts, justification and sanctification. How we interpret those two “chapters” that lead to salvation is the question. I don’t claim perfect knowledge on this doctrine but in my opinion when we accept Christ he grants us justification (grace), meaning he “vouches” for us and his perfection compensates for our imperfection. Nothing we can do can fill that deficit except for Jesus Christ. It all begins there. But does it end there? Some say the deed is done at that point. In this thread, some opine that laws, sin, failure, falling from grace is at this point off the table for a “saved” christian. But, we also see the scriptures add a 2nd mandatory part. Sanctification–which I believe largely requires our free will. Accepting Christ begins a “covenant” relationship, or a 2-way promise. What then is our part of the promise? (This is the part that some denominations largely ignore.) Matt 7:21 says; “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” in 24:13 Christ says; “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

              There is no version of someone being “saved” who doesn’t also achieve sanctification. And naturally, if we love him, we try to keep his commandments. Obedience is therefore both an outcome of our “covenant” with God, AND requires our daily free will choices. Christ can’t mold us to be “like him” without our willing participation. He can entice, inspire, coax,–but never force. So, if we are ONLY doing the first part–accepting Jesus, and then NOT doing the 2nd part–becoming sanctified, as Paul says we “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, then sadly, we have broken OUR part of the covenant. I am NOT saying we do it alone. That’s why we accept Christ first so the HG can be our companion to help us do the 2nd part. That’s all I’m saying. But those who stop after accepting Christ are not obeying the full message of salvation and I doubt they can claim heaven if they don’t persevere into sanctification. How much of that requires free will is the debate. But I don’t believe we are forced into sanctification without our full, direct and voluntary participation. To me therefore, our own actions directly affect our salvation even AFTER we’ve accepted Christ. (Blasphemy!) But I find it permeates the entire new testament but is being ignored or re-interpreted by others to suggest accepting Christ alone finishes salvation. I don’t buy it.

      • Georgia

        Well said.

        I also lived in fear and guilt for my constant ‘shortcomings’ as a Christian child. They taught Jesus’ love for everyone, but attitudes within the church never reflected this love. It was a vicious cycle where I never felt good enough, and I was constantly stressed that I was going to go to Hell. I was an obedient and quiet child, and instead of being shown that I was ‘good’ enough my self-esteem and confidence was constantly undermined. Faith in God began to be not enough.

        Eventually I began thinking that I might as well not bother, since I was never going to repent enough to avoid Hell anyway and this scared me.

        If God loves me, why did he want me to feel like this all the time?

        I cut off contact with my church and with Christianity in order to properly deal with my issues with this. It has been through this break that I have begun to find a perspective.

        Someone told me a little while ago that God moved through her and that she felt that God wanted her to tell that he “loves you regardless of what you think and who you am now”. It was a profound moment where my perception began to change. If he still loved me with all my questioning and challenging, then he didn’t want me to feel guilty when I was ‘good’.

        Children who are confident in God’s love aren’t arrogant, they are simply children who understand that they are supported and encouraged to be the best that they can be. Children don’t need Christianity to tell them how to ‘be good’, being good comes once they are confident and happy within themselves, and this comes from having a secure knowledge that God loves them whatever happens, and that all he asks is that we try to improve. ‘Obediance’ can be taught and forced, but for a child to not ‘rebel’ against it they must accept that they are not obedient because they are told to be by the Bible. They are obedient because they know that it in this way they show their love to themselves, to their parents, to society and to God.

        Love and teaching obedience and repenting are NEVER mutually exclusive. Through love we learn the important of obedience and begin to WANT to repent because we have hurt someone we love, rather than it begin something we MUST do in order to satisfy an unsatisfiable attitude that some hold and propagate within the church.

    • Julie J.

      I disagree with your premise of why kids leave the church and choose atheism. If they choose atheism it is probably because they have chosen morality over the immorality and hypocrisy of the church. At 8 years old I saw the hypocrisy in the established Christian religion… the greed, selfishness, and hatred (racism, homophobia, sexism) most “christians” acted with in their daily lives.

      I agree however that teaching discipleship is not the problem… it is the inherent hypocrisy of the way “christians” act in the world verses the example of Jesus Christ. As I said earlier – even an 8 year old can see the difference.

      I left the church because I believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ not because I didn’t.

      Also science and religion can be compatible… science doesn’t disproved the existence of God – it can neither prove nor disprove it. I am a scientist who is also spiritual… there is not a conflict for me…

      It is time for the church to accept responsibility for its dwindling numbers and come to terms with its own behavior which is driving away its young members. You cannot love and hate at the same time!

    • nanadonna

      I agree with you Garth….. it’s easy to blame SS. I grew up with those stories. It was the “milk” of the word a child can understand. As I grew in the Lord and read more of the stories and ATTENDED SUNDAY SCHOOL…. I got the meat. It’s not the curriculum that drives young folks away, it’s the traditional church and the feel good teaching we are seeing and hearing on the T.V. I don’t remember having some revelation as I studied deeper into those stories in the Bible that I was lied to or the version was wrong. We want a type of church where we are told about the “gate”….. Heaven….. but we don’t want to hear much about the “way”….. the day to day walk. We want to hear about the “way” as in “I am the way the truth and the life.” But we don’t want to hear about the truth. Like the woman at the well. Jesus told her he does not condemn her but then he told her the truth…..”go and sin no more.” I see so many Christians that sit in church and continue to live the way they want. God has forgiven me they say. Who are you to judge…..the “judge not” verse is the just another way of saying let me live anyway I want and keep your mouth shut. I grew up with those stories, the hellfire preaching and I never was driven away. I did a personal inventory and let the H.S. clean my closet. I knew what I needed to do to improve and no one had to tell me. I never resented the “down where we live” preachin’. It made me a stronger Christian. Not so much nowadays. I see a lot of baby Christians still on the milk. Living together not married. Drinking to excess, cheating on taxes. Stealing from their employer. Oh, it’s little things but instead of living as close to the line as possible, why not live as far from it as possible. The world needs to see we are different. Not self righteous but different. If we are self-righteous….. the Holy Spirit will show us and we will know by the ones that want to hear our message.

      • Josh

        ummm…. Living together while unmarried, drinking to excess, cheating on taxes, and stealing from one’s employer are little things? My, my, the world has changed. I thought a little thing was something like taking a cookie from the cookie jar after mommy said no.

        • Sandrilene

          Well there’s nothing whatsovever wrong with living together while unmarried. It harms no one. Would you rather live in a world where children are shamed for being illegitimate? I think today’s society is more moral.

          • Garth Aamodt

            You really think todays society is MORE moral?? More moral than …what? than when? Based on what? The fatherless rate is higher. The single-mother ratio is higher. The children being raised by grandparents is higher. The children on gov’t assistance has never been higher. So in what way is unmarried, often temporary, uncommitted cohabitation equal to marriage? The stats suggest that as a demographic shacking up actually IS harmful. If you mean society today is more moral because it is more “accepting”, or more “laissez-faire” that’s probably true. But that has nothing to do with “morality” but only with lowering the bar on discernment. But the easy way to become less discerning is simply to banish discernment. Stats do not support that living together is as stable as marriage. Living together is certainly more “tolerated” or “ignored”, but it doesn’t logically follow that one can say that equates to claiming “there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with living together.” And I haven’t even mentioned the religious admonition, but only the socioeconomic impact. God also has declared that marriage and family units are the “best” path. I think if we look at good, better and best, shacking up cannot be claimed as the “best” path, though I grant there are some people who make it work. But usually only be emulating a real marriage. Why those that make it work at that point don’t get married is a mystery to me.

          • Josh

            Just to be clear i am talking about a man and a woman living together while unmarried, the problem with that is that it leads to sexual sin, leading to said illegitimate children, bastards as they were called. And in all honesty it was more a shame to the parents then to the child, some of which did roll off onto the child understandably. But i think we can agree that the shame on the parents is justified. as for being more or less moral, i don’t see a huge difference in behavior, merely potential social ramifications, which come and go as time passes.

    • me


    • jimletchworth

      ..”my religion is a simple one…be kind”. – the dalai lama

      • Jim,

        There is a problem with that kind of religion (“…be kind”). The problem is that we fail; or–if we succeed–we look down on others who fail.

        We all need a humility of a standard we can’t reach but a love that reaches down.

    • tnn24

      God saved some people from drug and alcohol. He saved me from Sunday School during my university time.

    • Ryan Blanchard

      I left because the older I got, the more it became clear that there isn’t evidence for the things I was taught. If the church wants to have an honest conversation about why people leave, great! But the church will have to listen with sincerity to those of us that left. This nonsense of “they just want to do whatever they want to do” and “it’s all about pride” might make the believers feel better, but it isn’t true. In my opinion, one of the church’s greatest mistakes is forgetting that Christianity is a religion of faith, not ironclad evidence. If you preach it as faith, we won’t be so shocked when we grow up and learn the evidence isn’t there. If you preach it as fact, you can expect us to continue leaving.

      • polyscifi

        I don’t really buy that, for two reasons. Churches that preach the Bible as fact are gaining more members and making more converts than those who preach the Bible is merely a tool of faith. Those are the cold hard statistics. Plus, my experience is the exact opposite of yours. The older I got, the more it became clear that there is enormous amount of evidence for the things I was taught. Have I studied more than you perhaps? I have no idea. But I wonder if you have more faith in what the world says than what God says, and therefore you are quick to conclude the world must be right… If so, you are deceived along with the world.

        • Ryan Blanchard

          I doubt there’s much point in comparing our degrees to see who’s more educated. Secondly, appealing to God as a way of arguing for the existence is God is a logical fallacy called begging the question. If persuasion is your goal, you’ll want to cease using phrases like “the world” in conversation with people who are secular. “The world” is a Christian clobber term. It doesn’t mean anything to the rest of us.

  • Doug Mitchell

    So much of what has been taught in Sunday School is a magnification of the thing I think plagues our faith the most…fear. Being good little boys and girls has little to do with the gospel, but it feeds the myth that we can create a realm of safety around our children, and teach them that if they just strive enough they can please God and behave.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Doug,

      Actually, being “good little boys and girls” is what the gospel says we can’t be until we receive his rebirth.

      Of course this is hard. God wants us to behave well. The issue is that we can’t until we repent and get a new heart. (And even then, we blow it all the time!!)


      • Margo


        Thank you for sharing the gospel! We all have sinned, are sinning and will sin. But God in His great love for us, sent His Son to take our place as a sinner and to die for us and now, every day, we get to put on the robe of righteousness bought for us at Calvary. I know who I am, the woman at the well, the prostitute caught in the act, but God has saved me, is saving me and will save me and carry me all the way home to the arms of my Daddy, God. I pray for faith to please my Daddy, God and I thank Him for the Holy Spirit who lives in me, heals me, teaches me and guides me on my way home, to be with God and to be holy as He is holy. Holy does not mean perfect, it means I repent when I need to, cry out for help when I need it and hold on to Jesus. I am a children’s minister at a church of about 1000 and I find your diagnosis of Sunday School(adult and children) to be sometimes, unfortunately accurate. People do mistake moralism for the gospel. I hear in my women’s Bible studies, and I read in “Christian books” all kinds of “shoulds” “do’s and don’ts”.

        God wants us to be great receivers of His love First!! and in His love, abiding in Him, He gives us the power to obey and the grace to repent when we fall and falter. A righteous man falls seven times and gets up, keeps getting up and running to Daddy God who loves him, heals him and dusts him off and says go again.
        Romans 8 says we know we are the children of God because we are led by the Spirit of God, not because we are “good little boys and girls” oh how I love His Spirit. He is good and does not burden us by the law, the law brings death, but grace came with Jesus and he yokes us lightly with Him. Hallelujah!
        in grace and love,

        • Beliefs of the Heart


          I love your bold, humble, confident, “I am the woman at the well, the prostitute caught in the act, but God has saved me, is saving me and will save me.”

          That identity humbles us (we are the woman at the well) and it gives us confidence, “God pursues us to the utter ends of the earth.”


        • Osborne

          I don’t think the problem lies with our churches teaching character values tied to Biblical stories. As a parent I believe that my children are watching me intently and forming their opinions on faith, God, the church, and more based on what I say and do. Am I teaching/ showing them love when they are unlovable (yet sinners)? Am I showing them how to reach out to hurting people? Am I showing them His love? I talk to my children about Biblical people and what we can learn because I believe the Bible is the greatest source of Truth and knowledge but as parents we also model that behavior and fess up when we mess up.

          • Jonathan Seal

            You’re missing the intent of this piece. We’re teaching character values without the context of where those values came from and how they got there. The idea of SS is being used as a convenient catchall.

            I do agree with you about how your kids look at you their parent. That’s always most important. But when they see you immulating Christ, I hope they also know how you’ve sinned and see you ask forgiveness for those sins. And when you do mess up or see them mess up, instead of saying – be like Abraham – say “You know, Abraham messed up, but God loved him through it and he became the spiritual father of billions of people!” Now, that’s the gospel.

            • Jonathan, you completely got it when you said, “You’re missing the intent of this piece. We’re teaching character values without the context of where those values came from and how they got there. The idea of SS is being used as a convenient catchall.”


  • Bob G

    Sam – This is as clearly and as beautifully communicated as I have heard the Gospel for a long time. God has transformed my mess into a message and continues. Thanks for your heart and strength.

    • Beliefs of the Heart


  • Cynthia

    Two thumbs up, Sam.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Thanks 🙂

  • Lauren

    I moved a lot growing up, and it was a struggle to establish a routine of going to church because we so often had to find new ones. I begged to go with my parents to the regular service, because I hated Sunday school. I honestly didn’t understand what was going on, and got in trouble for asking questions.

    Like this:

    “Why did God ask Abraham to kill his son?”
    “Because he wanted Abraham to prove his faith.”
    “Is God going to ask my dad to kill me?”
    “Why not?”
    ….I think I got a vague answer that was something akin to “because Jesus.” Even knowing that Jesus supposedly died for our sins, I didn’t understand. I was afraid of God.

    And then there was this:

    “So, God killed everyone except one boat of people and animals?”
    “Yes, he had to. Everyone else was too wicked.”
    “In the whole world?”
    “Well, no, not all of them.”
    “And everything died.”
    “But weren’t there children?”
    “I guess there were.”
    “Why did God kill little children?”

    The other kids in the Sunday school class got scared. The teacher was angry at me for questioning God. She even told my parents. Now, my dad is the son of a minister and theologian, and he was angry that she expected a six year old not to ask questions, or that she was in charge of children and not prepared to answer tough questions like this. I don’t think I ever went to Sunday school again.

    The problem is, children in the church are treated like sheep. Adoring, unquestioning, and faithful. We hear vague explanations of sin, but I never understood it to be anything other than “bad things”. Like not brushing my teeth? Like reading with a flashlight under my covers? Then, at seven or ten or whenever, suddenly it goes from coloring in pictures of smiling animals on an arc, looking at loving paintings of Jesus in soft-focus pastel, to stories of sin and destruction, where God seems like some terrifying comic book supervillain, getting angry and smiting those less powerful than he. And we’re supposed to like this guy?

    Keep in mind, we’re never given a timeline for all of this, at least I wasn’t. At some point, God flooded the world, at some point, Jesus saved us with his sacrifice, at some point Abraham was asked to prove his faith by sacrificing his son, at some point God annihilated a city (again, because of some vague concept of “sin”).

    I left church with the feeling that God was a dictator. I didn’t get those concepts of love and forgiveness and grace as anything more than “you’ll be loved if you don’t screw up, and if you do screw up, you’ll be forgiven (because Jesus), but you also might be drowned or smitten if God is having a bad day…only you won’t (because Jesus) because God is past that now (because Jesus)”. I mean, you can maybe see why I was confused.

    I’m ambivalent with my faith to this day. I’ve felt great shifts, I’ve even been healed–though a lot of me wants to write that off as coincidence. The truth is, I’ve never been really invested. My brother and I made it difficult for our parents to take us to church because we hated Sunday school. Finally, we stopped. That was probably the best thing that happened, because both of us came back to Christianity on our own some time later, though I’ve struggled with it because my questions weren’t answered until I met my best friend’s father, who was willing to look things up and talk about it. Unfortunately, it’s such a painful spot in my past, such a time of feeling stupid and attacked, that I have not made room for it in my life. Churches talk about God like he’s an abusive father, flooding earth and smiting cities that stop following his rules, only stopping when his son takes the blame for all the wrongdoing.

    I agree with you: where is Grace?

    Point is, kids will have questions. If you want to raise a strong Christian, don’t ask them to be unquestioning believers. Guess what? If you help them do the research and figure out the why and talk about how you feel about it, you’re more likely to inspire trust and real faith.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and personal response.

      And I agree, we need to let kids (and adults) ask questions. It will strengthen us. I think too many people are afraid of asking questions. But when the sufferer, Job, asked questions, God eventually reveals himself to Job.

      (The funny thing is that—as far as we know from scripture—God never answers Job’s question of, “Why?” But seeing and knowing God was good enough.)

      Understanding God is hard…and simple, and beyond us. But he wants us to know him. And mere morality doesn’t help us understand him. It is the way he wants us to live, but in our rare moments of honesty, we admit we can’t do it. And that’s a pretty good place to start. You might even call it the gospel.


    • Crog

      God killed everyone but Noah and two of every animal which is impossible, and then he killed his son to forgive humans? Would you kill your son to forgive mankind, when all you have to do is say, “I forgive you”? What an evil terrorist of a God to believe and worship. Never would I expose my kid to that kind of hate.

      • Ardis

        I feel sorry for you that you have such a warped idea of the love of God! If it were not for Jesus, you would not be able to ask for or give forgiveness. since Jes and God created this earth AND us, man, without them we would not even exist! If for that reason alone, I am thankful to them, I want to serve them! You can choose as you please, because that is the way God made you. – with freedom of choice. God gave us breath nto breath, and He can take it away, simple as that!

      • Matt

        I too was raised in the ways of the faith, and even taught SS and led worship. But eventually I tired of pretending that the answers christianity gives for the mental gymnastics that one must perform to believe it’s fallacies, it was too ridiculous to continue the charade.
        I’m now a contented and peaceful ex-Christian, and never have I regretted my journey out. A very heart-rending road, but extremely worth it.
        Don’t assume that your kid was raised wrong if he rejects Christianity. He just may be following the evidence where it logically ends.

        • Josh

          I’m curious, what fallacies might you be referring to? And logic can lead different minds to many different places even with the same information, exercise caution when relying exclusively on a conclusion based solely on logic.

      • Josh

        God did not kill his son to forgive mankind. God sacrificed Jesus to redeem mankind. Man’s interaction with God was extremely limited before the sacrifice of Jesus. The reason for this is that God, being perfect, cannot condone the presence of imperfection. We needed an intermediary to go between us and God. One that could represent both sides equally. Ordinarily this would be impossible, how can a single person be both fully perfect and yet possess the potential for imperfection? Or, to put it more simply, how can a single being be both fully God and fully man. This is one of the great conundrums of Christianity, one that really cannot be understood by human minds. But nonetheless it needed to happen and it did happen. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and his subsequent (and oft forgotten) resurrection, allowed for interaction between flawed humans and the perfect God. This interaction was the conduit God used to send his message of grace and forgiveness. God could finally say “I forgive you” to his fallen, broken creation. I would say that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not hateful, but in fact it was the purest expression of love that this world has ever known. That one Jesus would become human, exercise the greatest humility ever known, and then allow himself to be brutally murdered by the very one’s he had come to save, and yet not count it against them, in fact using it to bring them into redemption. That, my friend, is love.

  • Maybe you are correct. But I cannot imagine being who I am today, without my lifelong exposure to Bible stories and faithful SS teachers. They created a foundation in my life that is deeper and more solid than anything I could have built on my own. Maybe my experience was an exception?

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Berry,

      Thanks for the reminded. I do NOT want to disparage all those faithful Sunday school teachers who have faithfully shown up year after year. I think Sunday school is (or can be) a great thing.

      I also think we should teach the Sunday school lessons, but ALL the Bible lessons, but just, “Abraham was good so God chose him.”

      In addition, we should teach morality, but not morality so we can be loved by God.

      I had good Sunday school teachers. They encouraged questions, discussion, and … the truth. And they were not afraid to say that the truth (about us humans) was ugly at times.

      • Connie

        After reading quite a lot of thoughtful comments here, and very much enjoy learning all the differing aspects of thought patterns ~ I just wanted to share 2 things.
        1. I work in a Christian lifestyle store & see every day many different aspects of the faith. My prayer is that Jesus’ prayer will be answered when He prayed that we will be one as He & Father are one.
        2. Recently, in my spiritual growth, the Lord adjusted my belief in a lie (that developed thru experiences). When He showed me my error, I said “I’m gonna need some scripture to back this up with Lord” ~ immediately, the stories of people in the Bible that I was taught in SS came back to me. I’m so thankful for the scripture foundation given me, even though I too rejected the legalism of ‘religion’ a long time ago.
        I am one of Jesus desciples, just so you know I didn’t reject the Lord, but only the error I realized later. I ‘measure by motivation’ and my parents motivation was honorable.

        • Beliefs of the Heart

          Hi Connie,

          Thanks for your comment. Remembering my old Sunday School lessons encourages me as well. But the part that encourages me most is when God comes after us even after (maybe especially after) we fail:
          – King David after adultery
          – Hosea goes after his wife who abandons him
          – Jesus goes after Peter after Peter denies him

          The encouragement for me is the breadth of God’s love. I’d much rather stand on that than the strength of my own morality.

  • Joshua

    Sorry for typos; out of time for proofing.

    “Spirit” means something. We teach our kids to be principled, disciplined people of character – or we try to. That is how the Greeks did it, and that’s how Western Culture does it. The men and women of God throughout scripture had a third element to their life which is common in all of their stories. There was a Spiritual connection which tied them all together, and we find Jesus saying things like “worship God in Spirit and in Truth”.

    We do not look for what a Spirit-being does almost anywhere. Character, virtue, ethics, morals, these are excellent instructors and great bases for life. But, if you want to have the best kind if life, you’re going to need an artistry which goes deeper and wider than all of the philosophy in the world. You’re going to need a Living Spirit, and that means something actionable.

    Who at church ever taught you what it means to be a Spirit being. They told you that Eve ate an Apple – (does not happen), what it actually says is that she ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible is filled with fruit, and always it’s the outgrowth of spiritual things. “I’m the vine, you are the branches… whoever doesn’t bear fruit will be pruned”, “bear fruit worthy of repentance”, “if you love me you’ll obey me”, “the work of God is to know the Son”.

    The first reference in Genesis to knowing was “knew they were naked”, and the next is “Adam knew is wife and they conceived”. All of this is related – to “know” the son is to be spiritually intimate with God and create fruit – fruit which should be worthy of repentance. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests” – in foxholes baby foxes are made, in birds nests, baby birds are made.

    We are teaching our children to think, act, and reason Greek. Greek is all about form. “The Hand of God shall shelter”. We think about five fingers and a palm. When David wrote stuff like that, He was a Hebrew, and he wrote into a Hebrew culture. Hebrew is all about function. What does a hand do? It grips you, it pulls you up, you can cover with it, you can be warmed by it.

    Who is teaching the children? Who is teaching the adults? We smugly go about arguing about biology, when there is a world waiting for us to lift up our eyes for one moment, to become like John the Apostle. “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day”. He went somewhere, which was his to go, and we skate right over that. Our kids are being taught emaciated spirituality by the nearly-dead-from-hunger. We have only succeeded in letting the occult take all the interesting things, hiding in our churches, and using the word “spiritual” to essentially mean “meaningless”. If you substitute the word spirit with “unknown, meaningless, without point” you’ll find that most of the statements where those are used make equal amounts of sense with how you were first taught them in Sunday School.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Joshua,

      Thanks for your great response. It reminded me of a great Sunday school lesson I had when I was about twelve.

      The teacher reminded us of Peter’s cowardly denial and then we read the Act chapter where Peter boldly proclaims the gospel. She asked something like, “What changed in him?” She continued, “It was partly seeing the power of the resurrected Lord, and it was the power of God’s spirit in him that made him bold. It wasn’t his inner-boldness (he didn’t have it); it was a spirit changed life.”

      Thanks for the great reminder.

  • Elin Ridenour


  • Tracy Sims

    I have totally seen the exact thing you are talking about. When we set out to start our church and embark on making disciples with grace instead of law, the children’s ministry was left out in the cold. I encountered the problem you speak of when it came to finding Sunday School materials. We were NOT going to directly, or indirectly, say to the children that if you act better God will like you more but that was the only “curriculum” I could find.

    So, I started creating my own. Week to week I would seek out illustrations and games that would show 3 things, 1: God loves you no matter what 2: You can trust Him no matter what, and 3: He made you exactly the way you are ON PURPOSE, because you are His masterpiece. It has been a journey. Along the way I have been shown by that Spirit you speak of, that it doesn’t really matter if I get it right. What matters is that I (or others) am there to love them each week. Consistent love is maybe the only thing we truly have to show HIm to them. Backing that up as we sure Bible stories of God loving unloveable people is great. So are hugs and encouragement.

    For those looking for help with the ideas, I have found one place that has done a good job creating lessons that share this message. Go look at “Because of Jesus” lessons on line. These are great to have when you need some new ideas.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I too have been part of movements where we try to do things right, and find it harder than we expect. I guess we need grace everywhere! Even (especially) as we try to do things right. As you say, you can trust Him no matter what. No matter how much I screw up.

      Here is a link to the lesson site that Tracy recommends (I don’t know it, but I like what Tracy has to say): http://www.becauseofjesusbookstore.com/category.aspx?categoryID=42


  • Hello, A couple friends shared this on facebook. It’s my first visit to your blog. I agree with your premise here and think it’s very important to not over simplify these stories for Children. I do want to offer a critique though on your inclusion of Esther in this list – while she surely had faults that didn’t change God’s love for her – her story is one involving kidnapping and rape – sex slavery – not of a willful choice to have extra-marital sex with a non believer. Certainly she was used and loved by God and no doubt made sinful choices somewhere in her life, but I think “sex outside of marriage to a non believer” is not what we should list as Esther’s fault. If we want to focus on God’s continual love for a matriarch despite her sinful actions, there are plenty of women from which to choose.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Ni Nicole,

      I appreciate your desire to honor Esther. She is one of my very favorite Biblical characters.

      But you are wrong about her early life. This is not an example of rape and sex slavery. (There are too many real, tragic examples in the world–let’s not water down the suffering they experience with Esther’s story.) Though I admit, Esther’s world was horrific.

      But Esther willingly participated in a “beauty pageant” (what else would you call it?) that would result in her being at least a concubine and maybe married to a non-believer. Let’s not water down the truth.

      Her almost contemporaries (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were commended for NOT giving into the new culture diets, etc. Instead, Esther completely compromises. Completely.

      What I love about her story is not her early “goodness” but the goodness God puts in her. She goes from a compromiser to a Majestic Queen when she finally says, “If I perish, I perish.” She is changed from the inside out.

      She is someone I love. But let’s not pretend she was an unwilling rape victim.

      The gospel is not that God loves us because we are good. It is we become good when we are loved.

      Thanks for entering into this discussion.

      • Prem Isaac

        You’ll have to prove that Esther was willing to participate, because Scripture doesnt show that. Esther 2:3 states that government officers were in charge in each province to pick whoever they thought was beautiful, and bring them to the capital city of Shushan. Esther 2:8 says that Esther was TAKEN, not that she went willingly.

        So, I think you are calling her character into question unnecessarily. Some have overplayed and read things (that arent in the text) into the story in order to make it more dramatic, i.e. , the compromiser who then got “totally changed”. But why think Esther was a compromiser? I am interested to know. She lived during a time when people in power like the king could do anything they wanted, especially to women.

        There is a lot we would like to know about the circumstances under which Esther ended up in the palace, and her night with the king. But Scripture is quite silent on these details, and so it is unwise to speculate.

      • Joshua

        Seriously, this is entirely silly. The entire premise for your criticism of her is silly. You might as well call Daniel, Shadrach, Meshac and Abednego evil and like Balaam for serving the King of Babylon.

        Esther had no power, and she wasn’t asked to worship the Kings gods nor deny her people. Daniel and those others *faithfully* served the same Kings who were doing these things. They served a State, and all States create abuses for power – look at Haman. If you want to tag her for something, then point out that she and Mordecai didn’t return when the people were called upon to do so.

        This entire line of reason is facile.

      • AC

        I was really horrified by this statement as well. All it take is the smallest understanding of how women were treated in ancient cultures to know that Esther would not have had a choice in the matter.

      • Josh

        I think the problem here is that we are thinking about a modern society with a modern definition of marriage. Things worked differently in ancient times, particularly for royalty (i.e Solomon). Marriages were less for mutual consent and happiness then they were for convenience, status, profit, etc. And the in case of royalty it was both for personal pleasure and for keeping up appearances, a king with an ugly wife/first concubine/whatever was not exactly the best image for a country. While she was certainly not kidnapped, again in the modern understanding of the word, she was bound by law to obey any orders that came from the throne, the alternative being… unpleasant at best. To compare the situation Shadrac and company to Esther is comparing apples to oranges. The former were concerned with the food they ate and with continuing their general well-being. Esther is obeying the laws of the land and the culture of her day with her alternative being imprisonment, actual rape, or death. None of those alternatives serve God in any way. I doubt that Esther enjoyed the situation that was forced on her, but she made the best of it for the good of her people.

      • Dalaina May

        I LOVED 99% of the article, except for the gross misinterpretation of Esther’s situation. As a Jewish woman living in Persia during the diaspora, she had about 0% choice on whether or not to participate in the king’s beauty contest. The king issued an “order and edict” to bring girls in to the harem (not ask them if they wanted to participate) (Esther 2:8). In fact, the verse says that Esther was “taken to the king’s palace,” and there is no indication that she wanted to go at all. Just knowing some of the historical context and the non-citizen, powerless position of women at the time, I would argue that Esther was a victim of sexual slavery, not a promiscuous woman.

      • Dalaina May

        I would also add that Esther was a Jewish girl under the authority of her uncle, Mordecai. In that time, that meant he would have absolute authority to arrange her marriage (ie life). The Scriptures tell us, “she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions just as she had always done when he was bringing her up.” (2:10). While the book of Esther does not spell out exactly what happened in her home when the king’s edict to “bring all of the beautiful virgins to him” was issued, historical context makes it more than reasonable to conclude that she did whatever it was her uncle told her to do. She had no rights or power in that society to do anything else. Did she have sex with a non-believer outside of marriage? Her “night with the king” would lead us to believe that is so. But she was following the orders of both the king’s edict and her uncle’s complete authority.

        • April Marie Stephens Tempel

          Her and the other women were already concubines (legal wives) of the king when they were brought in for their one night.. People are confusing the contest to become the queen, with marriage to the king. they were all married to the king at that point. Only one of them became queen and wife, a step above concubine. The other concubines that did not get chosen were not released to marry anyone else, they remained the king’s concubines. So, there was never any unwed sex. But as you have stated, none of this was ideal or Esther’s choice. She didn’t participate in it willingly. It sounds like a movie version if you put it that way instead of the Biblical version.

    • Sarah Beau

      I’m so glad you stated that, saying that Esther had extra-marital sex with a non-believer as very inaccurate. Thank you We are constantly swayed by the Evil one to twist the truth of scripture.

  • This post is poorly written and doesn’t really explain HOW the things taught are lies. You give a curriculum and what Sunday schools are teaching but there is no explanation as to why these things are “lies.” I understand your premise but it’s so unclear and confusing to people who do not know the Bible well.

    • Beliefs of the Heart

      Hi Khong (I don’t know your real name),

      Do you really think this post would be confusing to non-believers? It’s not written for non-believers, so maybe you’re right. But I doubt it.

      I think the distinction is clear between “religion” (trying to be good in order to get God’s love) and the gospel (being loved even before we deserve it, and letting that change us).

      I hope that is a welcome distinction. But I admit, this post was written mainly for believers.

      Thanks for disagreeing with me. I like it. But…I disagree with your disagreement 🙂


  • Ardis

    There is SOME truth to what was said, But! When a baby is born – do you give it meat and potatoes, vegetables, bread, salad, drink, and desert all when it is born? Of course not! As he grows, you introduce things slowly, in small portions – gradually increasing them as they grow! As a child matures, so does his learning and understanding of the Bible and it’s characters! When you first start feed a baby solid food, you want it to TASTE REALLY GOOD, or he MAY NOT LIKE IT! But as he grows older, he acquires a taste for the SAME food, but with added seasonings! Just so in Sunday, or Sabbath School! Do these classes maybe carry the Bible stories to long range, to where the kids bet bored with them? Sure! But, that doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bath water!

    • Josh

      There are different kinds of milk though. You can teach a child the basics of morality, while also teaching them the basics of grace. The problem the author has with many sunday schools is that they choose to teach only the basics of morals and not the basics of grace, which i think we can agree is not actually that complicated in practice.

  • A little troubled by the inclusion of Ester, since it wasn’t really her choice to get slated for the king’s harem.

    Nevertheless, my most vivid memory of Sunday school is telling my teacher that God created the world in six days, not seven, as she had told us. By the seventh he had already finished, so it didn’t count. I got in trouble.

    • Ardis

      You were right, Segertsch, your teacher was wrong! he DID create the earth in 6 days! Read the Genesis account! Then in Exodous you have the 4th commandment Exodous 20:8-11, with verse 11, stating that God created the world in six days! Here is the fourth commandment in its entirety:
      8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
      9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
      10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
      11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

      So, give yourself a pat on the back for being correct!

    • Ben

      And I told my first and last Sunday school teacher where babies come from, after she told us they were from storks, on top of a whole bunch of other things I quickly deduced were lies and myths….and at that point in my life I may have been five, but I had already seen the birth of my little brother, the natural way, from the moment he popped out…

      That was the end of it.

      You’re losing your children because they see the emperor is wearing no clothes, and not because they don’t see the clothes, but because in all honesty, the emperor is stark naked.

      • Josh

        My question is, why are they even bringing that up in a sunday school class? That particular topic has little to do with God directly, birth, not sex.

  • Isaac said it well in his comment, I’m going to need you to prove that Esther went willingly. I read that she was “gathered” and put into “custody.” There was no entry form for the Pageant, she didn’t get to show up in her best dress one day and go home if she wasn’t chosen. she was taken from her family and put in custody in the king’s courts. The king who ordered this collection of beautiful women had just tossed aside his wife for refusing to parade around for his drunken guests. I feel like the king wasn’t much for allowing women to have an opinion over their life.

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel


  • Diane

    I agree with your premise that in telling these Bible stories we loose the message of the gospel. But in your four points at the end, I think you’ve made some assumptions that aren’t necessarily in the Bible. You’re assuming that Abraham was an idolater, but is that actually in the Bible? He lived in a land of idolaters, but so did Noah and Melchizedek. And does the Bible really say that Esther slept with a nonbeliever? And even if she did, do we really want to make that a central message when we teach young children? And David’s sin with Bathsheeba came late in his life, after many years of faithfulness. I’m concerned with our making a case for the gospel by inserting our assumptions into the Biblical stories. I don’t think we need to do that – the message is clearly there.

  • Deb Begman

    As a teacher of 4-5 year olds, I see the need to be age-appropriate in teaching. Not sure that we will be discussing adultery, prostitution and premarital sex anytime soon. While I see your points and agree with presenting the need of redemption, teaching what children can understand and relate to is also important developmentally.

  • Robert B

    I dont think the solution is to not teach children to obey biblical commandments, and to not strongly encourage them to be like abraham and david and esther and joseph. If all of the emphasis is put on “its ok, you can sin all you want and God will still love you”, that will just create a lawless child, who fits in with the church crowd, but loves and lives for sin. The new testament is filled with asking believers to examine themselves, to see if they are bearing fruit, and if they are truly changed, and born again. I think there must be balance between teaching grace, and teaching the seriousness and importance of conforming ones life to living like Christ, and following examples of abraham and joseph and david and esther etc. And lastly, either way, whatever opinion one has, i am sure, that the idea of trying to raise your child the right way so that they will surely be saved leads one to think that salvation depends on what kind of parenting you are born into. I firmly believe that salvation is of the Lord, and no amount of good child rearing philosophy will save the child. Imo, its the parents job to raise up children in fear of God, and teaching them the gospel, and pray that God may have mercy on them and give them a new heart and mind.

    • Garth Aamodt

      Spot on.

  • Crog

    Abraham would have killed his son for his God. He’s not a good person or a good role model. The world is messed up and we don’t need kids growing up believing bad things and doing bad things just because the bible says it’s good, when in actuality it’s not good. Morality must be secular and free of religious corruption.

    • Ardis

      I feel sorry for you! You have not been taught real values! Read the Bible and don’t just pick out things that you concur with! Read it ALL! It is self explanatary!

      • Kate

        The Bible is actually what turned many of us AWAY from faith. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an atheist ex-christian who has not read the Bible. Between the countless Yahweh-ordered genocides, slaughter of children (like the first-born Egyptians and the children who called Elijah bald), endorsements of slavery, and more, this is a book full of cruelty and horror that makes our stomachs turn, all spearheaded by the Christian god. Are you sure that you’re not picking out the things you concur with as well?

        • Joshua

          I find it ironic that people from nations built on slavery and genocides, over the table of many false covenants, fought a war to enforce national unity, killing tens of thousands, whose descendants fought a divisive culture war in order to secure the right to wantonly kill unborn children, mostly for the sake of convenience, can find in themselves the prejudicial hypocrisy to judge actions identical to their own without trying to understand why.

          The genocide of the Canaanites was about human sacrifice. A doctor’s office doesn’t make killing babies morally superior. You’re in a glass house throwing stones. We’re not better than those people.  In fact, we’re the survivors and the descendants of murderers, accomplices, and victims.  Our civilization is still perpetrating the exact same things and your tax dollars are buying bullets.

          • Kate

            I am quite aware that human beings, past and present, are capable of committing monstrous atrocities. The issue is that according to the Bible, they were ordered by GOD. Human war and bloodshed is terrible enough, but for an all-powerful creator to order the deaths of defenseless children is absurd and sickening.

            • joel

              So if God orders it it’s monstrous, but it’s acceptable if we choose to do it on our own? Ok.

            • Kate

              I believe that if you would actually read my reply, you will find that I said it is an atrocity either way. The evil is, however, COMPOUNDED when the awful action is perpetrated by an all-powerful deity. It’s like torturing a baby. You are so much more powerful than that baby, and it can’t fight back. That’s what humans are like to God.

            • Josh

              The genocides in the old testament committed by the Jews were a case of them acting as executioners of God on a national scale. To many this does not seem to be a defense but hear me out. The people’s God ordered killed were also guilty of atrocities. They had the chance to repent and turn from their ways but they refused, so God, in his divine right as creator, acted as judge and jury and sentenced them to death. What you read in those books was the ending of the longstanding patience of God with the immoralities of an entire people. Had they turned and repented they would have been spared, like Nineveh. And had their been some righteous people in the city those would have been spared. The point is, neither condition was met, and thus civilizations were destroyed.

            • Kat137

              No baby, no toddler, no small child deserves to be executed. No pregnant woman should be violently murdered. To say otherwise is to be completely devoid of human empathy. I believe they call those sociopaths.

        • Leah

          Hi Kate, Josh, and all,

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope that my comment will be loving and will help to explain God’s love and mercy even in the midst of His justice. Please forgive any errors or offences.

          As I read through the Old Testament, some of it was hard to understand, but further study gave some answers:

          – The Canaanites served gods who called for child-sacrifice. Because Israel let some of the Canaanites live, the Canaanites were around to influence Israel to do the same thing. God says, when talking about Israel: “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” (Jeremiah 32:35)

          – Israel (the Jews) wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years after making themselves and their God known as a potential threat to the Canaanites. They even took quite a while to take over the land. Plenty of time for mothers with children to evacuate if they heeded the warning. Throughout the Bible, God’s patience is shown – His anger has a long wick. At the time of Noah, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5). But God waited for Noah to build the ark – how long must that have taken? Enough time for news to get around and for people to turn back to God and turn away from their evil ways if they wished. How many lesser plagues came to warn the Egyptians before the last terrible plague came?

          – the “children” who mocked Elisha were more like a large gang –there were at least 42 of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). Also, the word may be better translated “young lads”, and applied to the 12-15 year-old age range (Pulpit Commentary), or even up to ages 28 or 40 (side note from Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, http://biblehub.com/2_kings/2-23.htm ). Gangs composed at least partly of adolescents (or even kids) can be a serious threat, although only God knows what was in their hearts.

          – Long before God told Abraham to kill Isaac, God promised very clearly that Abraham would have a multitude of descendants from *Isaac* (e.g. “Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” – Genesis 17:19). Abraham’s hope was that, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8), or that God would save Isaac somehow, even bringing him back from death. Abraham trusted that everything would work out because God loved him and had made that promise to him. Abraham knew from experience that God was loving and followed through on His promises (e.g. the birth of Isaac in his old age), otherwise he would have been a fool to follow Him. I think what the author of this article meant about idolatry was that Abraham was tempted to make his son more important than his God. This would have been unfair to Isaac as well, because no human can fully bear the burden of being God to another person. I know because I’ve tried to make friends and a boyfriend fill the gap of God in my life, and their response was to put some healthy distance between us. Only God can love me perfectly all the time – doing what’s best for me and not just what’s easy.

          – God’s love extends to what happens after death; I believe that what happens then is by far the biggest part of our story. So, for example, it may seem wrong to me for my Christian friend to die young, but if she is now in heaven with her best friend (Jesus) and not suffering any more, then that may be what’s actually best for her.

          Hope that helps. Love & God bless,

    • Beliefs of the Heart


      You say, “Morality must be secular and free of religious corruption,” but that is virtually impossible. Everyone has a religious opinion even if that opinion is that there is no God.

      Every moral statement is based on some belief. You cannot escape it. If your “morality” is based purely on nature–no God–they you have an equally huge problem. Nature teaches strong over the weak. Annie Dillard explored this in her Pulitzer Prize book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

      “Consider the former, the world is a monster…. There is not a people in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature: right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures …in a universe that is running on chance and death, careening blindly from nowhere to nowhere, which somehow produced wonderful us…This world runs on chance and death and power…but I cherish life and the rights of the weak vs. the strong. So I crawled by chance out of a sea of amino acids, and now I must whirl around and shake my fist at that sea and cry SHAME! … We little blobs of soft tissue crawling around on this one planet’s skin are right, and the whole universe is wrong. The world is a monster.

      “Or consider the alternative… Nature is fine … our feelings are just freakishly amiss. The frog that the giant water bug sucked had a rush of feeling for about a second before its brain turned to broth I however, have been sapped by various strong feeling about the incident almost daily for years ….

      “All right then–it is our emotions and values that are amiss. We are freaks-the world is fine! Let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized… and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed.

      You first”

      • Josh

        I need to read this book, i’ve never seen a better explanation then this.

    • Dr. Andrew J. Hammack Th.D

      yes he would have but learn the whole story please! Before they went up the mount to worship, Abraham told his servants that the lad and I will go up to worship and the lad and I will return. Abraham knew that somehow Isaac had to live as he was/is the child of promise through whom God would make Abraham the father of uncountable descendents

    • Josh

      Morality that is free from religion is not morality. Religion provides something that the secular world cannot, a moral baseline. It defines what is perfect and good. In a secular world absolutes do not exist, thus morality is relative and debatable. Taken to an extreme, secular morality can justify genocide or rape. “Just because you say it is wrong does not make it wrong.” With a secular morality there is no real good or evil, there is only convenient. With a god, regardless of which god, there is an image of perfection to strive for and to measure up against.

      • Kat137

        If morality is determined by religion, then everything ordered by that religion would become a moral duty. How do you know it’s not right to kill a man for picking up sticks on Sunday, stone your child to death for being disobedient, smash your enemies’ children against rocks, kill family members who won’t convert to your religion, own and beat your slaves, or sell your daughter into sex slavery, unless you apply your own sense of morality to the things you read in the Bible? I can cite all of those verses if you like.

        Both rape AND genocide are sanctioned in the Bible. I don’t think it’s secular morality we should be worried about justifying those.

        Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of what is right.

  • We love Him because He first loved us … even when we were “unloveable” and lost in sin. That is the essence of the gospel. I do want my kids to be “good,” but I want that goodness to flow from a heartfelt, deep, passionate love for Him because of their relationship with Him based on His saving work on the cross. I do not want them to be “good” because they wrongly think that being good will bring them close to Him or keep them close to Him. Thank you for writing this article, I think it brings to light a very important issue.

    We decided to get back to “basics” with the kids who attend our church. They bring their Bibles each week, and we open up those Bibles and read the verses in them together. The kids read them out loud … yep, they read it for themselves instead of us feeding them a summarized version of what the Bible says. They LOVE it. We are a small house church, so all the kids study together. The five-year-olds and the thirteen-year-olds are all studying together, they help each other, encourage one another, and all the kids who are old enough to read get to read. Honestly, we’ve seen a great response, the kids feel ownership of what’s being discussed because they’re participating, reading the Word together, and discussing what it says. We don’t try to make a story fit in our effort to teach a virtue. It doesn’t take expensive curricula to teach the kids the Bible. We have found the Bible, the Living Word, can speak just fine for itself! And by the way, our kids group is bigger than the adult group and growing all the time. We have about 20 kids all together from age 2 to age 13 and it works great.

  • This is so true. Sunday School almost made me walk away from God.

  • Doug

    This was definitely written by brainwashed religious person. People leave religion because they have a good education and they know that religion is false.

    • Eileen

      Religion is false, you are correct. Jesus is not about religion and his interactions with the religious system was all about questioning and proving religion to be false. As for brainwashing…our brains need some washing!

    • Josh

      does a good education involve a detailed look at “religion”? If so then your opinion is valid, but in large part i do believe that education skips out on any serious study of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

  • Pingback: Proven Path Ministries - Kids Mess Rooms Adults Mess Hearts()

  • Great article, thanks. Been something I’ve been thinking for awhile now. I think a key one that could also be highlighted is Noah. Built a boat in the desert where it had never rained before. Be obedient like Noah! Later, Noah gets smashing drunk and passes out naked.

  • I think the writer neel ds to look at more Sunday School curriculum. I know what we use teaches grace & salvation form preschool all the way to the grave!

  • Ron

    I agree with your article in that I don’t think Sunday School is benefitting our children with an emphasis on morals, and I couldn’t agree more with your assessment that a changed heart must first be in place for God to finish the good work that HE began in us. Then and only then can we walk in the good that HE has prepared for us to walk in.

    We humans (not just Christian) have a very “religious” sense about us in that we feel the need to do something to earn our “final state of being and abode”. In my humble opinion, this emphasis does nothing but feed that thinking. As Christians we cannot depend upon these morally good deeds for our “salvation” for we are told that they are as filthy rags if presented as the basis of works for righteousness nor do these works seem to be credited to us after salvation in that Scripture credits these good acts to God “…working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”

    Charles Spurgeon said that a Christians greatest need was to hear the good news of the Gospel. If this is true with Christians, at whatever stage of their walk, then I certainly think it to be true of children. I believe that we need to paint pictures from Scripture that rightfully and truthfully paint us for who we are without Christ…not-so-great sinners with an overwhelmingly great need! Now, paint God in understandable terms, as HE really is in all of His infinitely righteous, holy, all-knowing, present everywhere in time…at the same time!, loving, gracious, faithful, patient, wrathful, self-sustaining, ALL GLORIOUS personhood! Infinite Greatness, infinitely capable of supplying the overwhelming great need of a not-so-great…finite…sinner! Once the great GAP has been painted, then…paint the most beautiful picture of atonement using any and all of the incredible pictures from Scripture, which of course point to Christ, the Son of God, as the covering for our sin-filled lives. Our great need supplied in God the Son, as pre-designed by God the Father, administered to us by and through the amazing work of God the Holy Spirit!

    Shouldn’t Sunday…school…church…whatever! be all about GOD!

    Teaching about morals create nice little fences but when we get older we are going to test the limits of any and all restraints. At least if at some point in my youth I decide to walk away from God, I have a much clearer picture of what I’m really walking away from!

  • David

    Just one thought – I know you were giving a brief overview of the characters, but sometimes the problem is we don’t really know what God was teaching us through these people – Esther – the grace is not that God pursued someone who was a fornicator, but that God was preserving His nation through her – a nation that was running from Him. The point of Esther is not God working in her, but God preserving His nation that was running from Him. If we focus on just the tiny little details and miss the big picture, we also do our children a disservice and they grow up realizing they are still confused about even these little “child’s stories” and then give up because “who can really know, right?”

  • joel

    Hmm…yes and no, and I think the biggest question mark in my mind, Sam, is that you’ve left a gap in your premise. You say that it’s wrong (“a lie”, even) to teach moral lessons as a way to get right with God, which is true, but you do confirm the value in teaching moral lessons for their own sake. What I think you fail to establish is that the PURPOSE of SS curriculum teaching morals is to try to show kids how to get right with God; you did not explore the possibility that the purpose might be to help kids begin to get familiar with the various stories in Scripture, and help them find ways to apply lessons therein to our lives today. That is, teaching moral lessons for their own sake, which you have agreed holds merit.

    I highly doubt that curriculum writers in general have intended to suggest anything along the lines of getting right with God (that is, salvation) by being good enough (although I suppose even then you’d have to allow for the larger church doctrine context — if the church as a whole teaches a more saved-by-works theology, then one might expect some consistency there). The problem, or at least the question, comes down to the implementation — how are the average everyday SS teachers putting the curriculum to use? Are they using these lessons as moral lessons while also teaching the actual gospel? Are they simply teaching from the book, not mentioning the gospel, and thus erring by omission simply by not clarifying the gospel distinction? Or are they actually teaching the kids to try to be good enough to get right with God? In reality, I suspect a thorough survey would reveal that full gamut and more, while your assertion (allegation?) in this post implies the vast majority would fall at the latter end of the spectrum.

    I’m completely willing to accept the reality that what you allege occurs, even before reading the numerous confirmations here in the comments. I’m just not willing to swallow the anecdotally-based assumption that it’s the standard SS experience. But I do agree that it should not be that way at all, and that SS teachers should strive to weave the grace of the gospel into everything they teach.

  • I guess my concern over what you wrote is the phrase, “Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum”. Have you? This is a pretty damning statement towards a very helpful ministry (/vocation).
    I am not affiliated with any publishers or writers of curriculum, but I am a teacher. There IS good curriculum out there. Your argument is more likely to be an issue in a Sunday school classroom left to its own devices rather than one that is provisioned with well chosen curriculum. Our reaction should not be against quality tools that enable lay people to disciple and instruct in holiness, but against poorly run publishing houses, ill-informed curriculum choosing committees and untrained individuals who misuse God’s word.

  • Kenda Wathen

    I do not like how you chose to include Esther because I do not believe that she went willingly. She was taken to go to the kings palace. Also the Bible tells us that she was there : for such a time as this…” That being said, you make a good point that we need to be careful to show that these heroes of the Bible we just that because of how God used them in His plan not what they did on their own. I can remember many of my SS teachers and I know that they wanted to be sure to show our need of the Savior first and foremost. It is sad that too many of our SS curricula has not made the gospel the emphasis. You can do this so easily. I am the VBS director for my church and we chose to move away from one company to another because we saw a move away from the gospel as the focus. Thank you for writing this. It made me stop and think about what we are doing. I am on the Christian Education committee at my church as well and will bring up this point as we look for find something that works for us.

  • Garth Aamodt

    I wonder how some here can say they believe the Bible to be the word of God, and yet think the stories that make up the Bible lead to atheism. Really? The stories full of moral lessons of people like Abraham, David, Joseph, Esther ARE the Bible. They’re not incidental morality tales we should think diminish the Bible!–and then some here opine that it’s too bad Sunday School teaches children to “be good”, as if that diminishes the love of God. You probably ought not be saying the Bible is the word of God, if you then criticize the “god-breathed” stories that God felt were important enough to put into the Bible. God expects his children to become good. That’s what is called discipleship. Paul didn’t say he’d run an apathetic race or fought an average fight. Good is both the fruit of salvation and the evidence for salvation. Teaching children God expects them to do more than raise their hands once a week and then live as they choose is exactly what the Bible stories are for. Faith without works is dead. I’d rather hear a good Bible morality story than hear another praise song any day of the week. I don’t go to church to feel good about myself. I go there to see what I need to do to be a better disciple of God. Discipleship is work. Free will counts. Keep the Amway convention kind of churches if you just want motivational swaying in the pews, but otherwise preach the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel and Esther to me as being “good” is how I try to see the countenance of the Savior when I look in a mirror.

    • Amy

      I think it’s more an issue of an incomplete teaching. Those OT stories are good to be taught but teach them in the context of the whole story. They’re not intended to be pulled out as individual lessons which is what has happened and I agree that compartmentalized, it is a dismal story but with the running thread of God constantly bringing the people back to Himself, it is wonderful. Encourage the asking of “what does this story teach us about God….about ourselves….and how does it point us to Jesus?” Without Jesus, there is no hope.

      • WordPress.com Support

        Amy, great point. I agree: how does this lesson point us to Jesus? Excellent criteria.

    • I think you missed the entire point of the article

      • Sorry that was meant for a different reply

    • I think you missed the point of the entire article – how do you interpret Romans 7 that tells us that we must die to the law to bear fruit for God?

    • Phil

      The stories led me to agnostic-atheism after 34 years as a Christian. Well, let me say, the stories and people like you.

      You are pretty much saying “This is the interpretation that feels right to me, so I will follow it as truth and reject any other interpretation.”

      I am sorry if no one has had the stones to tell you, but This is the very definition of pride and ignorance.
      I could care less about heaven and hell, because if they exist I am not the one who controls where I go. I can’t imagine a God who thinks that infinite torture is a just response to a finite lifetime of “sin”. I also would prefer not to be around people like you who spend your entire life defining who and what is worthy. Setting yourself against the “other” so that your righteousness is more well defined. The bottom line is that people who do things solely to get a reward or avoid punishment are either being manipulated or trying to manipulate someone else.
      No one can know the unknowable, and if there is a God then he surely transcends our understanding and knowledge. He exists outside of space and time, and if your mind can even begin to fathom the complexities of that reality, then you are a better man than me.
      What I know is that doubt exists and few are willing to travel down that road if it means sacrificing the conformity of faith and community. But how can faith be whole if you have never considered that it may be unfounded? When seeing my own doubt through, I found that there was too much for faith to overcome. This is how my mind works and according to you, how God made it to work. If I am to be punished for being honest about how I understand things to be, then so be it. My guess is that I would not have made the cut anyway.
      What I can control is how I treat others, how I parent my children, how I treat my wife, the integrity with which I perform my job, and how I maintain my possessions. Whether or not this desire to be the best person I know how comes from a god or from myself, it matters little. What matters to me is not what I believe, but rather how I act.

      • Garth Aamodt

        Well, first you’re attributing a lot of things to me apparently, which I never said nor believe. If you’re referring to my last contribution above I was simply talking about the need to “live” whatever you preach. Isn’t that what you just said? I said; ” I don’t go to church to feel good about myself. I go there to see what I need to do to be a better disciple of God.” So if that is “pride and ignorance” you are using a different dictionary than I am. My entire point has been that being “good” should be expected of all who profess to believe in a “good” God. Is that an offensive interpretation to you? I frankly didn’t think that concept was controversial. Or maybe you’re saying it doesn’t take a “god” to engender “goodness”. Fine. I agree atheists can also be good people. If you missed it, I’m promoting being true to whatever makes someone “good”. So calm a bit and realize you’re saying the same thing I am, but then condemning me for having just said what you’re essentially repeating. Color me confused. Do you really mean it when you say you’re offended that you think I’m defining who is “worthy”? Where did I say that? No, I said if people claim to believe in God, then they ought to quit excusing themselves for not living up to that belief. I don’t pretend to define “how” they live specifically, but at least walk your walk. Whatever that walk is. What onerous rules do you think I’m expecting when I say “be good”? I also never said anything about a hell of infinite torture for a finite life of sin. I don’t believe in that either. But I don’t think you can claim logic in saying; “I could care less about heaven and hell, because if they exist I am not the one who controls where I go.” Sure you control it. I’ve never heard anyone say that religion claims eternal life is up to a roll of the dice. Of course you determine your future, as do we all. I don’t think anyone’s ever accused God of being a god of whim.

      • D.M.S.

        So are you enjoying your new life with your Mentor

        • Phil

          Wow…I got you spinning, huh man. Commenting on posts from 2 years ago. That is some dedicated trolling.

          • D.M.S.

            That person from 2 years ago doesn’t exist today. 2 years ago I was as alcoholic. I’ve been sober now for 11 months. Life and learning more about our Lord GOD/JESUS moves on. May our Lord JESUS move you to change your Life to serve JESUS Christ, also.

            • Phil

              Been there, done that for 34 years. Looks like you’ve replaced one obsession for another. At least this one wont kill your liver (just your ability to use reason and logic). Stay sober, man. Good luck.

            • D.M.S.

              If my obsession is our Lord JESUS I’m glad JESUS chose me. Take Care.

  • I was a youth pastor (grades 7-12) for 5 years (I’m now a missionary in France where there is no sunday-school for the average person). One of my best “sunday-school” series I took my youth through was something called, “Real Bible Stories.” We would take the bible, read the straight text and then discuss it.

    It amazed me and my youth how much veggie tails, flannel graphs and other bible story vehicles added things, or wrapped up the stories in pretty morals. Often my youth would wonder what happened to the rest of the story, or would be surprised at the whole story. For example, I don’t remember seeing a flannel graph depicting Noah getting drunk, naked, and being carried by his two sons. I love all of these bible story vehicles (especially veggie tails), so I am not meaning to knock any of them. But I think Sam hit it on the head that we teach our kids to “be good.” The bible tells stories of real people and the majority can not be wrapped into good moral stories.

    I remember my senior year of high school I asked every christian I knew, “Why do we follow God’s commandments? If He will forgive us because of Jesus, why bother trying to be good?!” If the point of scripture is simply to be obedient so God doesn’t smite us like Sodom and Gomorra or send a great flood, then now that our sin is paid for, why be good?? My youth pastor’s daughter said, “Because God said so and that’s enough.” That answer wasn’t enough for me. Because if it is simply He is bigger and He said so, that is simply the fear of the God’s wrath, which with Jesus sacrifice God’s wrath is satisfied, so that answer didn’t work. She was close to the answer though, but I would change it to, “because God said so…and I want to please Him, because of how much He loves me and has done for me” the same way that the prodigal son wants to live under his father’s house and rules.

    When I was a youth pastor I felt so much pressure not to screw up the innocent church kids that had all their awana verses memorized and were seemingly so “good.” The majority of the former church kids I knew seemed to question their faith when they really hit puberty and gained the ability to think in terms more grey. When the world is black and white then “being good” can be a “good” answer. But for the real world, it doesn’t compute. (Honestly the non-churched youth were often much less rebellious and more excited about following God) This blog really captures why so many youth pastors struggle with the “church kids.”

    Yet, I understand why sunday school teachers don’t go deeper. It is hard to explain grey concepts to a class of children when the majority do not have the ability to think that way. It is much easier to gloss over the deep questions and just teach kids to be good and to listen to their parents, have them pray the sinner’s prayer (even if they have prayed it several times before) and fill the rest of the time with fun “christian” games for however long the senior pastor preaches for. Especially if you are a sunday school teacher who hasn’t really read the bible much and grew up with the same exact lessons (since the majority of teachers are simply willing or guilted parents who just want their kids to listen and obey Jesus/and themselves).

    Not sure how to end this but simply to say, great blog! It will be a struggle to fix and figure out how best to implement the thoughts, but keep it up!

    • Ben

      “Because God said so and that’s enough.”

      This is quite actually a very Jewish line of reasoning: why do we follow this faith/ Because God Said So! Period. And that is what Blind faith Is. You follow because He said so, and for No other reason because that one reason is all you need. You may want more, you may want to Justify your faith, but in justifying it, you reduce to a reason. Remove that reason, and you have no reason to maintain your faith.

      In all honesty, Faith in God is very similar to obedience of your parents, only God is supposed to take over once you outgrow your parents. And what does God want you to do? Whatever it is your Church asks of you, of course, for your Church is his divine voice!!

      How much money does your Church process in a year?

  • Kate

    So, hang on. Instead of teaching kids to be good, teach them that it’s okay if they’re murderers; God will love them anyway? Perhaps not the best way to instill moral values into a child.

  • Amy

    Good article!!! That’s why we are careful with who teaches and what they teach our children at our church. More importantly to add is that meat (real truth from God’s Word) and not fluff need to be preached from the pulpit. Where you find fluff in SS, you usually find fluff from the pulpit.

  • D Shepherd

    “Lessons I learned in Sunday School” – This has got to be one of the most moronic articles I have ever read. The title alone set me off. Evidently, whoever wrote this article didn’t do their research, nor did they go to Sunday School; but if they did, they didn’t pay attention. In Bible times, speaking of Esther, it was totally the custom and expected that when a man and woman were engaged it was as if they were married. A woman was to live with her betrothed for up to a year prior to the marriage celebration. It was the custom. The King, “the unbeliever,” chose her. She didn’t choose him, but she stayed in obedience to God (God pursued her) and to save the lives of a nation. David DID NOT have a pure heart. He sought after God’s heart. He spent many years in anguish. Yes, he slept with a woman that was not his wife. However, he was King at the time and it was expected and it was the culture that a King, as well as most men in high authority, would have many concubines. It was just how they did things; not a whole lot different from today. As for seeking out Uriah and killing him, yes that was wrong. David paid dearly for that, hence the death of his beloved son, which he never got over. Let’s mention Tamar, though not described in this article. Tamar was 14 years old when she was sent to marry a man whom she had never met and was not of the same culture as she; soon after, her husband died. As was the custom, she married one of his brothers. He too, died shortly after they were joined in marriage. There was only one brother left. Her mother-in-law hated her. Her mother-in-law worshiped idols and believed in witchcraft. Her father-in-law (Judah), however, had believed in and followed God at one point in his life. He had married an unbeliever and he had lost his way, but Tamar could still see God in him and his desire for God. Her mother-in-law sent the third son away to save his life. Judah left for on a trip. Since Tamar couldn’t be with the third brother, she followed Judah and disguised herself as a prostitute to seek him out. They ended up together. They had a son, thus the beginning of the line of Christ. Had two men not perished and Tamar not prostituted herself would the lineage of Christ ever existed. Absolutely! God had a plan. He always does and it is always perfect and on time. God does use us for His purpose, which IS our purpose. Furthermore, anyone who has truly read through the Bible and really listened in Sunday School (or church) would know that the only perfection that has ever been or ever will be in this world is God. God purposely uses the downcast, the ugly, the lonely, the weak, the criminals and the hardhearted to change the world. I could go on, but I will refrain. How do I know all of this and why do I believe it? BECAUSE I WENT TO SUNDAY SCHOOL! The reason kids and even 30 somethings aren’t strong in faith or don’t attend church IS BECAUSE THEY DID NOT GO TO SUNDAY SCHOOL. If a child is not plugged into a church or does not regularly attend a church by the time they are 18, they won’t as an adult. We have got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot by writing about, believing in and agreeing with such articles as this ridiculousness. WE HAVE TO QUIT BLAMING GOD, CHURCH AND SUNDAY SCHOOL for the condition of today’s kids. Wake up parents. Your kids are a by product of YOUR environment. If you don’t believe and live by the examples set forth in the Bible, then your kids aren’t going to believe it or live it either. Kids watch what you do, they don’t listen to what you say. Are all churches perfect? Absolutely not. Have some churches actually taught in the manner described in this article? Confidently, I can say yes. However, it is not the norm, nor is it the majority. How dare this author put this blame and burden on the church; just like the burdened pack mule he described. Blaming Sunday School for state of today’s kids is absolutely absurd. To say that Sunday School and it’s methods are the ruination of a child’s life is irresponsible and shameful. Quit passing the buck! So, we all need to get our lazy selves out of bed on Sunday Morning and take your kids to Sunday School and really listen.

  • Jim

    Unless I missed it in your Sunday school message, I think you missed the whole entire point of Christianity. Jesus Christ died for our sins so we could have eternal life in heaven with god. We can never earn our way in through good deeds or by being nice people. The gospel isn’t just gods love, (granted he doe love us and want our love in return) the message should be believe in Jesus Christ and that he died for our sins. That should be the Sunday school message. We the believers should be teaching the rescue plan to our children.

    Just my opinion.

    • Ardis

      Thank you very much!

  • Sarah

    “They see the children in the schoolyard (and they see us at home!). ” That sentence in relation to this article is pretty much the exact reason I refuse to seek God through Christianity.

    • Sometimes Christians (or people who think they are) can keep people from pursuing God. I’m sorry you feel this way. I do understand how it’s possible too. But sometimes people don’t let God change them. Don’t give up on God because of people. I’d really encourage you, if you wanted, to read the Bible, maybe start with the book of Luke or John, and not let people’s hypocrisy or own issues reflect poorly on God as He says He is in the Bible. Make sense? =)

  • Lindsay Wright

    I’m so glad to see that other people are recognizing the need for more emphasis on grace and acceptance despite our wretchedness, or more accurately, because of it, and that the only hero of the faith is Jesus. Thank God that we don’t have to try to be like the forefathers of our faith, because Jesus already did it all for us. What a totally freeing message, to just depend and rely on Jesus, and have faith that He will work in us and change our hearts to love God and love others!

    • Ardis

      I agree with the need for Grace and acceptance, But, this does not free us to go and do as we please, and expect God’s Grace blanket to cover us forever! It does not! “I die DAILY!” Meaning we have to be in tune with God every single day, submitting our lives to Him! Asking Him to USE us in whatever capacity He wants! It means following His Commandments, each and every one, not just those we pick and choose. They are Commandments, not multiple choice. We must ask DAILY what His will is for our life! Sometimes it may not be easy. We can have all the GRACE in the world, but, if we do not do His will and follow His Commandments, it is all for naught! God Bless! This is WORKS for God, not for us! When we follow His Commandments, and do what He asks out of love, that is WORKS! Faith Without Works is Dead!

      • Ardis

        Another thought! If we are NOT following the right Christ, and feel it is RIGHT, it is still Sin! Sin, in that we are NOT following the True Christ!

  • Tim

    First, I agree with several of the criticisms by commenters above but will add my two cents.

    I think this is a very lazy, inaccurate generalization of Sunday School. The descriptions of what is taught is troubling. Multiple examples from actual Sunday School curriculum of what you claim are the themes in Sunday School would be nice to substantiate your characterization (or caricature) of SS curriculum.

    Also, accepting some of your descriptions, I don’t know what is contra to Christian doctrine that Abraham was faithful. Paul praises Abraham in Galatians for his faithfulness. It was because of his faithfulness in God that he was deem righteous! Your descriptions of what is taught about both David and Joseph are not accurate in my experience. I have NEVER heard David described as having a pure heart in Sunday School. I would describe the general theme of David is he trusted and listened to God by slaying Goliath and God had a plan for him to be King. Don’t see how those themes draw kids from the message of the Gospel. Joesph is taught as being his father’s favorite and Joseph, incorrectly, lorded it over his brothers. But, God had a plan for him, Joseph remained obedient and faithful and God used him. Again, don’t see how this leads kids away from Christ. And, Esther being obedient? She WAS obedient. Obedience is required to be a true believer in Christ. Again, don’t understand how that is contra to the Gospel and turning them away from Him.

    Just as troubling is the author’s solution to the supposed problem:

    “How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
    How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
    How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
    How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.”

    “God loved him and pursued him”… and then teach what? Teach “love” Jesus and He will “love” you? Teach “Go and sin no more?” Teach Teach Paul in Romans, ” What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” Left alone, the “better” curriculum would seem to possibly draw our kids towards Antinomianism. Furthermore, they seem as misguided in their overly broad, incomplete generalizations of Abraham, David, Joseph and Esther as the author’s generalizations of current curriculum.

    But let’s even assume though for a moment that the criticism of Sunday School is fair. It still misplaces blame. Folks blaming our pastors and churches for our kid’s not coming to faith is LAZY. Parents, not our pastors, are the priests of our children, and ultimately responsible for the teaching our kids the Gospel. The church is to assist us in that. Our pastors get our kids 1-3 hours a week. Parents and The World get them for the remaining 165 hours.

    It would seem parents and The World have much more of a chance at impacting our kids’ faith than Sunday School. If we are to lay blame it is not at Sunday School but primary education and pop culture. Parents, we have surrendered our kids to a public education system that HATES the Gospel and excels at teaching moral relativism. We even do the unfathomable and pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to send our kids off to colleges that REALLY hate the Gospel, anything than can’t be “proven” by science is bogus and there are no absolutes. We send our youth off to what have become seminaries in paganism and we are dumbfounded as to how they turned from the faith of their parents?

    Let me be clear, I understand that for many parents public school is the only option and unfortunately we live in a climate where college is required for any meaningful employment. Parents have to navigate the best they can through the morass of The World, be in it but not of it, and ensure their kids get a quality education and means of being productive in this world. Many kids go through our Godless education system with their faith intact. Some kids are strong in their faith and use their experience in school to be salt and light on their campus

    My point is to simply illustrate how their are probably more instructive areas to look at as to why our kids are turning from the Gospel instead of trite criticisms of Sunday School.

    Teaching kids about faithfulness, obedience and that God has an absolute morality for his Children that is to be followed isn’t the problem. They are foundations to a more enriching and complete understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ later in life

  • Great read Sam. The free online doco ‘Divided – the Movie’ has some interesting content regarding the origins of Sunday school itself. I’d love to know what you think of it. – Victoria

  • Beliefs of the Heart

    [Sorry for not responding much to all these great comments. I’ve been on vacation.]

    Many readers have disagreed—and some even offended—by my article’s comments about the moral uprightness of Abraham, David, and Esther. I’ll defend those comments later (in another comment), but first:

    Why are we upset when we find out those Biblical heroes weren’t so heroic?

    Shouldn’t we be encouraged by God’s grace toward them? If God works only through the morally perfect, where would that leave us? (Or do we have a high opinion of our own moral uprightness? “Thank you God I’m not like this sinner….”)

    Why does it bother us so much? Shouldn’t it encourage us? God can work through us too, before we’re perfect. And his work will change our hearts to want to live for him … as all of them (Abraham, David, and Esther) eventually did?

    I oppose antinomianism (the belief that God’s grace means moral behavior is irrelevant). But I also oppose self-righteousness.

    God want us to live morally. Yes. Let’s strive to be moral, righteous, and gracious, to love God and our neighbors.

    But let’s hope in God’s righteousness and love, not our own.

    • Tim

      Sir, we are critical of your mischaracterization of Sunday School.

      ” If God works only through the morally perfect, where would that leave us?”

      Do you honestly believe Sunday School teaches that the heroes of the Bible of were morally perfect? Please substantiate this claim that the majority of Sunday Schools are teaching moral purism as a condition of faith as doctrine.

      Arguing that teaching kids that Abraham was faithful, Esther obedient is somehow teach “self-righteousness” and a rhetorical and logical leap that falls short.

      Also, please explain how teaching a six or 10-year old that David had sex outside will somehow bring him or her to a fuller understanding of grace and sanctification? Aren’t we also supposed to shelter our children from certain aspects of the world to maintain their innocence?

      • Josh

        I can support his claim, for many years i was never exposed to the fact that the “heroes of the faith” were not perfect demigods. And when i finally was it was through the teaching of my parents, not sunday school. The criticisms presented in this article may be a little to widespread, however they are valid for many churches (see above comments for further evidence). And as for explaining to a 10-year-old about David’s mistakes. I honestly see no problem with exposing him to that information within a controlled environment such as a sunday school. While there is something to be said for maintaining innocence, there is more to be said for not horribly skewing an impressionable child’s perspective of people. And in most cases you will get little more then “ewww” out of children who are exposed to this kind of information. As long as it is not held up as something to be emulated then there is no problem. This is not to say that a certain amount of restraint is not required. There are many events in scripture that do not hold as obvious lessons and are graphic in nature that do not need to be told in a class room of young ones (like the women who killed an enemy king by impaling him with a tent pole).

  • Erica

    Here’s curriculum that is God-centered…and really meaty and good!
    Children Desiring God – http://www.childrendesiringgod.org/

  • Beliefs of the Heart

    Abraham, David, and Esther did not begin as moral paragons, but God broke into their lives and changed them. And that is what we all really want, God’s life in ours; because we can’t do it on our own. We can learn from their mistakes (to live better) and we can be encouraged by God’s grace.

    • Abraham began as an idolater and God called him out of it: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2).
    • Abraham also deceived Egyptians about his wife (out of fear) and tried to fulfill God’s commands on his own by sleeping with his wife’s maid.

    • One reader defended David’s taking Bathsheba because all the kings in those days had large harems. This doesn’t excuse David’s betrayal of a friend, nor does “everyone’s doing it” justify any action.

    Esther (I understand if you disagree with me about Esther, but I think the scripture is pretty clear about the early vs. the late Esther):
    • The book of Esther contrasts Vashti (who stood up to the king) and Esther who does everything Hegai (the king’s servant) suggests.
    • The book of Esther contrast Esther with Daniel who is also taken captive, but Daniel refuses the non-kosher food while Esther does not.
    • It even contrasts early Esther against the later Esther. We first see her doing what others tell her to do; in the end she boldly acts, saying, “If I perish I perish.”
    • , The word “taken” is not as clear as some readers think. In Esther 2:7, her uncle “takes” her as his daughter (Hebrew word “Laqah”). In the next verse, Esther is “taken” into the palace—the same Hebrew word. (I’m not saying that Esther was willing, but scripture doesn’t show her fighting until later when she boldly enters the court without invitation.)

    The gospel is always about God changing us from the inside out. Should we try to be moral? Of course! Should we teach morality? Of course! Should we place a feather of faith in our morality? Not in a million years.

    • Tim

      Sir, you keep making this claim that Sunday School is guilty of teaching some sort of moral purity by only focusing on the positive aspects of the men and women of the Old Testament and their relationship with God and leaving out the negative.

      How odd a claim since Paul himself did the same in Romans Chapter 4. He makes not declaration of Abraham being an idolater, makes no mention of his deception the Egyptians and he even makes no reference to him sleeping with Hagar out of lack of faith.

      In fact, Paul says:

      “18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

      No mention anywhere of all of Abraham’s sins and transgressions.

      Paul mentions him again in Galatians 3 and mentions nothing about his transgressions for context. Only that he was blessed for his faith.

      In Hebrews 11, the writer outlines the men and women from the Old Testament, praising them for their faith, listing the positives of their lives and none of the negative.

      “8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”

      Again, no mention of their lack of faith by trying to have a child through Hagar, just praising them for their acts of faith. But you would have us believe that leaving out all of the sin they committed is somehow presenting Abraham and others as “moral paragons” and cheapening the message of God’s grace. If Paul and the writer of Hebrews can do it, cannot Sunday School curriculum teach it as well without teaching a message of moral purity?

      Look you and I agree on the theology. By grace alone in faith alone in Christ alone, absolutely! If we don’t admit our sin and the sin of the world then we cheapen the gospel, Christ’s death on the cross and conquering of death for us.

      I just don’t see how teaching a bunch of 4th graders that Abraham, David, Joseph, etc were all wretched sinners who God loved and pursued anyway will lead them to a stronger faith when they are older.

    • Josh

      Where does scripture directly contrast Esther with Daniel and company? And if it does, does it have to do with the food? Or the general compliance?

    • Mariah

      “The book of Esther contrasts Vashti (who stood up to the king) and Esther who does everything Hegai (the king’s servant) suggests.”

      You really want to blame Esther for being obedient when women in her culture were taught that they should be obedient and submissive, especially to the male leaders in their lives? Even her approaching the king, while it may have been bold, was in direct obedience to Mordecai’s instruction that she go to the king and ask him to spare her and her people.

  • Jennifer

    I don’t believe all Sunday schools teach that we are only loved if we are good. I know that the church I went to, Centerview Baptist Church in Jacksonville, NC, taught that we are “saved by the Grace of God, because He loved us while we were still Sinners”. However, I do agree there are lots of legalistic churches out there that push burdens like the enemies of Jesus Christ did. “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders…(Mtt. 23:4)” This is a good link-http://www.openbible.info/topics/burden. Your writing is powerful and I like that you speak your heart and truth!

    • Tim

      There is certainly a lot of junk being taught in churches, both legalism and moral relativism. We just don’t need to make broad characterizations about Sunday School compounded with long leaps of logic that they are why kids are turning from Christ.

  • Charity

    These days we are not very committed to attending Sunday School. We are not necessarily against Sunday School. We do however believe Sunday School does need some revamping. Our children have both been hurt by teachers in Sunday School. Our oldest is resilient and bounced back rather quickly so we let it go. Our youngest is not quite so resilient. He begs us not to take him to Sunday School. We learned from our oldest some things that happened that caused the problem. We tried to talk with the teacher to find out what happened from her perspective so that if we need to address our children at home that we could, but the teacher will not discuss it. That is a situational issue I realize. However, I have also noticed that the Gospel keeps getting watered down more and more and more. Then I have seen in several churches we have come in contact with a devaluing of parents. One church had a youth group leaders and and Sunday School teachers who even called parents cryptonite.

    The potential for Sunday School’s value is very high, but there are issues that need to be addressed and corrected. I came to a relationship with Christ out of my Sunday School experience so I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath. Sunday School does need to be evaluated and revamped to be the sharp sword that it could be.

  • terriergal


    You gotta listen to this if you haven’t already.

    Yes, we need the law, but not as a stepladder to righteousness. To take us all down to the same level. Then the gospel in all its freedom and sweetness.

    Also if you haven’t read CFW Walther’s Law and Gospel (I recommend the Reader’s edition) do so.

  • I agree with you. I would also add that kids need to see their parents as sinners saved by grace, too. Parents need to model the need for Christ and His grace both with their own struggles as well as their reaching out to those in need. Also, kids need to be able to fail and then receive grace from their parents before they will ever believe God can give them grace.

  • Betty Norling

    I’m not sure my comment “up front” went through. First it turned gray. Here it is again. Notice that the “heroes” are all from the Old Testament. I have been upset for years that Sunday school lessons and sermons are seldom from the four Gospels and focus on what Jesus said! I know–little boys want to hear about David’s rock imbedded in Goliath’s head, and not about offering the other cheek.

  • kgreenaz

    Very thoughtful article. I would say that if parents are relying on one hour of Sunday school to combat an entire week’s worth of atheism in school they’re barking up the wrong tree. It is our (the parents) responsibility to teach our kids to know the Bible, to rightly interpret the Bible and to apply the Bible. I see the Church spending hours on homework but little on teaching Christianity. It is not the church’s fault for this, it is the Church’s fault for this. If my boys turn away from The Lord, they and I will be responsible for that. Not their Sunday School teacher or even their pastor. One reason that we home educate is to educate them in the way they should go. We quickly got past the stories and into inductive study by the time our boys are seven. If they don’t continue to follow The Lord, that’s their decision. But we have done what we are called to do in raising them for Him.

  • Jocelyn


    I’m sorry to say I have to disagree with the topic, have you ever taught Sunday School to little kids? I have, for 12 years now. I have never taught that the kids have to be “good”, any good SS teacher knows that would create a confused child. Teaching adultery, sex, and narcissistic behaviors are difficult to teach to 4-8 year olds. However, teaching them that God can take sinful people (which every kid knows they are btw) and use them, is an incredible lesson.

    I would appreciate more topics that deal with how teachers should stick to the Bible and create relationships to show the kids the love of God, instead of taking one instance your life and pointing it to people who are actually trying to teach the kids.

    -a SS teacher

  • it is uncanny how parallel to some of the more recent lessons and ideas i’ve been having… and as such, been planning a series for the fall, called the Graceful Dead.

  • Add to that the tendency to a.) make the child the focus of learning and b) try to make EVERYTHING FUN!!! Problem is, the world around us is telling them a different version of fun, and it’s presented as MORE fun than Christianity. And they follow…because, in part, they know that if something isn’t bigger than THEMSELVES, then it’s not worth following. And we have the GOD of Heaven and Earth to present to them…yet we focus on the child, for fear that God isn’t enough. And they pick up on that. That is what one calls a problem.

  • I agree with most of what you are saying but I just have a question about one thing: Esther arrangement with the King of Persia was a marriage contract; she was not one of the king’s concubines, no she was the queen of Persia. So I am not sure we can really say that she had sex out of marriage. Plus there is no mention of God in Esther so to be honest I am not sure we should teach kids “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.” Instead, I was taught that Esther reminds us that God sometimes works in the background using people for His will. Just a thought.

  • David Ashby

    Perhaps it would be confusing to talk about Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” Or even more confusing if we brought in Job, who “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

    Frankly, I see no issues lauding the righteousness of Bible heroes. While they may have committed sins, we shouldn’t be teaching kids to focus on their failures. Especially, with modern-day heroes of the faith, we should be emphasizing who they are in Christ. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – 2 Cor. 5:16.

  • Great food for thought!

  • Robert

    Another “hero” of the faith was Samson. But when you study the Judges text, you find that he constantly allowed himself to be in places of temptation that he never should have been. After all, God set him apart as a Nazarite. Yet, in his guilty & often perverse state, God still graciously pursued him, & even used him in the end, to accomplish a specific task….all in spite of how Samson lived: as a man who thought he was strong enough to handle any temptation. Basically, God graciously used Samson in spite of himself. That’s the message of the gospel: God loves you in spite of yourself.

  • To the copyright holder: May I translate this into Russian and post on my site? Thank you.

  • Mark Satty

    I guess the only tweak I would have on this is that we have to fail at goodness to realize our badness. So a call to goodness does set us up with an understanding of our need for a savior.

    • WordPress.com Support

      Mark, really good insight. Thanks.

  • Robert Powell

    Our Sunday school literature teaches all these men and women were sinners who even through their faults were given grace and wisdom and faith. I totally disagree with this article.
    Bring your children to church, but the foundation of their belief begins at home. If they don’t have the Christian support system at home, it is harder, but coming to Sunday school will help them, not hurt them.

  • I don’t know, but I think that the story of the way children used to be reared speaks for itself. Maybe they have too much time on their hands. This is the story of young Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards.”His mother was the third daughter of Jonathan Edwards. She possessed uncommon powers of mind, and for the extent and virtue of her knowledge has rarely been exceeded by any of her sex in this country. Though married at an early age, and mother at eighteen, she found time, without neglecting the ordinary cares of her family, to devote herself with the most assiduous attention to the instruction of this son, and her numerous family of children, as they successively claimed her regard. Perhaps few instances can be found, in which this great duty has been performed with more scrupulous fidelity, than in the case now under consideration. With a mind originally vigorous and discriminating, she had been accustomed from infancy to the conversation of men of literature, who resorted in great numbers to her father’s house; and thus was forcibly taught the importance of that learning, the effects of which she had so often had opportunity to witness. It was a maxim with her, the soundness of which her own observation through life fully confirmed, that children generally lose several years, in the consequence of being considered by their friends as too young to be taught. She pursued a different course with her son. She began to instruct him about as soon as he was able to speak; and such was his eagerness as well as his capacity for improvement that he learned the alphabet at a single lesson; and before he was four years old was able to read the Bible with ease and correctness.”

  • Thomas Sullivan commented on Beliefs of the Heart:

    I don’t know, but I think that the story of the way children used to be reared speaks for itself. Maybe they have too much time on their hands. This is the story of young Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards.”His mother was the third daughter of Jonathan Edwards. She possessed uncommon powers of mind, and for the extent and virtue of her knowledge has rarely been exceeded by any of her sex in this country. Though married at an early age, and mother at eighteen, she found time, without neglecting the ordinary cares of her family, to devote herself with the most assiduous attention to the instruction of this son, and her numerous family of children, as they successively claimed her regard. Perhaps few instances can be found, in which this great duty has been performed with more scrupulous fidelity, than in the case now under consideration. With a mind originally vigorous and discriminating, she had been accustomed from infancy to the conversation of men of literature, who resorted in great numbers to her father’s house; and thus was forcibly taught the importance of that learning, the effects of which she had so often had opportunity to witness. It was a maxim with her, the soundness of which her own observation through life fully confirmed, that children generally lose several years, in the consequence of being considered by their friends as too young to be taught. She pursued a different course with her son. She began to instruct him about as soon as he was able to speak; and such was his eagerness as well as his capacity for improvement that he learned the alphabet at a single lesson; and before he was four years old was able to read the Bible with ease and correctness.”

  • Jill

    Sunday school curriculum is always changing, and there are a couple of good ones out there right now that focus on the gospel:

  • I love most of the article and I realize some people are going to take some of it the wrong way. Can you show me where it says or hints at Esther having sex with an unbeliever? I realize 2:6-11 tells us that she was in the kings harem and was highly prized but did he have sex with everyone in the harem? Even if she did it does not tell us she did so willingly, in which case it might change the way it was presented in the article above.

  • Brett

    I would much rather children not be taught that they are beasts at all. Stop telling children that “God” is good because he loves us even though we are unworthy sinners. All that exists does so by the will of God, right? The, whatever I am, I am nothing less than exactly what he made me. If I am flawed, if I am beastly, if I am a sinner, it is because He created me that way, and I’ll not ask ask a child to ask forgiveness of God for something God is responsible for.

    If a clock doesn’t keep time properly, who is at fault, the clock, or the clockmaker?

  • Fran

    If young people are leaving religion in higher rates than before it is most because they can do so without the same kind of social censure that people faced in the past. American culture has changed, people that would have stayed in church to fit in, get approval from society, be seen as a good person etc. now feel free to leave.

  • Melanie

    I agree with a portion of this comment, but I find the comment about Esther unbiblical and offensive. It is an ” in” interpretation of topic among the neoreformed to say that about Esther. In that culture she had no choice. Someone you or someone else heard has probably been listening to too much Mark Driscoll. I am deeply offended on behalf of all women who have been forced into marriage or sex all over the world and shamed because of religious culture. Recently in Egypt a norwegian woman was jailed because she was raped. What kool aid would cause someone to teach this?

    • Alicia

      I so agree with you! I am so TIRED of some kind of Theology that makes victims twice victims! Where are the men who defend and protect women? ( I am married to one!)

    • Yes, exactly this – I was mostly nodding along until the bit about Esther, she absolutely had no choice and shaming rape victims is about as sickening as it gets.

    • Absolutely disgusting, that part.

    • Rckjones

      I completely agree. Nowadays we’d call what happened to Esther a form of rape. It has many parallels to Bathsheba’s story, although it has a more victorious ending.

  • Paul

    Definitely agree on – How did it take the child so long to reject religious hypocrisy? But as to using the pagan psychological myth of Beauty and the Beast to describe the work of the gospel on a rebellious sinner – OUCH! How could you be so hypocritical to rightfully judge against the rewrite of the history recorded in the Bible for the sake of imaginative power and false godliness, but then use an immoral story of dark evil who turns into imaginative power and false godliness to explain the gospel yourself?!? OUCH!! What a lie. Apart from that, what you said is pretty good. I will also say that I agree with other statements you made in other comments, and that many other people making comments added important directives to understanding this problem in “churches”, and that I do think your understanding of the situation Esther was put into, is incorrect. I specifically note Esther 2:8 So it was, when the king’s COMMAND and DECREE were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the CUSTODY of Hegai, that Esther also was TAKEN to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women. Esther 2:8 Also if you read the king’s advisor’s decree and their thoughts about putting women in their place so they don’t rebel against their husband’s demands like the demand that the king placed on Vashti, then you understand that this was not a casual setting. I welcome any thoughts or corrections from Scripture that you may have. The Word of God is our only authority to dispel lies that are all around us. May God bless you!

  • Jo Anne Thompson

    This is exactly why, when I was a Sunday School teacher, I always picked my own materials. I was teaching 4th and 5th graders. They needed to hear that even though these “hero’s” were flawed, God loved them just the same.

  • Ben

    Our emphasis should always be on how much God loves us, not on how much we love God.

  • This is such an important post, Sam. So many parents are asking, how do we reveal the good news of God’s grace to our kids? And how does Sunday School fit into this?

    I remember when my wife was helping out at a Sunday School and the official curriculum mandated she teach the Ten Commandments. To five year olds. “How do I do that?” she wondered. “Make sure those kids know their heavenly Father loves them whether they keep the commandments or break them,” I suggested.

    The fact is, Sunday School will always be Plan B. Plan A is parents revealing the unconditional love of the Father to their own kids. But it certainly doesn’t help when Sunday School curricula send a contrary message promoting performance-based Christianity. Thanks for this excellent and thought-provoking post.

  • Garth, how do you interpret Romans 7 which tells us we must die to the law in order to bear fruit for God?

  • This is one very misguided post. Sunday School is usually 1 hour once a week. Somehow we are saying that that 1 hour is the cause of someone rejecting Christianity. Is it possible that something in the other 167 hours per week would have a bearing on one’s spiritual life? Maybe the family life, or the school, or individual freewill?
    What is wrong with having Bible heroes? If anything, my experience has been parents low expectations for children, not too high of expectations.
    What is the point of this article? How can a person have a lesson Abraham without mentioning his great faith? Or Job without pointing out his great patience and dedication to God?
    we cannot go wrong by noticing II Timothy 3:15 “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

    • Garth Aamodt

      @ veritas399e: I agree and well said. I’ve met people who look for justification for leaving God. Why not blame the pastor, or the “hypocrites”, or the Sunday School? C.S. Lewis (Screwtape Letters) talks a lot about how humans inherently look to “avoid guilt”. Easier to blame someone else to excuse slothfulness,, than to actually face the guilt of an undisciplined and undiscipled life.

  • Personally, I WAS raised on ALL these lessons and that was not my problem….my problem was the hypocrisy in the church. The leaders of my Youth Group picked the popular kids to “do” everything, or they even “hung out” with them. I babysat for their kids and they gave me a glass of wine at age 16! They had affairs with one another “while on youth events.” I thought “WHAT A JOKE!” If it were not for my Mother praying for me and seeing her EVERY DAY on her knees in prayer for me, and in God’s word there is no telling where I would be! I saw the TRUTH in my parents (thank God), not in church leaders! Jesus IS the Gospel and without Him we would have nothing. BUT once you are a believer you DO have the power to turn from sin and live a right life, not a perfect life, but a life filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the believers that the gift of the Holy Spirit was coming to “help” us and give us the power to live according to His ways. I do have some concerns/questions….. when you question the Old Testament saints, God NEVER calls Abraham an idol worshiper…does He? The opinion that Joseph was narcissistic is just your interpretation…right? God called David a man after His own heart and there were times when he was filled with the Holy Spirit…right? My biggest problem is Ester…..she would be what we call a modern sex slave, she did not have a choice AT ALL. These people desired what we now have IN JESUS, they desired to have the Holy Spirit, they looked forward to what we have, yet they worshiped God because they believed Him. I find it hard to put down those saints when God does not……My question is; why is it that this Gospel message that I keep hearing ex: “its all about the Gospel,” why is it that the ones I hear are the ones who excuse sin? That we are no different than anyone else, that we all have sin (which I agree), but they never talk about the Holy Spirit and that Jesus now resides in us. His mind CAN be in us and we will look different than the world. Does one only think that we stay the same until heaven? Or do we become more and more like Him? I do not have a problem with teaching my children about Joseph, I believe there are valuable lessons that they can learn about being one who “flees from sin.” I do not have a problem with Ester, God used what evil men always do to women, and that is abuse them, I do not have one problem of teaching them that God preserves His children, and there might be sometime He will use you (in your darkest of days), if Christ is reigning in your life, if He is your Savior and His Holy Spirit is welcome in your life.

  • Gail Ruth Peterson

    Having been a children’s ministry director for 4 years about a decade ago, I have to say, AMEN to this. Yes, we need to be teaching Biblical truth (and not just to kiddos) about suffering, trials, rebellion, and grace.

    On the defense, though, I have to say that my passion as a children’s ministry director and a teacher for many of the children over the years, is that the children would see other adults in the church speaking and modeling the same Biblical truths they heard at home from their parents. Of course, for me and my husband, we were blessed with good Sunday school lessons when we were young believers and didn’t know how or what to teach our children. I think it’s a wonderful sense of the family of Christ for children when Sunday school reiterates what they are learning and seeing at home and recognizing their bigger family–all acknowledging the same Biblical truth.

    One last note, if anyone wants to find some good biblical material for children’s Sunday school, go to Children Desiring God, material endorsed by Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist and written by members of his congregation. EXCELLENT material w/topics like, the names of God, being like Jesus and God’s promises.

  • If Moral Therapeutic Theism is a common belief of the young in the church, I think we best go back and carefully look at what we are teaching. The issues you bring to light are not just causing young folks to leave, but sending many in the church off on the wrong path.

  • I’d just like to see more teaching to youngsters about the inner life. We all assume they can’t handle that, but I disagree.

  • Shared this on my blog’s facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/blog.greyskeilrainbow

    Thank you for writing this!

  • Julia

    “Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer”.
    Are you sure???

  • Carol Miller

    I’ve been teaching Sunday School to pre-readers. I don’t feel it’s going well. I wasn’t raised in Christianity but I see both problems mentioned in the article and in one of the answers. If you teach all grace, there seems to be no concept of sin in the child’s life. If you preach works, you get despair. I’m not sure where the balance is.

  • Arjan

    Both stories are true. We can recieve mercy but we need to strive to be a good person. We can bever be perfect, so we keep needing Jesus. We can learn nice lessons from the heros in the bilble. They were also used because they kept their trust in the lord though they were sinnfull. God wants us to live a renewed life not only to accept simply grace…

  • branchofthevine

    I admittedly am very sensitive lately, but this article gave me a lack of peace towards unity. Our family moved from a church much like the one described because of much of the reasons you cited. We did not see our kids growing toward salvation at all, and it scared us. However, I feel your words are too harsh and your title is divisive. I do not think we can blame any church Sunday School for being the reason our kids leave the faith. This week alone, I witnessed a church full of youth and adults spending their time on a summer weeknight to teach young unbelievers how to play basketball. While the kids are there, they also teach them about Jesus. They certainly use the watered-down gospel everyone despises, but they were sharing more Jesus than I was. i have to wonder what The Apostle Paul would have said to them, and also to me had he been there. Just an encouragement that perhaps our message can be shared without tearing down another’s system that is showing some results.

  • Julie J.

    For me personally it was that at a young age (8 years old) I could clearly see the hypocrisy of the church and most people who called themselves Christian. They told us to love they neighbors as thyself, but demonized and spit hatred at the LGBT community, were racist and blamed the poor for their plight, called people on welfare lazy. Just turn on Fox news to see what hatred fills the heart of many so-called Christians. I learned early on that the Christian religion was not Christian at all. How can Christians be against feeding the poor and healing the sick (i.e. time to support universal health care)…. to me most people who call themselves Christian are filled with hate and greed and simply lack compassion and love. Thank heavens for the example set by my grandmother – a true Christian if ever there was one.

    I left the church because I believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ… not because I didn’t believe.

  • Ross

    This is great! Many people need to hear this! He loves us enough to accept us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there!

  • Joel Solliday

    This article is a lie, particularly where it accuses Sunday School teachers lying. It misrepresents what goes on in Sunday school (I have been committed to Sunday School for 58 years). If encouraging children to be good is a “burden,” it’s a most blessed and refreshing “burden” for people of all ages to joyfully carry. As for love, let’s affirm it both ways–to the good and the not-so-good. This article is wrong-headed and misdirected. There are real dangers out there for kids and Sunday School is generally NOT one of them.

  • I loved your points and agree with you though I think your example about Esther may be a bit of an exaggeration. She was not in that situation through her sinfulness.. but obeying the Lord’s direction for her life however odd it looks to us (cultural differences at work here I think). The glory of the gospel is indeed what our kids need to hear. I will say that I feel our living example and teaching at home can help our kids understand these stories better than any Sunday School teacher.

    But the fact is that, it’s OUR love for the Lord and OUR transparency, and OUR
    response to OUR OWN SIN which will make the biggest difference in how
    our kids see the Lord in regards to their own faults and failures. Sunday school teachers cannot undo the living testimony.. day by day.. of our lives as parents. We must not rely on a once a week class for our children’s spiritual well being or grounding.

    Still you make a very very good point. I enjoyed reading it and am glad you are challenging the ‘prettied up’ versions of Sunday school stories now being taught to children at church.

    Considering their world at public school, in their neighborhoods, on online game servers and on tv is being bombarded with immorality at every turn, they need to know at a much younger age than in the past, that Jesus died to save sinners and those sinners are in the bible. Yes they are our heroes.. but they were heroes with fleshly weaknesses who responded to God’s grace. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  • Vincent

    For me, I would agree with the title of your article….except I would push the word “wondering”, up to “pretty darn sure”. 🙂 Also, I would agree that people are leaving the church in droves. Oh, and I also agree that we’ve been lied to about
    God and the Bible and the gospel.

    On the flip side I strongly disagree with your premise that people are leaving Christianity because, as implied in your article, we’ve leaned a “works based gospel” by being told, as children – in Sunday school, how faithful and good and obedient these OT figures were.

    To me the Scriptures are very clear as to how these characters are to be remembered. Yes they all had flaws. Yes, God worked with them anyways. But the overall story and message of their lives as they are remembered in the whole of Scriptures is not through focusing on their sin.

    You seem to be taking a sinful incident, or two in each of their lives and blowing THAT up into the story. If my kids went to your sunday school I’d be worried that they would run outta there enjoying every kind of lascivious concupiscence and stating that “I can be beastly because God loves me anyways.”

    None the less, back to the other flip side. Sunday school has indeed helped to crumble many a Christian’s walk because it does have us believing lies. So you had that right. You diagnosed the symptoms correctly but I feel you got the disease wrong.

    And here’s the real cause that so many are leaving the church (are you sitting down?):

    Bible verse memorization.

    WHAT???? Yeah I said it: Bible verse memorization. Before you bail on me here as a nutcase, hear me out. The whole scam of prizes, gold stars, chocolate bars and maybe winning a book, all for memorizing individual numbered sound bites (verses) is what has greatly contributed to our downfall.

    Consider: as kids, we memorized these verses…but they were verses torn from their context, butchered by our English translations, and worst of all used as “summary statements” to envelop entire theologies. Thus, as we have grown up we have grown up with wrong doctrine based on wrongly dividing the Word of Truth way back in Sunday school. And this wrong doctrine in perpetuated in our churches and cemeteries…oops, pardon me “seminaries”.

    The classic example: John 3:16. A very true verse. Still, no one memorizes John 3:18 though. Our western greek linear mindset of “believe” also gives this FALSE notion of solely being a mental ascent; this vague sense of “truth in our hearts”. No one points out that to “believe” in the Hebrew sense is to “hear and obey”. Yes you believe it “in your heart”, but you also walk it out.

    Perhaps it might be better understood as: “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever hears and obeys will not perish but have eternal life.”

    “Sounds like works based salvation”, you say. Well, it is and it isn’t. We can do nothing to earn our salvation. Agreed. It’s all through Christ and His blood.

    But that faith, without works, is dead. When one turns one’s life over to the Almighty, if there is not change in behavior…no “hearing and obeying” then, dare i say, perhaps there was not “turning over of one’s life” in the first place. Will He thus be stating Matthew 7:23 to such as these?

    Again, take Col 2:16. We all “know” what that says and means: don’t judge people for eating whatever or not keeping the Sabbath etc…

    Again…another verse taken out of context, with our English “interpretation” making it say the EXACT OPPOSITE of what it really states. But, yet there it is again: a numbered sound bite, a single verse…quoted to sum up a “theology”, thus wrongly dividing the Word.
    I won’t get into Col 2:16 but once one delves into this verse and looks at the context closely and examines the original Greek you will see what I mean.

    Anyways….so now, today, the cows are coming home to roost…the lies of our theology are peeking through the cracks. This current generation has a very high BS awareness radar. They can tell crap when they see it. Having flashing lights and rocking worship doesn’t cut it anymore. A preacher that spews pop psychology and funny stories is so transparent now and is thus found wanting. So the kids…they are leaving.

    We need to start REALLY reading our Bibles. We need to really start to pray and start walking in obedience. Let the masses leave, the ones that want their ears tickled. We need to repent and return.

  • Brandon Smith

    Agreed! As a youth pastor, one of my favorite things to do with church kids who have been taught these fluffy Bible stories all their lives is to point out bits and pieces they don’t see in Sunday School that make the characters REAL, inadequate, and HUMAN. Love it!

  • Charlie

    Awesome perspective. You’ve really got me thinking about how I am teaching. What I do know is when these children (I work with K-6) understand how God loves them, and when they “get” the gospel, they become some of the most passionate disciples of Him.

  • Looking Up

    So many good thoughts. I agree that performance is not how to obtain salvation! Once you are saved though obedience should start to follow. I am very concerned by the number of people who say they are saved but don’t care that their performance remains terrible. God in a life will transform it. If transformation isn’t happening then check your connection with God!

  • Aprille

    This post is amazing. So full of truth. I am currently doing a blog series on how I have been on a journey away from legalism – and this post right here captured so much what I’ve been trying to share! I was one of those “good Sunday School girls” that ended up having a pretty whacked out view of God. Thank you so much for being a voice for grace. I hope that the next generation of young people (my son included) can grow up knowing about how God pursues us even when we are not good.

    And here is a link to my current series in case anyone is interested in reading how a disillusioned “Good Christian Girl” found her way into accepting God’s grace: http://beautifulinhistime.com/category/personal-and-spiritual-ramblings/the-wilderness-between-legalism-and-grace/

  • Ashley Moore

    I can definitely see this being a problem. You should always teach that it is only because of God these things happened and not anything that one person did. If any one had chosen to ignore the calling they could have, and God would have given it to someone else. They didn’t and were rewarded, but it was because of God’s love.

  • Robert Stribley

    See also Noah who was spared for his goodness while the rest of the planet’s population (men, women, children, infants) was eradicated. After the flood, he promptly got drunk and sired children by both his own daughters. Weird that these ancient tales are presented in any sort of moral context!

    • Garth Aamodt

      I think you mean Lot, nephew of Abraham sired…(after they thought the world was destroyed when S & G were annihilated.) Actually, if these ancient tales were just fiction, I think they would have cleaned that up to sanitize them. No one claims the Bible is about perfect people, or even good people necessarily. Jonah, Samson, David, Noah, Peter, Paul–the whole reason they have a moral context is BECAUSE we see all of these imperfect people still fulfilled God’s purposes–inspite of being unworthy vessels. Maybe a future Bible would tell us about John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and other magnificent train-wrecks, if they then are able to surmount their weakness and serve God.

      • Robert Stribley

        Right, I was conflating my OT stories. Sorry.

        Genesis 9:20-25 details Noah’s being found naked and drunk after the flood.

        Anyway, refer to the Lot story, yes. My main point is the magnificent injustice behind this sort of thinking. Prey up on whomever you like. Kill people by the scores. Steal another man’s wife. Rape pillage. But then ask for forgiveness and you’re golden.

        Live a quiet, dignified life without harming others, but happen not to believe in Christ: Face eternal punishment and damnation. It’s this belief that is abhorrent and anti-human. … Having been raised fundamentalist, I’m quite acquainted with all the Biblical “logic” which is used to justify this abominable injustice, I just don’t think it makes sense. Nor does it reflect the machinations of any sort of just God.

        • Garth Aamodt

          I agree Robert. The idea of “acceptable” Christians–who then live a debauched life relying on a get-out-of-jail-free card because of their misunderstanding of Grace– is indeed a silly notion. I don’t believe that either. That’s why all my comments here have been about the two-step process of justification (grace) AND sanctification (discipleship.) Many christians have made-up a lot of silly, self-rationalizing theology. Teaching that sin is ignored for Christians is one of those heresies. Teaching that all non-Christians (many who died never having a chance to hear of Christ) are damned is also a silly notion and would ask us to pretend a God so unjust, is still to be worshipped. You ask all the right questions and the same ones I’ve wondered about too. I have found answers within the Bible but not within most of the denominations. They too often teach a God I don’t read about in the Bible. Throw out the nonsense that preachers preach if it can’t reconcile fundamental truths. But that doesn’t mean to throw out the VALID God concepts, just because men are too blinded to preach them in their original purity. We’ve screwed a lot of doctrines up. I feel God will judge all men by what they had knowledge of on earth. Those who lack, without fault, will have a first chance to gain that which was withheld from them for their brief span on earth. I believe this is why judgment day is a long way off, to give us time to “set right” the gap between mortality and judgment. A great learning process continues when we die IMO. It’s not over the moment you die and much of these imbalances will be balanced in the spirit world, before the final judgment IMO.

          • Robert Stribley

            Thanks for this thoughtful response, Gath. If I’d been exposed to this sort of compassionate Christianity when I was younger, I may never have been prompted to leave the fold.

  • Mark

    We miss stuff like “the last 15 years of David’s life was a down hill mudslide … yet God in His redemptive way allows him to make one final great decision and calls him a man after God’s own heart.

    Thanks for this … it is refreshing to find others searching for The Story in it all.

  • Bucky Elliott

    This is exactly why The Gospel Project is different: http://www.gospelproject.com/

  • Mark

    Thanks for this view and the pursuit of God’s Greater Story. So often we miss stuff such as “David’s life was a downhill mudslide for the last 15 years … yet God called him a man after his own heart.” The message is about rescue and redemption – the earlier we can show that to our kids, the better choices we can present to them and the more ingrained it will become.

  • Leslie Lauger

    What a crock…on so many different levels. UGH> Ps. Joseph was not narcissistic…only if you have to have him that way to make it fit your pattern. You are using EXTRA-BIBLICAL nonsense to say Ester had sexual relations outside of marriage. I hardly think the woman who risked her life for God and his people was busy fornicating also. UGH> Of course they were all sinners and needed forgiveness. But these people are examples (Check out Hebrews) of those who went on before us acting in OBEDIENCE (Yes, I used the O word) because of their faith in God’s promises.

    A Sunday school teacher gave me the gospel of Jesus Christ when I was a little girl. There was plenty of teaching about these men and women …failings were included. Christ was exalted, but godly heros of the faith were properly noted Yes, I want to be a Daniel. I pray I could be like Ester. I want to have the heart of King David. All these men and women were opposite of the HEATHEN…These men and women feared and loved God. OF COURSE HE HAD DONE A WORK IN THEM. I am getting tired.

    The reason kids are leaving the church is because the world is alluring, and the world is in the church…So what happens is that young people get a good dose of the world at most services. And they are choosing the world. But they do most often come back …beaten up by the God of this world. Mislabeling the problem that young people in the church have…and that causes them to leave the church…only exacerbates the whole sad situation. This article is a disservice to the Christian church.

    I do believe Sunday School curriculum can improve. But what you offered is not an improvement.

  • great article.
    I think a big problem is families who rely on Sunday School to teach
    their kids/home about the Bible. It’s true that an hour once a week is a
    tough place to really tackle the whole story…so teachers gloss over,
    and try to send the kids home to behave.

    Sunday school originally started to teach kids to practice good hygiene.
    Bible/faith stories should be taught and lived at home…and reinforced at church.

  • AC

    I think a huge issue is teaching all the OT stories as factual events when as soon as kids become old enough to study and especially in college will learn about historical criticism and the latest scholarly research that demonstrates that most if not all of the stories were myths of the Hebrew people meant to form an identity and a cultural understanding of who God is. Churches have got to stop teaching the creation story as a literal event.

  • Dave

    I question your comment about Esther. No where in Scripture is having a concubine regarded as sex out of wedlock. It was (and is) not God’s perfect plan of marriage between one man and one woman. Her sin was having a union with an unbeliever.

    • Dave

      Otherwise I agree!

    • AC

      Again (see other comments), doubtful that is was her choice at all. She was rounded up, and then chosen by the king. Women didn’t really have agency in this time period. (Much as they still don’t in much of the world).

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel

      I agree! She was taken as a concubine ( a 2nd wife) along with 399 other women. Then one of the concubines, Esther, was made queen. Jacob had 2 wives and 2 concubines (2nd wives) and their children were his legal heirs. So for one thing, Esther didn’t choose to become a concubine of the king, but when her night with the king came around, it was not out of wedlock as this article suggests. She was lucky enough to be made queen and wife and put above all the other concubines, but the other 399 women were never allowed to leave or marry another. They were considered 2nd wives of the king.

  • Abelardo

    Legally, once taken by the king, she’d be considered a wife of sorts (and if this is still an issue, then every person taken by king in the Bible should also be considered a harlot of sorts) according to MHC (http://isword.org/windows/service.php?Ver=MHC&Book=Esther&Font&Chap=2&Verse=8 section II).

    tl;dr: Esther was not a hartlot of some sort. She would have legally been the king’s wife.

    And the idea that she should have resisted seems a bit pompous considering we know almost nothing about the situation.

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel


  • Redd

    Just some observations by a passer by, I’m not a regular viewer here. Hope you’ll be patient with this viewpoint.

    The Scriptures record man’s history as well as the story of some men and women.

    In various ways and at various times God spoke, the Bible record shows if and how people acted. The way we act and make decisions reveals what we believe.
    James tells us that faith without works is dead, being alone.

    God is watching, so are our children and neighbors.

    Some acted in faith, some acted poorly, sometimes these same people acted better. Many repented and embraced a trust in God, in spite of obstacles.

    God still tests mankind to see what their faith is and if there is faith, in God. Are we people who believe the teachings of Moses, of Jesus, of the Apostles by making them a vital part of our decision making?

    Psalm 119 gives specific instruction and basic principles for life and for decision-making. Psalm 1 records the contentment of a man who makes wise decisions. This is the Bible Jesus read, both these Psalms Jesus read..

    Jesus was a man of His teachings; He learned and practiced what He taught. In Matthew 23 Jesus tells the people to do what the religious leaders say BUT not what they do. In effect He is saying, “I will not ask you to do things that I have not also done”. The people then, and we today, are attracted to Him because He speaks with that authority, that authenticity. His words have been proven on the test track of life, they are powerful.

    Many principles for godly living are seen also in the natural world around us, our children need to hear our awe and the joy we have of discovering new dependable ways displayed in the world we share. What we learn here is what we take on to Glory.

    The teachings of Jesus, of Moses, the prophets and apostles are vital, we have a responsibility to teach these as the basis for making the best decisions in our lives and our children’s lives. They bring God’s perspective, and even more we can see the Person of Jesus Christ, that He lived what He taught.

    The teachings are basic and vital; they are reinforced as we practice them. Knowing and trusting the Person of Jesus Christ, our teacher, brings life. That is the emphasis of John 15. He wants us to be our best by putting His teachings to the test in our lives; without even realizing it, we model faith.

    Perhaps we cling to formulas, to easy solutions; perhaps we need to show the things we teach are worth living. Its risky stuff, there will be others who criticize, maybe even taunt and question, but God wants us as parents to teach and to live what we teach. He will walk with us; faith brings an expansiveness to life.

    Abraham, Joseph, David, and Esther each acted in faith, even though they made some mistakes. They each also knew God’s approval in their lives.

    Hebrews 11 takes the high road, recording great decision-making.

    Stephen risked everything when he reviewed God’s faithfulness in spite of stubborn neglect and even rejection. He exposed the hollowness of their religious formulas and as they stoned him he declared the glory of God and the presence of Jesus Christ.

    Oh how blessed we are to have the holy record of those who have preceded us and been faithful. Let’sencourage each other to stay focused on Jesus, walking and living with Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit leads us.

  • Patty Smith

    Moralistic. Therapeutic. Deism. Versitis. Decontextualization of God’s big story.

  • E Adam Kallel

    Excellent Article. You caught the issue spot on.

  • Xiu Jing

    There is definitely some validity in this article – that we don’t have to earn His grace, which was given to us at the cost of Jesus (His son). If you teach from the point of the character, it is all going to be about them. But, if you teach from the point of God’s grace, and faithfulness, it leaves you/kids in awe of God.

    • Xiu,

      Great summary of the gospel.

      Thank you,


      • Xiu Jing

        hey Sam, it is a good short brief to remind teachers of sunday schools. I am a member of the Sunday School – and i do appreciate such reminders. Have shared it with other teachers 😉 Thank God for you! Have a lovely day.
        Xiu Jing

        • WordPress.com Support

          It is God’s way. He wants us to need each other. You remind me of the gospel, I remind you.

          We all need God, and the people he Chooses to use.


  • GPFR

    I guess my counsel would be neither approach.

    Get a good complete Bible story book like Eggermeiers. It tells all the major stories of the Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation in a straight forward fashion, without the author inserting her theological bias. Read it from start to finish to your kids, over the course of a year or so. You don’t need to comment much about the stories, unless the kids ask you questions. If they do, discuss it with them.

    For most kids, the Bible stories will catch their imagination, and they will really look forward to hearing the next one. They will absorb the sweep of Biblical history. They will see how all the stories hang together and form a magnificent whole. They will see God working with and in and through His people. They will develop a healthy fear of the Lord, based on his power and might and holy righteousness as well as coming to understand his great love for each individual that He has created. They will see the centrality of the gospel in the Word of God. Nothing can compare with the Bible. Give them all the stories in order. After you have done that, introduce them to the Bible itself and it will make so much more sense to them.

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  • Daniel Stroud

    This article makes a couple of decent points, but I almost wrote it off because your title is so over-the-top absurd. Obviously if Sunday school teachers are teaching that curriculum then it should be a modified, as any serious Christian, much less any Christian educator could see plainly. But Sunday school, even poorly taught Sunday school is not “destroying” our kids. Poverty, war, attacks on education, the crushing debt of college, the inability of some children to find stability at home, human trafficking, etc… Those are destroying kids. And the articles titled with absurdly hyperbolic titles in the interest of attracting eyeballs are, as you so succinctly put, a lie.

  • David Adkins

    While I am not an atheist, I to have left the bondage of what passes for Orthodoxy behind in favor of a spirituality that makes more sense to me. The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak wasn’t the Bible stories in and of themselves, but the refusal of the church of my youth to accept that these were a combination of myths, legends and allegories. What drove me away was the mental gymnastics needed to ignore basic scientific principles like evolution because the two Genesis creation myths (and yes Genesis 1 and 2 are completely different accounts with different creation orders). That is why I and many others of my generation have left for greener pastures.

    • tehFork

      So you left Orthodox Christianity because of Genesis? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There ARE other ways to look at those chapters.

      • David Adkins

        Genesis is just one glaring example. There are many more, such as the whole Christ died for our sins sacrificial atonement motif, the belief that Christianity is the best/only way for salvation, the faith vs works argument… Not to mention all of the scholarship that brings into question many of the stories that Orthodoxy insist are infallible truths.

  • dianefay

    It seems like the point is made pretty clear in Sunday School that God uses imperfect people to do his work. Also, I think that Sunday School lessons usually demonstrate God’s mercy and redemption. Perhaps people turn away from the church not so much because of the lessons of ‘heroes’ from the bible as much as the general attitude that those that are perfect will be loved best and those with flaws are not as important. This article is a good reminder to Sunday School teachers to reach out and love each child and to recognize the ‘good’ that is in them, despite their shortcomings.

  • Dave

    Read the book “The Cure” it really details this. Of course this problem might not be such as issue if most Sunday School teachers were more Biblically educated people…

  • Andrew Bedford

    I buy into the thought that we need to teach the gospel as it is portrayed in Scripture i.e. that God loves losers and sinners. Our Bible heroes are some of the biggest sinners and losers (murders, adulterers, idolaters, liars, etc.) I really do want to teach the whole truth, but how do you tell a group of 4 year olds that King David was a scum bag, had sex with a married woman, and then killed her husband. A painting of that scene wouldn’t look good on the nursery wall. In children’s ministry people invest time in teaching behavior modification because that’s what parents do at home to. It’s sad when we distort the word and use it for our own ends, but the reality is we want our kids to change their behavior so badly we’ll stop at nothing to make that happen, even if it means we leave out some of the sketchy details like Ester sleeping with men out of wedlock. Somehow we’ve got to be able to teach kids God doesn’t bless because we are good but God blesses us because He’s God.

    • With an “E”

      Little kids do understand “David thought he was so perfect that he could break any rules he wanted to. He was married AND had a girlfriend, which was wrong for him to do (most know this is wrong already). He got rid of his wife and the girlfriends’s husband, which was really bad. David caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, but God forgave him…”

      • Hi “With and ‘E'”

        I love your comment and you give a perfect example of how we can describe these faults to young kids. They have an innate sense of fair-play–and they would know that David was being unfair to his wife if he also had a “girl friend.”

        We don’t have to explain adultery to a five-year old. We can demonstrate unfairness.

        I love your example. Thanks.

  • Chris Nunez

    Sam I don’t know if you’re a Catholic, this fine web site says you’re too hip to be posting for some Catholic parish, but I personally would make you the head of catechesis for my whole diocese if I was a bishop — which will never happen cause you have to be a priest, and women can’t be priests. Just sayin’ this is one darn fine explanation of how to treat the gospel message. Many blessings for the work you do for the young and the ‘new comer’ to the faith! Peace and grace.!

    • Hi,

      I’m so sorry i didn’t respond to your comment earlier.

      Thanks for your gracious and great comments.

      No, I am not Catholic, nor a priest, nor a woman. But my brother is a Catholic and teaches at a Catholic seminary. Does that help?

      Seriously, I appreciate your kindness.

  • tehFork

    I’m sorry. I don’t usually do this, but I just had to sign in to say that Esther didn’t exactly have sex outside of wedlock, as you describe it. I’m pretty sure she was one of the many girls in the city who were plucked up to become one of Ahasuerus’ wives. You’re misrepresenting the details of the story in attempt to draw a modern parallel which simply does not exist. And as for Joseph being a silly narcissist, I guess the real question is did his prophetic dreams come to pass?

    If you really want to get to the heart of why kids don’t take the church seriously anymore, perhaps you should more closely examine why megachurch evangelicals eschew dignity and solemnity in their worship services and replace them rock bands and slick Power Point jumbo-trons.

  • Spencer

    “So why do we burden our children with the unbearable load of “being good little boys and girls like the heroes in the Bible”?” Ummmm, is it possible that you just said this? To reiterate, you are wondering WHY we BURDEN our children with the UNBEARABLE LOAD of BEING GOOD little boys and girls like the heroes of in the Bible…in what world is it a BURDEN to aim at BEING GOOD?!? Please tell me I do not live in that world…

  • Paul Prosise

    I agree that the “lies” in the article, when left out of context, may heave undue burdens on our children. There are good points within this article, I am concerned though, that there is a lack of parent’s responsibility within the article.

    It seems to me that there’s an unfortunate trend with blaming the public school systems and now blaming the “Sunday school system” or church.

    At most, churches have 2-4 hours a week with our kids, and we somehow blame the church for the kids fall from faith. As a former youth pastor I was always blown away when parents felt the kid’s entire spiritual well-being was my job and not theirs.

    Our culture has shifted from personal responsibility to something totally different, which I feel is reflected in the article.

    Isn’t our job, as parents and spiritual leaders within our house, to fill in the gaps that Sunday School has left out? Maybe as a church, we could be doing a better job of teaching in full context, rather than nice warm fuzzy, super-hero wrapped lessons. But let’s also not forget our job as parents.

    • Paul Prosise

      Let’s also remember this:
      “Goodness” is mentioned in the NT as being a fruit of the Spirit. There is much value in “goodness.” Jesus was the ultimate “good.” We are to emulate Him, even as we look to Him for our salvation. Our poor attempts at “goodness” certainly do not save us, however!
      Being “good” may not be as bad as it’s chalked up to be.

  • Dean Chao

    Let’s not forget Sunday School has raised many faithfuls as well. Isn’t it prideful to erase all the good Sunday School has done based on a few stories that prove there’s room for improvement? Where’s the grace and gratitude in such an article that negates the ministry of so many faithful servants throughout Christendom? How can one know that the Holy Spirit is NOT at work in Sunday School as is? Imitation of faith is what the Bible commends. (Heb 11; parable of the talents; 1 Cor. 11:1; Job 1:8; Gen 26:1-5). From the parable of the soil, and the account of Jesus feeding 5000, Samuel’s kids, Eli’s kids, Judas, Adam and Eve, we learn not all will stay in faith even when they have close encounters with God. We are just fallen creatures! It is part of the Gospel that most will reject and few will repent. But by attacking how Sunday School is taught is NOT the Gospel way. If you don’t agree with the Sunday School curriculum/teaching method/etc, here’s what I believe God would want us to do: Treat the Sunday School teachers to a nice lunch, talk to them as people, thank them for their service, edify them as children of God, exhort them as saints redeemed by Christ’s blood, care for them as members of divine family, ask them about challenges in ministry and pray fervently for them. See if God would not transform your heart and theirs to glorify His Kingdom.

  • beth

    well – plenty more issues with sunday schools as well here…


  • Eric Walter

    The central point of this article is spot on! For too long children have been steeped in biblical moralism that is a training ground for terrible Christians. However, I disagree with the article’s reform. Though I do believe that the grace of God throughout the testaments is important for children to understand, I think that a Christocentric theology of both testaments is needed more. Yes, Abraham was an idol worshipper and sure Joseph could have been a brat (there is no evidence of this claim)- but the Scriptures aren’t about personal salvation they are about the story of God caught up in the story of Jesus. I pray for a curriculum that teaches children that Jesus was the better David, the better Joseph- the best prophet, priest, and king. Kids love story just like God. Tell them the story of God.

    -Eric Walter

  • WK

    With whom did Esther have extra-marital sex?

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel

      no one.

  • Brian A. Reynolds

    Easy to be critical . . . I agree in principal, but if you’re going to blast every curriculum that ever was please contribute to change by designing a better one. Thanks.

    • Josh

      there are better ones already though… and not everyone who is able to see the flaws in a design possess the ability to correct them. But they can bring the flaws to the attention of those who can make the corrections. That seems to be the point of the article. Well, a sub-point at least.

      • Brian A. Reynolds

        Well put . . . I just sometimes get tired of people that constantly point out flaws in things yet they are not ready to step up and actually help with change. Thats where my comment came from. I totally agree with you man.

  • Leslie

    I can’t believe that when you read the story of Esther that’s what you get. Esther didn’t have sex outside of marriage; she was conscripted into a system of sex trafficking like most other beautiful women in the kingdom. I agree with your premise that the “Be good and God will love you” version of Sunday school is bad, but I’m pretty sure you’re version is just as bad. The Bible doesn’t regard Abraham simply as an idolater or Joseph as a narcissist or David as a murderer. Each is praised for his heart or even his deeds. The Bible is complicated and presents God and people as complicated, as we certainly are.

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  • Ryan Jantzi

    well done. well said. great post.

  • Grace

    But to counter all those stories, there is the parable of the Prodigal Son. His father loved him and welcomed him home despite that fact that he was NOT good. Actually, many of the “heroes” struggled with being disobedient or making the wrong decisions, and yet God stayed with them. When they are finally transformed by God’s love, they are bolstered with the strength to become heroes. That was the message that was taught to me in Sunday School.

  • Jim Nyenhuis

    While I think this critique is spot-on, I would think again about the approach to the OT stories mentioned. These are not stories first and foremost, as the comparison with Beauty and the Beast might suggest, of God’s redemption of sinners (the inclusion of Esther here is especially troubling). Primarily, these are stories that indicate the power of God to enact his will for his people, despite the obstacles put in front of them by the world and, most crucially, despite the obstacles that they themselves occasionally become. That God DOES redeem them is in fact not a necessary part of the plot; it is ADDED grace. There is the troubling example of Judas to consider here.

    But overall, I do appreciate what you’re trying to say.

  • Darren
  • Lisa Hammond

    Love this! A great curriculum for teaching God’s faithfulness throughout the Bible regardless of the human’s strengths or sin, is the DesiringGod Children’s 2 year Bible Read through program! I also really enjoy the Jesus Storybook Bible for this too!

  • Mariah

    “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.”

    Considering that she and many other women were taken from their homes to be used by a king (likely without consent), I find the implication that Esther is somehow guilty for her first sexual encounter being outside of marriage to be in very poor taste.

  • Bill Krill

    I really don’t think it’s the message, it’s the structure: Sunday School structure was a great invention 150 years ago, and it made sense for those times, but the structure has taken the basic responsibility for Christian Education out of the hands of the parents (parents, who themselves may not be even attending worship let alone Sunday School). Until the Church ‘gets it’ that the faith is about relationship, healing pain, and giving people skills to improve their relationships with each other and God, the Church will continue its decline.

  • Joy_F

    How about Esther was chosen to join a harem of a crazy, brutal king and God still used her? I don’t ever remember reading anywhere that she went willingly, or unwillingly – her choice and “purity” status in this seems to not have anything to do with the point.

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  • preachergirl25

    I really think that you gave Esther a bum wrap…She didn’t really have a choice in the matter. She didn’t just “have sex before marriage”.

  • Jana Duke

    I love this article. In our Godly Play class when we ask, “Where do you see yourself in the story?” the children often say that they see themselves making mistakes. They are more honest than most adults.

  • Amy

    I can see truth in what you’re saying, for sure. We shouldn’t utilize opportunity for teaching children by teaching them idealized circumstances and life-styles. However, I still believe that Sunday School is extremely important; we simply need to stop “dumbing it down.” Sure, they (depending on their age) may not be able to grasp everything, but we should speak to them with depth and personal examples from our own lives, revealing how to respond when we distance ourselves from God through sin, and how He will always take us back with mercy and grace. That being said, we should draw closer to God, thus desiring to live a life that reflects Him. There’s no reason to enforce a “sin so that grace may abound” attitude. They just need to know the full story.

  • Judith Divoky

    Kat Michael’s comment is encouraging. Am very far away from Sunday School but care about this. Megan O’Rourke Jones speaks of a Sunday School play about the Ten Commandments. Why can’t we concentrate on lthe new covenant with Jesus using the beatitudes He gave us and the two prime commands, Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” From recent reading, we should know about the Ten, but our lives should be built around the Beatitudes and the New Covenant. Some preachers call this the Gospel of Grace.

  • Judith Divoky

    PS Am leaving and want to note that I haven’t yet read all the comments. Will do.

  • Tim

    `before we are good’?

    I hate to point out the obvious here, but a typical atheist argument is that Christianity is great at solving the problem it’s just given you in the first place.

    A better thing to teach would be that good and evil exist, in all times and places and people, how to identify each, and to try and choose the right course.

    I think the problem of sunday school as presented is oversimplification.

  • koochfive

    if you’re pinning all your hopes of your Children following God on Sunday School, you’re probably not going to get the desired result.

  • Marcus Williams

    I would make one criticism of it, namely “Let’s teach the wonder of the gospel. Let’s show our kids that God loves us … simply because he loves us. In our beastliness. That he loves us before we are good”. The author probably understands that God loves us, not out of some ambigous “okay now I love you without any means sort of way” but rather “the wonder of the gospel” is the death of Christ on behalf of sinful man. But I would agree with the premise of the article and have been thinking about this myself.

  • tlsheets

    I feel putting the blame on Sunday School for your child’s rejection of Christ is really extreme. They are in Sunday School for about 1 hours a week. It is the parents job to mold and shape the child.

  • Jeff Cornelius

    Good article…

    In my opinion, your comments seem a little more “in your face” than necessary–but the point still stands. We do often teach more performance than grace, especially to our children.

    I agree that these Bible characters were good because they were loved, not the other way around. I hate to see us teaching and perpetuating a fear-based motivation for doing good, when a love-based motivation is the way Jesus teaches us.

  • robert/Dad/Paw

    I know where you are coming from and you are right with what you say, but Young children ages 1-12 or even 16 can not digest much theology. I believe that children need to first know that God is the Creator of all things and that He loves us and cares about us, but He wants us to do the right things. He wants us to obey our parents, do well in school, keep our bodies clean, eat the right foods, not to lie, cheat or steal..(10 commandments) Children need to know that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to show us how to live and that he took the punishment that we all deserve when we do something wrong for us. (However you want to explain it to a child). This will give them the message that we should strive to be good and do the right things. (Our parents and our God, our teachers want us to do)…they need this. You can’t go wrong teaching this to a child. That is what is wrong in our world today. Children are no longer taught to respect their parent and teachers. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. There is no God….etc.

    If you teach a child (1-12 ) about all of the sins that everyone committed in the Bible he is going to get the impression that it does not matter how we live. I don’t have to be good because Jesus paid the price for my sins. It is OK for me to lie, cheat, comment adultery, homosexuality, murder…Abraham did, Joseph did, Ham did it. Jacob did, David did, Peter did ….and so on. I don’t think you want that.

    There are many adults that have a problem understanding that much less children. I have witness to many young adults who do not want God or his Son Jesus in their lives just because of this. That is the first thing that they will throw out at me. “What about all of the people in the Bible that were killed?” What about all of the sinful things people in the Bible did in their lives?” What kind of God is that?”

    ..and this is 20 and even 30 year olds. So don’t expect a child to digest the Bible. I think most Sunday school are doing the right thing. They can study Theology when they are old enough to try and understand it.

    God’s Grace to You. Bob

  • Annette

    I had tears in my eyes as I read this. The thought that God loves us in our beastliness is so beautiful and touched my heart at a time I really need to hear it.

    • WordPress.com Support

      I’m thrilled you are moved.

      That’s the gospel.


    • Annette,

      I think we ALL need to hear it. I write to myself as much as to anyone.

      Thanks for your encouragement. It means a great deal.

  • Libby

    oh my goodness yes! “We wouldn’t load a pack mule with the burdens we place on our children.” WORD. In the past year I started teaching preschool at our church and using a really great curriculum called Orange. The themes are rich and focus on “God made me, God loves me and He wants to be my friend forever” For the first time in a SS setting I was teaching the story of Zaccheaus as a man whom Jesus loved even when he was bad. Jesus loves you when you’re naughty is an super important truth for 3 and 4 year olds to have as foundational truths to stand on for the rest of their lives.

  • JessHB

    I was really gelling with this article until I got to the “reframing” of the Esther story toward the end. “Having sex outside of marriage with a non-believer” is more like “Raped in an arranged/forced marriage.” I think your article could be strengthened if you remove Esther as an example or rewrite that line for a more accurate telling of Esther’s experience. Thanks.

    • Heather

      Thank you for that! I couldn’t agree more with you! As I stated in my comment above, it’s a bit of a sexist problem in church culture that so often a woman’s sin in the Bible is interpreted as some type of sexual sin and poor choosing of a man. And then the grace offered is always how God can use the poor damaged goods girl. When in reality, Esther was doing the best she could as a woman in those days. Her flaw was immediately fearing for her own safety over that of an entire group of people. It wasn’t until her uncle beat into her that she wouldn’t be spared, that she finally sucked it up and went to the king. The better statement about her story, is God can use us to save people, even if we’re most concerned with saving ourselves first. Her story has absolutely nothing to do with her sex life.

  • Collette

    I enjoyed this article very much and the ensuing comment discussion even more. I am a Christian school teacher and I deal with 5th & 6th graders every day. I have a responsibility to teach my students about sin and its consequences as well as the saving grace of our Savior. It isn’t an either/or situation. I am going to be held accountable for how I have taught my students and that is a very sobering thing. It is therefore imperative that i teach what sin is and then correct it when I encounter it with appropriate punishment. Then I must show that student that I love them. Now the mort important part is I acknowledge my sin before my students such as losing my patience with them and seeking their forgiveness. They are always so ready to forgive; it is very humbling. We serve a great God and though I am in my 60’s,have raised two kids of my own who are now raising their families in the Lord, I learn from my students and grandchildren everyday. Children that are saved are little brothers and sisters in Christ and they can understand that the sanctification process is a lifelong endeavor but can be a wonderful adventure with Christ by their side.

  • Jim

    Hmmmm. I’m going to swim upstream a bit here and question the notion that poor teaching in Sunday School caused the anecdotal son to reject Christ. That would seem to attribute the same cause and effect that the author critiques in SS lessons. If God’s pursuit of a moon worshipping pagan was on God’s initiative, not the pagan’s, then God can call that woman’s son to Himself as well. Additionally, the author is distinguishing some fairly subtle theological points here. So, poor theology isn’t unique to traditional Sunday School and, more often, it’s the teacher not the method. Growing up in Sunday School, I remember hearing that God demonstrated His love for me in Christ’s death for me. In varying ways that spoke to my age level, but a repeating message. So, let’s be careful of blaming poor play on the hole in our racket. Sometimes it’s that we simply need to practice and prepare more.

  • disqus_lI2d255MYu

    I can agree somewhat, but the author is too salacious in making his point. The misunderstanding that God doesn’t love us based on our works or our behavior is a timeless historical problem in all aspects of our personal and church life. Not just Sunday School. But where that is a “problem”, there is a different kind of “dilemma” in how we teach others about righteous behavior while not teaching that Jesus loves us based on our good deeds. The author doesn’t add anything to understanding this “dilemma” he just jumps to calling the Sunday School teaching of righteous behavior “lies”, as if he is Martin Luther talking to the Catholic Church. He would have done better to explain why we do good, but he never did. He could have said, “we do good to love God or to love others, not to get God to love us.” I think the former generation was all about “do good, do good” and the current Donald Miller generation is all about, “look how bad I can be and God still loves me”. It’s like righteousness and grace are at odds with each other, when they shouldn’t be. I wish this author and others would be a little more balanced and help us understand the dilemma we face and not just take a side. When you take a side, you turn a dilemma into a problem. The Bible does praise these Bible characters for their good choices, righteousness, and faith. What he calls, “pack mule moralism” is a good little quip, but Jesus himself gave a lot of moral imperatives and asked us to be perfect as He is perfect. So I say, he is right, but so are the Sunday School teachers. How is he going to teach righteousness and how are they going to teach grace? This is the present debate between hipster Christians and the established Church. It would be good if he understood the debate.

  • Janet Ross

    Wish I could read all 261 comments. The ones I have seem very thoughtful and maybe someone has already said this.

    Sam, I have a problem with the statement:

    The message of the gospel—the entire storyline of scripture—is God’s
    loving pursuit of people who run from him as fast as they can and who
    live lives unworthy of his love.

    I am created in God’s image. In that I am worthy of God’s love. I may not be perfect, but I live as graciously as I can. Is the only way to live well enough to be worthy of God’s love is to be ‘perfect’ in God’s eyes? But I am not God so I cannot be perfect. I am a human being, created excellently by God. I cannot be perfect, but I can be excellently me. If that is considered ‘unworthy’ then God has set me up to be mindf***ed, or more accurately, spiritf***ed. Which make God abusive and not worthy of my love.

  • Doubter

    Part of the problem is that we continue to perpetuate the notion that “god” is some kind of super man who gets to dole out blessings and grace…but really there must be something else mustn’t there

  • Sheila

    I think it is shallow just like most so called preaching and teaching of Gods word. What did Jesus Christ teach, the Kingdom of God, repentance of our sin, belief in Him and hell. It’s very common these days to leave out repentance and Hell.

    • Hi Sheila,

      I agree that we need to hear (and DO) more repentance of our sins. I also believe in our need to hear more about hell. So we are agreed there.

      My problem with programs that talk about the “goodness” of the heroes of the faith is simple: they focus on their goodness rather than their repentance.

      I don’t mean to disparage our Christian heroes. I mean to say that they too need to repent. (And so do we.)

      The danger of failing to mention their faults is two-fold: a) it forgets that they too had much to repent for, and b) it makes us try to live up to them rather than humbly coming to God.

      One of the reasons I love the four gospels is how they portray the disciples. They are always doing dumb things, fighting for who is best, and eventually abandoning Jesus. They have much to repent for, and they do repent. I sometimes think that the best leaders are the best repenters, not the most gifted.


  • Guest

    It is an interesting article, but overly simplified in regards to what Sunday school teachers teach. Also, and more importantly, it sounds like a cop-out that the parents in this story are blaming Sunday school for ruining their son’s chance with Christianity. If they had tried to show him, teach him, and raise him they way they’ve described, then an hour a week of Sunday school wouldn’t have made such a difference. In addition to this, I have taught Sunday school and in situations where the kids are taught at home, they have brought insight, good questions, and other perspectives to the lessons and discussions. Soo…I’m gonna call a BS on those parents. Also, where is this person leaving room for God to do his work? Is he not capable of taking care of her son’s salvation? Is she lacking trust in God that her son will go through the journey he needs to go through before returning to his Father? I’m not trying to be critical, but to spread this as an epiphany is nonsense.

  • Amanda

    It is an interesting article, but overly simplified in regards to what Sunday school teachers teach. Also, and more importantly, it sounds like a cop-out that the parents in this story are blaming Sunday school for ruining their son’s chance with Christianity. If they had tried to show him, teach him, and raise him they way they’ve described, then an hour a week of Sunday school wouldn’t have made such a difference. In addition to this, I have taught Sunday school and in situations where the kids are taught at home, they have brought insight, good questions, and other perspectives to the lessons and discussions. Soo…I’m gonna call a BS on those parents. Also, where is this person leaving room for God to do his work? Is he not capable of taking care of her son’s salvation? Is she lacking trust in God that her son will go through the journey he needs to go through before returning to his Father? I’m not trying to be critical, but to spread this as an epiphany is nonsense.

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    These are good questions to ask. I absorbed a few things from Sunday School and various 1990s popular youth programs that weren’t healthy for my faith. Despite my parents teaching me the opposite at home, I still absorbed those things, especially as a teenager. It does behoove us to ask what the kids in our family are learning from others (and as a godmother with no direct children of my own, I realize that it’s not just mommy and daddy who can be responsible for this).

  • Heather

    Really liked the article and in non-denominational churches outside of the Bible belt, you find many of them focusing more and more on Grace. It’s really wonderful. … And then you realize the kids getting raised in these churches don’t even know who Esther is. Bit of a double-edged sword on that one. Lot’s of focus on New Testament Grace and pastors recognizing the kid’s parents probably weren’t raised in church and know little of the Bible themselves, so the kids thrive in feeling loved. But their Biblical education is somewhat lacking. No church is perfect.
    However, I don’t like your argument for Esther one bit. You make her sound like a whore, which is an annoying sexist statement. It’s irritating to see the flaws of women in the Bible always focus on their sex life – as if sexual impurity is the greatest woman’s problem and grace is so beautiful in letting these women off the hook – so to speak. When in reality, Esther didn’t really have a choice in becoming the King’s bedmate, whether he was a believer or not. No women had marital choices in those days. And she was a virgin and then titled queen, which states the point she was in fact married before she had sex. I argue, her actual issue, was fear for her own safety above everyone else. She argues with her uncle that she could be put to death, seemingly more concerned for herself, than the slaughter of her people. In fact, relaying to her uncle that it’s been 30 days since the king has called her…arguing that their marriage isn’t so great. She has issues, and can’t be expected to worry about anyone else’s at the moment.
    I think a more apt point is that God shows grace, even when we fear for ourselves, and thus put ourselves above others. Instead of some overused line about a woman being promiscuous and stupid in who she chooses as a mate, but God can use the slut girl anyway.

    • Hi Heather,

      As you can imagine, there has been a large outcry against my inclusion of Esther and my comments about moral ambiguity.

      I wish I hadn’t included her. It has become a huge distraction from the point of the blog article (which has to do more with God’s grace even when we don’t deserve it). I didn’t mean for this to turn into a debate about Esther.

      I agree that the times she lived in were brutal, brutal to everyone, man and woman. Part of the point of the book of Esther is one man’s desire to wipe out every Jew from the face of the earth. Times were brutal.

      The best commentary on Esther that I’ve ever read is written by Karen H. Jobes. She is intelligent, scholarly, and gives a great, balanced view of the book and life of Esther.

      Thank you for your comment,


  • The Quadfather

    This has got to be one of the best articles on raising Godly children (or simply new believers) I’ve ever read. Thank you!

    • Thanks!

      And you just wrote one of the kindest comments I’ve ever received.


  • Mike Kresnik

    This article is great. The Old Testament isn’t just about how to be like the heros that went before us.

    However, it does miss one point that the Bible does make over and over. The OT is about Jesus. The story about Moses points us to the Better Deliver. The story about Abraham points us to a Better Sacrifice. The stories about David point to the Better Shepherd and King.

    After the resurrection Jesus took his disciples through the Law and the Prophets and showed them how the Scriptures were about HIM, not just about “how God pursued his people.”

    • Mike,

      I COMPLETELY agree with you. All of scripture is a revelation of Jesus.

      Are you a Tim Keller fan? He is the one that taught me that lesson.

      Thanks, I agree with you.


  • Carol

    Our job as teachers is to teach the learners and not always the lesson. It is our responsibility to take the lesson; however fluffy it might be, to the level of the students. (Whatever the level) Our role is also to have quality material – don’t like the material; then throw it out and use the ultimate curriculum…the Scripture itself.
    It should be considered a sin to bore them about God’s Holy Word and just teach it because that is in curriculum guide for this week.

  • CaralfromSoCal

    Wow, where to start? I guess I just don’t know what churches you have been attending, or what curriculum you have used. In all the churches I know, the teachers and children’s ministry directors are passionately aware that we have only one hour a week to make a difference. We know that everything we say must ultimately point to the gospel of grace, the Lordship of Jesus.

    I just cannot accept the premise. First of all, I cannot accept the premise that Sunday School is responsible for someone rejecting the claim of Christ on their life. Parents, schools, TV, ipods, video games, sports…these all have multiples of ten times more TIME with kids than Sunday School does.

    Second of all, I reject the premise that this is what is being taught. I really do. I have looked at enough Sunday School and VBS curriculum, that I know what the point is for most of them. Tell me which curriculum you think really doesn’t want the gospel to be the main point? I have taught a lot of them – some well written, some poorly written, and a few that have made me shake my head…but they ALL continually pointed to the gospel.

    That leaves the teachers. Frankly, it is difficult to find Sunday School teachers who can consistently be there for the kids. The ones we do find are busy people who love the Lord and are doing the best they can. Could it be that they are not as well-trained as they could be? Yes. Could it be that they don’t always get across the main points as well as they should, or are even perhaps occasionally poorly prepared? Why, yes, it could. But it is equally true that these people love children, and are serving them as a response to a call God put on their heart.

    I suggest that everyone who agrees with the simplistic idea proposed should be volunteering to help. We need more people who know how to throw out the curriculum and teach 2nd graders from the Bible. We need more people who understand how every verse is related to the scarlet thread of redemption running straight from the Cross of Christ. So if you think Sunday School is as critically important as this article points out, go sign up. Go sign up now to teach or to assist.

    • As a former Sunday School director.. even though I personally no longer believe… I agree with what you’re saying here, this article is just ridiculous.

  • networkingnancy

    We also teach the old testament as “stories” not history. That includes Genesis which is attacked in the schools with evolution. We lose our kids because they don’t believe the Bible as it is written. I home schooled my kids and taught them with material from Creation to now and both of them are in their late 20’s and strong men of God. They know I and their dad believed the Word as God had it written and not reinterpreted with so called science gobblety gook.

  • Martha

    How can you compare “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer” to David being a murdering adulterer and the others? Esther was taken as a sex slave – it was not voluntary! Her sin that is highlighted in the book was her fear of the king killing her if she spoke up for her people, the Jews.

  • Kristen

    Thank you. Couldn’t agree more! Recently concluded a six-weeks study on Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God and see so clearly the implications of “elder brother” moralism. I’ve also written several posts in the same vein…as this to me is the reason why so many raised in the church leave church when they go off on their own. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Nancy Watson

    Excellent point, but not a fan of the title. So the lesson is: ‘God will stalk you down till you give up and then do something great w/your life.’? or…’Hey, weren’t these people awesome for God.’? Do either really encourage kids to open their hearts to Christ? Both focus on the human side. The urge needs to be the relationship w/our holy, creator God, and our part is the trust to the death. Most OT greats show this as their trust is tested. They often reach the hard spot and say, ‘There’s no God but You.’, not, ‘Wow, I’m whipped. You take over, God.’

    The very hardest fact to face, that can’t be accommodated with SS adjustments, is that trusting God is not passed from one person to the next ~ mother to son, sister to sister, etc. Your child very well may not embrace Christ, at all. It’s certainly one of the very hardest facts to face. Yes, pray for them, but the result is between them and God. A child choosing to go their own way, rejecting God, shouldn’t be a parent guilt trip, or thinking a more relevant story would have made all the difference. Though granted, a relevant bible lesson is always a good thing.

  • Buffalo

    It is so easy to blame the church,SS, college, or some ONE for the rebellion and unbelief of a sinner. The first question should not be, “where did the church or SS fail my child? But rather, did I have all my ducks in a row as a parent? Since when is it the responsibility of the SS to disciple my children? I am the parent and I am responsible. This smacks of another case of church bashing.

  • B.A. Worldchanger

    I think you guys have missed one big point here about why kids leave the church. It’s not just because of Sunday school lessons. It’s MUCH bigger than that. They leave because they don’t see Jesus in their home, in their church, or anywhere in their lives. They don’t see the power of the Holy Spirit. They don’t have spiritual fathers mentoring them like Paul to Timothy. So, they see these great (redeemed)
    men of God in the scripture, then they look around their church and their families and say, “Huh, I don’t see anything like that here.” And, then they begin to believe that it must not be true, because that is what they hear everywhere else in the world, and there is not enough evidence in their minds and lives to the contrary.

  • Maria Laura Valdez

    Food for thought b(^_^). I teach the older elementary school kids, so I thought I’d read this article. I don’t think it’s bad, but I think it might be incomplete. The point of the stories we read in the Bible are to see how God and humans interact and to find how each encounter is applied to our own lives. Yes, the focus sometimes might be off…but young children might not be able to grasp some of the concepts you presented–like narcissism, adultery, or sex–though some in the age group I teach might. I think it is important to make each class age-appropriate, based on what we learn from each person’s example and how we can apply it to our lives…the good and the bad. The function of the teaching style you mentioned, I believe, is to inspire children and to give them role models. I was raised in the church and have never been hampered by the methods they used to teach Sunday school. When I got older and had a wider understanding of things, teachers changed their style and gave stories a context. That helped to see each figure as they were, people, and how they were just like you and me…but only once my mind could comprehend.

    I’ll definitely take this into consideration the next time I sit down to plan a class!

    Thanks for posting.

  • Daryl Branson

    If your kids are rejecting Christianity, maybe its because they read 1 Samuel 15:2-3 and decided God was too violent for them.

  • Carolyn Sultz

    I like this article a lot, but where do you get your comments about Esther from. Wouldn’t she have been considered married to he king. And do you honestly believe that she had a say about being intimate with him?

  • justi

    This is very good…but let’s not forget to grasp something. Sunday School in whatever form is to reenforce what children are being taught at home. I personally didn’t grow up hearing what was stated above…and I was a good girl, Baptist Sunday School attender. I remember, in my mind, hearing “wow…they did all of this “stuff” and God still loved them! HE worked through them despite their sinful, treacherous ways.” If anything it gave me hope that even though they were sinners…just like me…God was able to use them in mighty ways…for GOD’s glory…not theirs. But I am wondering if maybe it was because that’s what I was taught at home…and Sundays were where I heard more facts of the stories. Sometimes…and I’m not saying you…but sometimes my generation is very good at pointing out the faults of past generations, without really getting to the heart of the matter. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Live it, teach it to your kids…don’t expect Sunday School teachers to be the soul provider of what your kids learn. Just a thought.

  • Teacher

    I TOTALLY AGREE! If this is the way I had taught Bible in the public schools for thirty-five years, no one would have signed up. Students greatly feared that the course would be like Sunday School! Others students had to reassure them that it was a completely different kind of course.

  • Brie Graves

    I love this! My oldest is just getting the age where this is really needed for me.

  • Amy

    Your point of view is interesting, but I think that as someone who personally grew up with those stories in Sunday school, I learned the true meaning of the gospel as I grew in maturity of faith, as well as in age. You can’t explain those lofty concepts to six year olds…I see your heart though. Thanks

    • Tricia Hunting

      I disagree, I don’t want my children thinking the Patriarchs were perfect, the whole story should be taught. I was very upset to find out later about their sins and wondered why my teachers didn’t tell me the whole story. The Patriarchs and Disciples fell short, they needed Christ, just like us and He used them and loved them still. That is not too lofty for my 3, 5, and 7 year old to understand.

  • Kate Newman

    I am currently writing a curriculum for the Anglican Church of Canada. It is free and completely online. It is fine-arts infused,Gospel centered and honours the fact that in most families both parents work – no more massive amounts of hours spent on prep. Gather your supplies, read the Gospel and pray – that is your prep.
    Kate Newman, M.Ed.

  • Eljay

    Good word-Thank you for putting your thoughts & heart out there! I agree! These are bold & challenging statements that we need to wrestle with concerning what we teach our kids and even how we think as the adults teaching them. I know Im going to be taking this to heart.

  • thcbuildit

    I understand the jist of the article and am somewhat in agreement. But at what point do these “little boys and girls” have to grow up and put on their big boy pants and big girl panties and admit the fact that they often run from God, not because of what they’ve taught in Sunday school, but because they just simply want to do things their own way. Yes they need to know, especially when they are running that God loves them and is pursuing them. But, they do have some responsibility in this as well.

  • Kate Newman

    Sunday School teachers need prayers for encouragement not articles that make them wonder if all their efforts were for the worst.
    Yes, kids need to be in church – not just in the basement colouring. Yes – kids need to hear the Gospel and teachers need to be entrusted with the gift of telling the Gospel stories.
    When kids get the chance to creatively respond to their faith, they are empowered.
    What children think about faith matters,Christ told us they are the experts – we aren’t.
    I am writing this curriculum for the Anglican Church of Canada – it’s free and it’s online. I hope that it empowers teachers and inspires kids.
    Jesus was gather best teacher. If we make His words clear to the kids and invite the kids to worship with us, the rest will take care of itself. Kate Newman M.Ed.

  • jason

    Raw and true. Just as it should be. Keep it up! 😉

  • Rhenier Labuschagne


  • Susan

    Do you think some of it is that Sunday School teachers don’t really believe themselves that God could be THAT loving and THAT forgiving, so they miss bits out! I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that sometimes in the past myself. It’s only in recent years that I’ve realised just how forgiven I really am, and that I am loved no matter what I do!

  • dan

    This article is complete nonsense. If you think the stories you speak of teach us all to be plastic good little boys and girls; you don’t know the stories. The stories don’t tell us to be good and then God will bless us. How you can even think that is beyond amazing.
    Was Abraham a good little boy? Let’s see now, he lied about his wife. Twice. He slept with his hand made because he WASN’T trusting God. etc. etc.
    How about David? Pure heart huh? Ask Uriah.
    What these stories tell us, is the same thing that Jesus told us. That God can use us even when we fail. Even when we are less than we should be or could be. That He loves us even when we are ‘bad boys’, and that love never goes away. That we can be someone in life despite our frailties and shortcomings so long as we walk with Him.
    If you don’t see that in these stories, maybe you should go back to sunday school and get it right instead of criticizing those who happen to think God put those stories there for a reason.
    People leave the church, not because Sunday School has failed. They leave because, as you said, mankind has always run away from God. Even Solomon ran away from God for a time. Jesus told a story of the prodigal son. Why? Because it relates to who we are. Most Christians have been prodigals at some point. What brought us back? God’s love and for many people, the foundation that was laid in church and sunday school.
    I totally agree, as a drama director, that we do want to be creative and think outside the box, but that doesn’t mean round filing God’s words and teachings about those who failed much of the time, and still had successful lives.

    • You claim the article is “complete nonsense” then proceed to make most of the same points the author makes in your comments. A bit odd, that.

      • Thanks for pointing that out. I was thinking the same thing … I think he and I agree (even though my article was “nonsense”).

  • Janice Rogers

    I think your point stretched a bit thin when you say Esther had sex outside of marriage. I think she offered herself as a sacrifice for her people. It wasn’t lust. In fact, it was a form of marriage, a commitment, that was permanent in its way. If the king did not choose her, she wasn’t free to go marry someone else. Instead she would spend the rest of her days as part of his haram, never visited again by the king.

    Also, this was not my experience in Sunday school at all. We were constantly being told how to ask Jesus into our hearts, to forgive us of our sins and save our souls. We were never promised that if we were good we would be saved. And I don’t see anything wrong with holding up those persons of the Bible as role models. David was certainly an obedient, faith-filled youth before his Big Sin. Are we going to expose little kids to what David did, thus having to explain what adultery really is? Is David defined by his greatest failure or by being “a man after God’s own heart”?

    Who knows why this son has rebelled and broken his mother’s heart? But I certainly wouldn’t blame Sunday school curriculum.

  • Herbderd

    If the bible teaches us things like Tim 2:12, why would you want your kids reading from it? Jeez Laweez

  • Kim Blackwell- Zimmerman

    funny, I have been saying this for a couple years. for some reason, we left Jesus out of sunday school, and now show veggie tales, and have puppets shows…again entertainment intead of education …

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  • Patrick Hall

    I think you have mixed up the story of the gospel so much it’s unbelievable. If your story is true then everyone would be good, because God loves everyone
    . Yes, GOd loves us and pursues us, and then we turn from our ways and believe in Him. Then through His power in our lives we are enabled to do good.

  • Jessica Sterling

    Amen to that!

  • Eric Livingston

    Thought folks figured that out in 1974. Men and women in scripture are obviously broken. I can’t remember a Sunday school class when that wasn’t used to highlight God’s love and grace. You might be in the wrong Sunday school class.

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful comments. I agree that many of the resources out there do not help equip the children or Sunday School teachers. “Be a good child” is an unattainable goal.
    However, I find the church in general is increasingly teaching a half gospel, focusing solely on God’s love. That amazing love only makes sense in the whole context of the good news. John 16:8 – The Holy Spirit comes to convict of sin, righteousness and judgement. It is our nature to sin, God’s nature is perfectly righteous, therefore we deserve judgement. That is the central issue. But through God’s unfathomable gift of love – his Son, He has provided a way around it. If we repent, we are forgiven. He removes our sins as far as the East is from the West. God gives you His righteousness, He will take away your sin, you will escape that judgement. I know that these concepts are not very popular these days, but that is the truth. It clarifies just how critical God’s love is for us.
    I think our kids are smart enough to handle the truth. In fact, sometimes they seem to understand things even more clearly because they aren’t hindered by all of our adult hang ups.

  • Catherine Morgan

    Love this, “The wonder of the gospel is not the love of the beautiful; it’s when Beauty kisses the Beast.” So true! Well said!

  • teri wyatt

    If you’ve ever done a Beth Moore study, she really scrapes the goo off the traditional stories of old, and gets you into the “real” reasons why those people were chosen. “A heart like His” shows you the truly dysfunctional side of David and his family, yet loved by God with tremendous affection, “Esther”, and “The Patriarchs” all cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of why and how God used them. You hit the nail on the head…”Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.” Even as an adult, you can still learn that!! I highly recommend any of those books if you need some deep searching for your own spiritual growth.

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  • Ginni Radford

    Good point. Except the line “Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer”. Come now. You know she had no choice. She was a young girl selected for pairing with a powerful king.

  • AES

    This is thought-provoking, but I take a little issue with your summary of Esther. I don’t think she really had much choice in the matter! And that’s not what her story is about, anyway.

  • Jill

    Wow! As a Bible curriculum writer for children, I will be taking your words seriously to heart!

  • Steve

    I completely agree that SS curriculum has dumbed down the gospel for our children. But my question is, “Who’s kids are these?” “Who gave birth to them?” The answer is us and ours! It is ultimately our responsibility and ours alone to teach our children the gospel message. Not the pastor, SS teacher, deacon, etc. The church should reinforce what is taught at home not the other way around.

    I thank God for my parents every day. The Bible was not something stuck on our shelf only to be brought out on Sunday. My dad would get up with us every morning at 6 and read the Bible and pray with us. He taught us what it meant to be a Christian. Yes, we are justified by our faith. But we also lie to ourselves when we think that a prayer we prayed as a child, is what saves us when we continue to sin and have no heart change. Repentance is not just being sorry for our sins, it is a 180 degree turn from what we are doing to what we should be doing.

    I do not know this man so I am speaking from my own church experience when I say this. I am sick of parents leaving it up to the church to teach their children the gospel. It makes me so sad when I see parents in my own church blame the church when their kids turn out rebellious or leave the gospel. Wake up parents! If we don’t understand the gospel ourselves open up the Bible and read it. Our children don’t know the Bible because we don’t know it ourselves and teach it to them. We expect our SS teaches and the pastor to explain and help us understand it every week at church. What happens when they teach false doctrine? We won’t know because we don’t check behind them and line up everything we hear against God’s Word. It’s time for parents to take back what is theirs and what was given to them. Turn off the Veggie Tales (they really burn me up by lying to our children) and get out the Bible and read the REAL story.

    Sam please don’t take offense to anything I am saying. I am not writing this to you but to ALL OF US parents. We have a job to do. Let’s do it! Raise our kids to love the Lord and know Him and leave the rest in His hands. HE loves our kids more than we ever could.

    • The truth is, despite the title, the article is more about us adults than it is
      about curriculum. Do we think (even evangelicals) that God loves us because
      we’re good?

      The woman who told me that story (about her son) was also a homeschooling mom who (I believe) did the best she knew how for her kids. And she and I talked afterwards. She admitted that she felt that if she did everything right, then God had to bless her children. So she and I talked more.

      I asked her, “Did you really do EVERYTHING right? I mean, come on.” And she
      admitted she had failed in a variety of ways, including a tendency towards

      So I asked her, “Do you want to depend on all that you did—which you admit is
      imperfect—or do you want to work hard but depend on God’s immeasurable mercy?”

      She eventually went to her son and repented for trying to appear good to others by showing how perfect her kids were. He responded well, and eventually gave his life to the Lord.

      God is merciful to us.

      • Steve

        You are right. It is about us. Our children can’t raise themselves. The power of “I’m sorry, will you forgive me” is amazing. The gospel has to be lived out in our lives not just taught from our lips. I was in no way judging this mother. We blame ourselves for every failure and shortcoming in our children’s lives. We also have a boatload of guilt the moment our children take their first breath. We ask ourself every question under the sun to try and figure out where we went wrong.

        I have 4 small children. I cry out to God daily for wisdom and guidance. My spouse and I fall many times but I thank God He picks us up every time. I don’t know the end of my kids story but I have to have faith that they will make Jesus Christ the Lord of their life.

  • Anon

    I’m not sure Sunday School is not the problem. I think it is religion in general… This probably sounds harsh and will get a lot of push back but please at least read the article below first.

    This article directly answers the question of why young people are now leaving the church. Read it. Consider it.

  • owildman

    Bottom line: If every Bible story we tell isn’t about God, then we aren’t telling it right.

  • Kathi

    After teaching Sunday School for a number of years and then directing Christian summer camp for 8 years, I can attest to this. It was difficult to find those lessons that would challenge the children in their FAITH rather than their deeds. At times, there was criticism because people want the “fluffy” lessons. However, as my own (now adult) son pointed out, our Sunday School (and sometimes Church) lessons often miss the mark when kids get out into the real world. I don’t think it’s wrong to teach about the “heroes,” but as you said, teach about their humanness and God’s plan of salvation. When I was growing up, Sunday School and youth group were where we went when our parents no longer had a clue about how to make us behave … and then Sunday School became the place they taught us to do that. (No, my parents are not Christians.) Unfortunately, many people bringing their children to Sunday School or camp expect that the leaders are teaching them standards of behavior rather than teaching them about salvation. “Fluff,” “programs,” “themes” are what sell. There is nothing wrong with having a program or theme if it addresses the spiritual issues of children … but many programs don’t do that

  • Rose

    Let’s not blame the rejection of Christianity on Sunday School material. If there are teachers out there who teach the same lessons over and over again by rote, then the problem is the attitude of the Sunday School teacher.

    I have taught Sunday School using one of the most popular Christian Sunday school curriculum for years, and I have to say that I do my homework ahead of time, and put a lot of thought into what I will be teaching to the class. After all, I am accountable for what I teach them. I try to come up with ways that put the story on the children’s level, and use illustrations that they can fully understand and apply to their own lives. We have a great group of teachers here at our church. Although we follow a curriculum course, we also add our own touches based on our personal faith in Christ. I have never seen one teacher here fail to speak up about the forgiveness of Christ, or imply that you have to be good all the time to be able to be used of God. We are not called to be moral dictators, but rather witnesses of God’s redemptive power in our own lives.

    We recently started using the Truth Trackers material. TT gives many chances for discussion and for kids to ask questions. It includes stories and object lessons that a kid can apply to their own lives. It gives many topical lessons too, ones that illustrate situations that our kids are faced with each day. It’s just not heroes of the faith, it is much more.

    There are many churches out there who are fighting, and I mean fighting for the souls of the kids who come to Sunday school. Sometimes, unsaved parents will let their kids come to Sunday school (or Vaction Bible School), even if they don’t attend church themselves. The kids are hearing about God for the first time. It is a great opportunity to witness to them about the love and mercy of God, and to tell of the saving power of Christ. We teach by example too. By being kind, showing concern and taking the time to listen. By being gentle and friendly toward them, we strive to make an impression upon kids, that God’s people are different because of who God is, because God is truly love. All of God’s stories are multi-faceted stories. Not one is cut and dried but all have different applications for all of us throughout our entire lives .It’s our responsibility as teachers to pass those different applications on to the kids we teach.

    Learning is a process, we don’t always get it the first time. I think that is why kid’s hear Bible stories so many times in their young lives. There is always more to teach through those stories as the child grows older though.

  • TM

    Really great. I graded sermons for a professor and I can’t tell you how many times I read sermons that were a “3 step plan on how to be more______(insert performance based attribute here)”. And they would outline how someone in the Bible was obedient, faithful, happy, etc. and how they were an example to get from here to there. I would always write “be careful of cause and effect sermons”. That’s the problem of looking at the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, as a blueprint of how to live our lives or a 12 step process for overcoming anything, instead of seeing it as a story with a greater purpose and meaning. My professor would teach us to look at how the story in the Old Testament fit into God’s overall plan for Israel and for humanity instead of just narrowly looking at the person’s story and applying it directly to our lives. I find so much more grace and excitement to be a part of a bigger plan when I look at the Bible that way.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for the encouragement and agreement.

      I love your closing line, “I find so much more grace and excitement to be a part of a bigger plan when I look at the Bible that way.:

      Me too.

  • homeschoolmom07

    Great article and I totally agree that this message doesn’t get spread to our kids as much as it should. I have only one question (and not a criticism, just a perplexity) How did Esther have sex outside of marriage? I thought she was married to the King of Persia? Is there something in my understanding of the story I’ve known since childhood that I’m missing??

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel

      Yes, she was married.

  • PreacherDJ

    The premise of this article seems to be that teaching the moral triumphs of the characters of the Bible can only result in rebellion (“I wondered why it took him so long.”), and therefore must be wrong. Yet as we look at the very first man, we see that he was taught what was moral, and we see that he rebelled. Should we also conclude that his teacher did it wrong?

  • Don Camp

    Good observation about what is often taught in SS, but way too simplistic a solution, sometimes to the point of distorting the Scripture. Add that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Add that David was chosen because he was a man after God’s heart. Add that Joseph was a type of Christ in forgiving and saving his family. Add that Esther had no choice that we can tell and that God used her radical trust and courage to preserve her people for the coming Messiah. Tell the whole truth to kids as much as we can. Distortions in either direction do not serve our children well.

  • DeMaris

    I’ve been an atheist for almost three years after spending my whole life as a Christian (I’m 40). One of the many reasons my faith collapsed was because I began to dissect the biblical stories (the ones we were taught in Sunday School AND the many that weren’t) and really just found myself shaking my head over what the stories were really supposed to be teaching. The author of this post makes an inadvertent point that is real: The story of “Beauty and the Beast” does a better job than the bible of making a clear point that love can transform us. With all due respect, I find the biblical stories (the same ones I once loved) as hideous examples of morality. Sins are not only rewarded, but often not even acknowledged. The first thing that comes to mind is the story of Lot, who offers up his two daughters to be raped by all the men of Sodom in lieu of the men (angels in disguise) who are visiting him. This is somehow never a part of this story when presented in SS. Nor is the next chapter where Lots two daughters end up raping him! Yet, as children, all we take away from this story is that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for the misdemeanor of looking back!
    If you wonder why people are leaving the church (I include myself in this) it’s because: 1. It’s becoming more acceptable to question the bible. Consider that for millennia, to question the word of god was blasphemy and often punishable by death! If not death, you were likely shunned. 2. There is a huge divide on the side of believers that weaken the argument for god, and that is the literal interpretation of the bible. Some believe Eve ate the apple, some believe it was just a story. 3. The fact of evolution. Plenty argue that science and religion are compatible, but the truth is that evolution disproves the Adam and Eve story and therefore negates original sin, which, we all know is why Jesus needed to enter the story. 4. There is no evidence that god exists. Plenty that he doesn’t.

    • Trey


      I think that it is great that you have examined the Bible for yourself. Many self-proclaimed atheists have never bothered to see for themselves that which they oppose.

      I agree that there is some rough stuff in the Bible, but to me that makes it more real. Let me explain: When you turn on the news, open the paper, read your online news feed, it reveals the wrongs that happen in our world. If the Bible is supposed to represent a holy God and His love for His fallen creation (us), how would that be believable if there were only good perfect people in the stories of the Bible. The Bible, is not just made-up tales by a few individuals to keep sheeple in line. If that were the case, why would they include some of the stories from your post.

      The fact is that some of the “heroes” of the faith were screwed up people who had faith in God, and sometimes faltered. My reading of these same stories that you read led me to a different conclusion.

      First, it gave me hope. As I read through the Bible and see the people God used and those who trusted in Him, and I see how flawed they were…man! That give me such hope! I know how much I fall short of what God created me to be, but I also see the GRACE He gives to imperfect people because HE LOVES THEM! Because I recognize how much He love me, I want to strive to be better – not to be accepted by God, but as a way of saying thank you and being the man He created me to be.

      1) God is not threatened by us questioning the Bible. Nor should the church. Some will examine the Bible and walk away, others will see the story of a holy God who hates sin AND loves the sinner.

      2) The Bible is such a complex book, in that it contains historical accounts, poems, proverbs, prophesy, dream interpretations, letters, and so on. I am learning in my studies that it is most accurate to look at the Bible literaturelly – in other words, context is key. If I am reading a dream or prophesy, the descriptions may not be literal. It might be the author describing it in the terms he best knows how. In reading historical accounts, remembering that much was passed down orally (did not have the luxury of records). However, what makes this book unique is that, even with the time span and number of authors, it runs a consistent thread of who God is. The Bible gives the reason for this, in that it was God who inspired the writers.

      3) Evolution – are you speak macro or micro? Science has never and can never prove macro. Micro is a different issue, and really has no bearing on disproving Intelligent Design. If anything, science is the greatest enemy of BIg Bang Theory – something can not be formed from nothing, physics shows that everything moves from order to chaos, statistics show the near impossibility of complex biological creations to just “occur”. I believe that the more science advances, the bigger ally it will become to God and the Bible.

      4) I would see the opposite to be true, as far as God’s existence. I would supposed that if I believe that all things physical just came into being, then yes, I could ignore a “GOD”. But what about morality – our sense of right and wrong? Where did this come from? Evolution deals with biology, but morals do not fall into this category. How did we get a sense of right and wrong, unless it was “downloaded” into our DNA. No other creature has a sense of morality, yet humanity does. I would be interested in hearing your evidence of a non-existent God, however.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and struggles and issues. And can I just say that, as a follower of Christ, I am sorry for any impression that we may have given you that we are perfect. I am also sorry for any vile or hatred that you may have experienced from us.


    • Chris

      A very interesting article Sam. Unfortunately the lack of depth among the followers of Jesus surpasses more than Sunday School.

      I understand your point in using Beauty & the Beast, though as with the other biblical individuals, Beauty changed her attitude due to an act of kindness by the Beast, then acted on that change.

      – Abraham acted on God’s call to leave his people and walk after him. While he failed at times, he did continue to follow him. Even though he never saw the completion of God’s promise to him.
      – Joseph, while a “narcissist” in his youth continued to follow the God of his forefathers to the degree that he showed quite possibly the first act of human forgiveness in any ancient literature.*(http://www.ou.org/torah/article/the_day_forgiveness_was_born#.UflXTpIp98E)
      – David, even after his many sins continued to seek after God throughout his many tribulations.
      – Esther actively followed the directions of Mordecai who we see was directed by God to protect the Jewish people. She did had sex with her husband, (which may or may not have been viewed as a sin only while living in the land of Israel. The 613 commandments work based on a few different circumstances.) and more importantly she continued to act for God’s will for her as the one who could save the jewish people.

      In each case God reached out for them first, but they had to act on whether to accept or refuse the act of love.

      @ PreacherDJ
      I’m sorry to hear about your loss of faith, whether you miss it or not.
      Is it possible that your loss could be due to lack of depth to your roots? I don’t mean this in a chronological sense, merely a depth of study and searching outside of traditional thought. I ask this because you state that Eve at the apple when it is only a culturally christian tradition that the fruit from the tree was an apple (In Judaism it is believed that it was more likely a pomegranate.).
      If you’ve formed a part of your opinion based on errors such as the account of the apple, is it possible that you’ve made others in regards to greater misunderstandings?
      I dispel some of the misunderstandings in your other points if you’d like, I’ve made some of them (and others) myself throughout my journey.


      • Chris,

        Great comments. Thanks. Yes, God pursues, and we have to respond. I agree.

  • Darrell Kincaid

    I, too, have often been frustrated by the quality, depth and applicability of many available SS curricula. I have taught for many years, usually venturing away from prepared curricula according to the needs and ages of the class. CUrrently I am teaching the adults (nearly 20 years) and have developed my own “stuff”.

    A couple of observations:

    Any lesson needs to be age specific and fit within the time allowed. As an adult it is profitable to spend some time looking at the dark side of Abraham…as a child, or even a young teen, it would be difficult, and perhaps confusing and probably irritate the parents if the lesson included the facts of his life regarding having Hagar as a concubine, driving her from his home along with her teenager because Sarah was jealous, the lies to protect his life…and what exactly is a harem anyway? Lets also line up all the little boys and explains to them why and how Abraham circumcised all e men and boys of his households…yes, that is plural. The point being, that age appropriateness is a huge factor, any maybe obedience is the lesson that needs to be taught to young and tender hearts that are none the less capable of hearing God.

    The Bible is very clear that from the beginning God intended for Dads to teach their families the things of God. We Dads have largely abdicated this responsibility. We must study (not devotions) and we must make the opportunities to teach. (Deuteronomy 6). We must live such that our kids will grow up knowing that our God is worth serving and that our relationship with him makes a difference. If not, then our kids will grow up to believe that perhaps our God is not worth serving and that is how the book of Judges starts!

    God preferential, it seems, uses imperfect people. And that is really good news for me! However, we must be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water. (Unfortunately this is often taught in our churches by our actions…but I digress). To abandon church,mor the faith entirely, because of our frustrations is to shorten the hand of God and to leave the work for others to do. Churches today are crying for good, biblical, interesting and practical curricula for SS, groups and VBS…will you answer the call? I have.

  • Rene

    Children want heroes and heroines to imitate. Yes, the gospel is the focus of the entire Bible. And only by God’s grace can we do God’s will, live and become what He wants us to become. Joseph wasn’t a narcissist – I’d like to see you stripped, sold into slavery- and because of your teenaged integrity and hard work become the head of a huge household and then turn away from flagrant temptation (when nobody was there to see you, but God). Falsely imprisoned but still keeping your faith for 7 years and being so full of integrity in prison that you literally are put in charge, and always, always giving God the glory in your life, even during the trials and temptation. Yes, Joseph is my hero and I think he should be held up as an example in the Bible (there aren’t very many of them – Daniel and Ruth and Paul are my best examples). Most of the folks in the Bible are like us – regular people, saved by God’s grace and failing daily to even keep the 10 commandments, much less the “Love your enemies and your neighbor as yourself commands of Jesus” (“if you love me, keep my commandments). By His grace we can try to serve him faithfully all through our lives. I see where you are coming from – But I didn’t like your negative article.
    Sincerely, Rene (missionary and long time teacher of the Bible)

    • Rene

      I have a correction – Joseph was in jail for an undetermined time – at least 2 years, because we know from scripture that the king’s cupbearer forgot him for 2 years (when I think of Joseph 7 always sticks in my brain – 7 years of plenty, 7 years of famine. Rene

  • Jenn

    WOW, what an excellent point. I think that those of us who were raised in the church still have a hard time with this idea because we weren’t taught enough about the grace of God.

  • coco mama

    Thanks for your thoughts, I agree. There are good sunday school programs out there but you need to look. I like Kids Desiring God.

  • Trey


    Enjoyed the article. I would agree that we can “hero worship” normal men and woman. I believe this mindset is part of what hinders people from following Christ. We are doing them and us a dis-service by promoting a perfect lifestyle.

    I do think that as we present the stories of the Bible, we should take age into consideration. For example, at what age is it appropriate to talk about sex, adultery, murder, homosexuality, divorce? These are not issues we should avoid, but do you feel that timing a consideration?

    Thanks again for sharing your heart,


    • Hi Trey,

      I agree that we need age-appropriate material. I wouldn’t teach David’s adultery to five-year olds.

      But I might say something like, “David was married and then had had a girlfriend too when he shouldn’t have…”

      (That was just off the cuff.)

      The focus isn’t supposed to purely on their sins either; but we want to teach grace. true grace brings true life-change; but life-change doesn’t bring grace.


  • Tristin

    Check out Sam Well’s book “Improvisation” where he argues that Christians do not have heroes, they have martyrs and saints.

    “there is a significant difference between the kind of story that is told about heroes and the kind of story that is told about saints. The heroes always make a decisive intervention at a moment when things are looking like they could all go badly wrong [see the new Nicholas Cage movie]. The hero steps up and makes everything turn out right. In other words, the hero is always at the center of the story. By contrast, the saint is not necessarily a crucial character. The saint may be almost invisible, easily missed, quickly forgotten. The hero’s story is always about the hero. The saint is always at the periphery of a story that is really about God. …The hero’s story is told to celebrate the virtues of the hero. The hero’ strength, courage, wisdom, or great timing: such are the qualities on which the hero’s decisive intervention rests. By contrast the saint may not be strong, brave, clever, or opportunistic. But the saint is faithful [consider the hall of faith in Hebrews 11]. The story of the hero is told to rejoice in valor. The story of the saint is told to celebrate faith….

    “The definitive heroic icon is the soldier, who is prepared to risk death for the sake of a higher good. The noblest death is death in battle, for battle offers the greatest danger, thus requiring the greatest courage. The story assumes that in a world of limited resources there is bound to be conflict at some stage so that good may prevail. But the saints assume a very different story. They do not need to learn how to fight over competing goods, because Christ has fought for and secured the true good, and the goods that matter now are not limited or in short supply. Love, joy peace, faithfulness, gentleness– these do not rise or fall with the stock market. The saint’s story does not presuppose scarcity [think oil for example]; it does not require the perpetuation of violence. Whereas the icon of heroism is the soldier, the icon of sanctity is the martyr. The solder faces death in battle; the saint faces death by not going to battle. The soldier’s heroism is its own reward: it makes sense in any language that respects nobility and aspires to greatness. The martyr’s sanctity makes no sense unless rewarded by God: it has no place in any story except that of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and the martyr’s heavenly crown… A hero fears failure, flees mistakes, and know no repentance: the saint knows that light only comes through the cracks, that beauty is as much (if not more) about restoration as about creation.”

    “Finally, the hero stands alone against the world. The story of the hero shows how he or she stands out from the community by the excellence of his or her virtue, the decisiveness of his or her intervention, or their simple right to have his or her story told. The story of God tells how he expects a response from his disciples that they cannot give on their own: they depend not only on him, but on one another for resources that can sustain faithful lives, and they discover that their dependence on one another is not a handicap but is central to their witness….Saints are never alone. They assume, demand, require community– a special kind of community, the communion of the saints. Heroes have learned to depend on themselves: saints learn to depend on God and on the community of faith. The church is God’s new language, and it speaks not of a country fit for heroes to live in but of a commonwealth of saints” (Improvisation, pp. 43-44).

    • dentabill

      Tristin…I think Catholics have martyrs and saints. I don’t know any christians who have stereotypical “heroes”.

  • jcchurch

    Ah… let’s tell children a message of “You are horrible sinners and you need god.” and maybe that will keep them in church.

    I’m kidding. This is a horribly foolish idea. Churches will close their doors even faster if we adopt this plan.

    How about we teach them a message of love and confidence and not worry so much how they turn? There. Love and acceptance for those of all walks of life. That’s the message I want to communicate to my children.

  • A

    The only “correction” I want to point out is that Esther was raped. She didn’t have a choice to go before the king.

  • Bryan

    It also doesn’t help that Sunday school sucks. The lessons are bad and boring and the timing of it is when kids are half asleep. The majority of the teachers wouldn’t know how to make it interesting to save their life. Overall, Sunday school is a lame tradition that keeps kids out of church because they think Christians are lame. Newsflash, the kids are right. Until the church learns to adapt to the culture, without diluting the gospel then lots of people will reject the Church.

  • Agreed. I grew up in the SBC Sunday School world where we were taught all the Bible stories and how to be good moralistic good kids who did no wrong, but we really didn’t tell the story about how these people really lived. They left out the part that David had an affair with a married woman, or how Ester used sex to get her way; they just taught the Legalism of the stories, not the grace and mercy that they were really about.

    Thanks for your post.

  • Good food for thought here. From having taught Bible classes for over 30 years I can see the point you are making. I would like to see how you develop lessons along the lines you suggest here with Abraham, Joseph, etc. I’m going to work on some myself. Thanks for the stimulating thoughts.

  • Jessica

    How about…Esther was most likely a victim of kidnapping and sexual abuse. God loved her and pursued her

  • Fred Hahn

    There was a lot of guilt/trip and clap/trap theology in Sunday School when I grew up. And there was a whole lot of denominational pride(though the church I grew up in strongly refused to call themselves a denomination) and we’re right, they’re all wrong mentality too. But, having said that, it was also in that same Sunday School(even more so than in the half hour Sunday sermons) that I learned about grace and mercy. SO-if the subject matter is skewed let’s fix it. BUT let’s not(as so many churches are doing today) do away with the educational imperative of the Church. Today, at many churches, the ONLY message is that God love’s you-regardless. And while that is a truth, it swings so far the other way that many think there is no demand of our faith-that any hint of “works” is trying to barter our salvation with God.”We are His workmanship created for good works.” The God loves you, twenty minute, modern pep talk sermonette so prevalent in most of our churches trends toward self help counseling sessions and drive in drive out spectator, “one of your fans, God!” participation that leaves many thinking my weekly dose of “God loves you!” is all that it is about. That’s not Christianity, that’s Little Jack Horner.The aim must still be sanctification(the gradual progression toward Christ likeness). If we lose that we lose the game. We still have to get people into the Word and the Word into people. If not we’re not making disciples-just attenders.

  • Josh Carter

    would love your thoughts on “The Gospel Project” I don’t know if you are familiar with the material or not. Our church has switched to this and like everything “new” we have had some frustrations. I think most of it has come from trying “to put new wine in and old wineskin”. In other words, this material doesn’t feel the same as what our old teacher are used to. That being said, part of this is just “retraining” our leaders on how to teach the full gospel. anyway, just wanted your thoughts. Thanks for the article.

  • Pingback: The Danger of Sunday School | cd baker's notes to self()

  • Tim Weaver

    And even if we teach “good morals”, we are competing with the Disney channel. Maybe we should rethink the media we allow in our homes

  • DS

    What about Hebrews Ch.11? This “hall of faith” is a clear exhortation to “Be like…” so and so. Scriptural heroes are regularly held up as exemplars – because of their faith, courage, commitment, etc.. And not simply to show that God loves wretched sinners. I know we Protestants are nervous of recognizing that the Bible says “Be good”. But it does. I’ve heard pastors say time and time again things like “God is not interested in our effort.” But then I open the Bible and see “work”, “make every effort”, and constantly exhorting to obedience and good works. I think the “stop trying” message is something that makes us all feel good about our failures.. but it’s just not biblical. Yes the Bible comforts us with forgiveness and grace when we fall – but it never glorifies our sinfulness. That’s a modern evangelical innovation. And a dangerous one.

  • clb8888

    Haven’t read through all the comments but wrote this in relation to this post when a friend posted it on FB…

    Sometimes the line between the negative and positive points in the post are narrower than we might expect. It is important to actually teach the Bible to children and those stories are in there… We do need to be careful with our application. Curriculum, in my opinion, is not the biggest part of the problem. The bigger two things that lead to some of the struggles mentioned in the article, is a lack of volunteers and the training of those volunteers.

    God’s love for us, in our worst state, is the most compelling part of the gospel and our programs should strive to reflect that above all else. The problem comes in realizing that we aren’t God. Past a certain ratio of kids to adults it becomes impossible to show that kind of love. This will sound absurd to some, I am starting to believe that a well functioning kid’s program needs one volunteer for every two kids it serves. A somewhat laughable ideal to those who lead kid’s programs, which is sad. That does include roles that work with kids and roles that support those who work with kids… Additionally, in an ideal situation volunteers need to commit for longer periods of time. Thee years, with breaks of course, working with the same group of kids is something that would be amazing. Imagine the same person working with your kid through preschool, K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12th grades. That would add up to five solid adult relationships that a child would be able to depend on. Relationships that can reflect God’s love take time to build.

    The second problem is training. Anytime you work with children you want them to walk away with something that you can have them repeat back, something that you can see, something measurable… Anything really. The kinds of teachings described in the article package well and can be measured. Volunteers need to be equipped with skills that lead to relational investment and be told it’s okay not having anything to measure right away.

    At the center of the gospel is the greatest sacrifice ever made. In many regards, if we are to reflect God to our children we too must sacrifice. Our sacrifice will be the time it takes to build relationships that can show children a God reflecting kind of love. My wife and I strive to get several adults involved with our children in a consistent way so our kids can see this in real life. Children need to see it from more adults than their parents alone. We all should be asking God if He might have us do this for other kids in our church and/or other spheres of influence.

    In my perfect world, all of our churches would be known for how much we value children. The number one thing, above all else, it takes to make that happen is people and time from those people. If our churches are going to be known for this we need to be open to being significant spiritual influences in the lives of children who don’t live in our households.

  • 0rph1a

    This seems like kind of an oversimplification of the issue. Or maybe my Sunday School experience was just way different. The message I received from Sunday School wasn’t “Do these things because of what God will do for you” it was “Do these things because these are the things God wants us to do, which is reason enough. Here are some examples.” and the Gospel was not just left to being a footnote at the end, especially at the ages where I began to have serious questions. My parents were Sunday School teachers, so I was able to see their lesson planning firsthand.

    As an adult non-believer, the only role that Sunday School played in my eventual decision to not be a Christian was that the lessons most often felt completely irrelevant to the problems/questions I had at that age and were usually dumbed down way beneath the level I was functioning at compared to my age group. More often than not, the teachers seemed to have trouble responding to difficult questions or put forth information that was demonstrably false when I went and researched it later. For me, that was the point when I stopped paying attention to the teachers completely and started looking for more “meat and potatoes” answers elsewhere. Why would I waste time listening to people that aren’t teaching me anything I haven’t already heard 100 times and are giving me wrong information?

    Obviously, not every Sunday School teacher is going to be a theology scholar. But, if you want the perspective of someone who left the church as a teenager, the thing that might have made a difference to me at the time would have been someone who was willing to talk to me on my level and help address valid faith questions without getting frustrated, trying to manipulate me with guilt, or pretending to know everything. I’m not saying I would have eventually become a Christian, I’m just saying that it would have at least prevented a good deal of adolescent alienation from the church and that might have had a different result. Who knows?

    tl;dr: It may not be that kids don’t get the distinction you’re talking about in this article or that they’re prideful of their intelligence if they become atheists as teenagers. Sometimes it’s just that there are kids for whom a generic Sunday School class isn’t enough and there’s no one with the appropriate skill set to step in to help fulfill the need.

  • Bill Simpson

    Sam, thanks for your thoughtful comments. As I reflect on the issues you’ve raised, though, it seems to me to blame Sunday School is to miss the point. To me, the real issue is poor (or, in this case, incomplete) doctrine, whether taught in Sunday School, preached from the pulpit, or broadcast on TV or the web.
    Were the biblical characters you referenced used by God for mighty things? Sure they were. Was it because they were somehow superhuman followers? Absolutely not. Was it because they were faithful in responding to God’s grace and work in their lives (grace)? Sure looks like it to me.
    Again, it seems to me the real problem is not the format (Sunday School), but the content (doctrine).

  • Bill Muscella

    Sunday school Doesn’t have to be fluffy. It can be exactly the same as the Sunday message only geared for the right age group. Curricula are only a start. The teacher is the key. What does the gospel mean to us. If it means forgiveness then why? If it means restoration, why? Just give them what God gave you… with patience and crafts…

  • Terry Whitley

    Lots of truth in what you’ve written here. I think many have lost sight of what the gospel is all about. It’s not a get out of jail free card, and you can’t earn it no matter how hard you try. Christ died for sinners and I for one am thankful every day that God loved me despite my rebellious and sinful heart, and sent His only Son to pay the penalty for my sin. He not only gave me a full pardon, He adopted me into His family. That’s not a gift I can ever repay.

  • Graham

    Then it’s not an issue of Sunday School. It’s a issue of Bible Hermeneutics. And it sounds like the Hermeneutical issue is that the Bible stories of the Old Testament focus less on God as the center and more on the Bible character, or rather the self. Check out this article on Christianity Today about the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, which makes God the main character and makes discipleship the aim of the lesson. It would fix many problems in Sunday School

  • David

    Folks, we need not “read into” this article. Our friend is not saying that we shouldn’t teach our kids to obey. But we must also not give the illusion that their lives will be prosperous simply because they obeyed. Try telling that line to Job. We have no promise of being successful in the worlds view in this life. So, yes, obviously the children need to be taught to obey, but they need to know of the one who told them to obey, God himself. The fall of mankind in the garden separated mankind spiritually from God. Mankind died spiritually that day. But the entire theme of the bible is Jesus! And the marvelous gospel truth that Jesus came into the world to save sinners! Once we recognize and accept the fact that we are lost and can DO NOTHING to save ourselves, we then must acknowledge that Jesus paid it all! God loved us, so he gave his only son, so that whoever believes (places their faith) on him are saved (John 3:16). For by grace are you saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; which shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior(Titus 3:5-7). So we turn from our sin in repentance, agreeing with God about our sin and turn to him in faith that Christ died for our sins once and for all…the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God! Christ paid it all! There is NOTHING more to do! For indeed there is nothing we CAN do. Let me encourage those who may not have confidence in an immediate secure salvation in which the Holy Spirit of God immediately enters into the life! For the bible clearly states that he that does not have the spirit of God “he is none of His”! (Romans 8:9) Folks the scriptures clearly teach a “know so salvation, not a hope so salvation” Clearly, by there fruits ye shall know them, but we don’t slowly get saved along a path that leads to heaven that we might lose if we fall away. We are saved, and then on that road to glory we are sanctified daily as we become more like Christ. We are saved, but not sinless or perfect. 1 John 1:9 tells us as Christians that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. We are not sinless, but having had our sins covered with the blood of Jesus, God sees us as righteous because of Christ! Now, salvation is not a license to sin. Paul warns of this in Rom 6:15-18 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness”. If we can live a lifestyle of sin and disobedience to God with no regard for him or conviction from the Holy Spirit of our sin, something is terribly wrong and we need to take stock. Heb 12:6-8 says “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Yes, we need to teach our Sunday School children to obey, and not leave the why… My two cents, God bless.

    • Hi David,

      You captured me what you said, “[Sam] is not saying that we shouldn’t teach our kids to obey. But we must also not give the illusion that their lives will be prosperous simply because they obeyed.”

      Exactly. Thanks. You got it and said it well.

      • David

        You’ve been very gracious with all of these responses to your article. I appreciate your candidness and willingness to write it. It’s a blessing and makes a valid point. May the Lord bless you sir in your service for him. – David
        ps: I put the wrong email address yesterday, corrected it on this log in.

  • Doona Star

    there must be a balance..yes, I can see, that if we keep “pushing” the “be good like so and so, then you will please God” it can backfire….yet it is important to know that God’s amazing love for us should draw us to Him, then transform us; we should want to be pleasing to Him, it will become our character to desire to please Him above all else…do kids get to that point? when the teen years breathe down their necks it takes faith to keep accepting God’s love and believe His forgiveness because mistake will be made, the pressure is on….but we also cant go the other route of “Its OKAY God will forgive..” and then not really change inside either, i.e. take advantage of the grace. It should be exciting to them that in SPITE of their imperfections, God wants to use them and love them.

  • jaggerandrea

    Oh I needed to hear this right now……

    • Thanks. I needed to hear it myself when I wrote it.

      I think we all need to hear it, but be freed from the unbearable burden.

      It’s okay to have moral standards we can’t reach, because we call to God, and he reaches down to us.


  • Leila

    I personally have nothing but gratitude for those who
    sacrificed their time each week to teach me God’s Word (including his
    gospel) as a child. However, as a steward of God’s Word to the next
    generation, I want to be sure to give them the whole picture of God’s
    plan of redemption–not just snapshots of humanity.

  • Debra

    It’s not just Sunday School. This idea of being loved because we are good is also, knowingly or unknowingly, taught to adults from the pulpit and by example in the church.

  • Xanthorpe

    I agree that it is critically important that we need to teach our kids that it is by grace, through faith, that we are saved. But kids also need to hear that our lives should be different after we accept Christ as our Savior.

    Ever talk to someone who has left the church and heard, “What a bunch of back-stabbing hypocrites!”

    Duh! Church is a hospital for sinners – not a country club for saints. Salvation doesn’t immediately turn us into sinless acolytes of God, so we spend the rest of our lives fighting our sin nature – just like Noah, Abraham, David, etc. We absolutely need to lead with the Gospel of Grace but my concern is that by focusing on the Gospel and not our changed nature we let our kids fall into the “Love Wins” trap.

    As with any lesson, to get the most benefit you have to teach the whole thing. Why do we need ‘saving’? Why does God bother with saving us? How did God save us? Once we accept God’s free gift of salvation, what happens next?

    Sam, with all that said, I will be carrying your thoughts and the thoughts of many of the commenters with me as I finish studying, praying and preparing to teach Judges 4 to 5th and 6th graders this week. I’ve been a little concerned about the message. Judges 4 doesn’t have a lot of sugar-coating and Sisera ends up with a tent peg through his skull…and I’ve actually been thinking, “How do I pull the Gospel out of THAT?”

    Blessings, brother.

    • Hi Xanthorpe,

      You have a difficult lesson to teach 5th and 6th graders, don’t you.

      I’m not a curriculum writer, so take my comments with a grain of salt (or a whole salt shaker full).

      First I’d just let the story be told as it is (you know the kids, and you know what they can handle in terms of graphicness).

      Second, I’d remind them how this all came about when the people of Israel did evil (injustice, theft, idolatry, oppression, etc.).

      Third, I’d point out that doing evil always results it death and destruction, individually, culturally, corporately, etc.

      Fourth, I’d point out that it ended with the death of the lead warrior; and doesn’t that remind us of how our evil (lying, cheating, envy…) lead to the death of our lead warrior, only he died for us so we don’t have to die.

      We may deserve punishment because we’ve blown it; but instead Jesus took that punishment–even though we deserve it–because he loves us so much.

  • Matt

    “Sunday School” isn’t destroying God’s children anymore than this article is. After all, Sunday School is filled with God’s people, volunteering their time to do their best in teaching His incomprehensible greatness…just like Sam was trying to do his best in raising awareness about how Sunday School is failing to teach our children the whole gospel…which apparently is presented better by using the analogy of Beauty and the Beast instead of scripture – any part of scripture let alone the entire story line.

    Sam, you are right, we all need to do a better job. I hope as a pastor that tension never leaves my life. I need more of Him in me as John the Baptist so perfectly said. Then perhaps I can serve Him better, communicate His truths clearer, love others as He desires. So, Sam is right, we can do better – and because of His grace, we truly can do better.

    But there are plenty of wonderful Sunday School classes and small groups filled with less than theologians, hacks at scripture like myself and much like the 12, who are doing their best to live and love like Jesus and communicate His great love and truth even to the littlest of minds – in which we all rely on God’s Spirit to make the sense of His truth.

    I hurt for that mother. I’ve experienced that conversation several times. And yet I would bet my life it wasn’t just Sunday School that has turned that boy away, whether for a moment or lifetime. And I thank God that as the article pointed out accurately, that He will never stop pursuing that boy until he breathes his last.

    To you small group leaders, especially those teaching children, thank you for your work!! Thank you for your work!! I know that many of you feel incompetent the way it is. You feel the pressure to accurately communicate God’s love and often w/out the time, people, and resources you feel needed to do the job you would like to do. Keep putting your best foot forward (or start again)!!! God’s grace is sufficient.

    Php. 3:13 & 14 – and this is Paul’s encouragement to us as well.

  • Aleks Clark

    Well fortunately I don’t leave my children’s spiritual development to half an hour a week, so even IF the content is fluffy, they’ll till learn the gospel. Major issue is that there’s little progression. You go from basic, basic stories of Bible personages (which there is nothing wrong with) to “hip” lessons about how to avoid thinking about boobs. By age twelve kids should be reciting TULIP and understanding the implications.

  • Byron Nice

    I grew up believing the opposite of all of you even though I was taught the same thing. God loves us and will forgive us because we will continue to sin falling short of the glory of the Lord. What an incredibly sad life to live, believing I will never truly be able to please God because I will always sin even after believing and accepting Christ. How many people do you know who live a miserable existence because they are constantly told they will never amount to anything, that they will always fail? This is what the churches are teaching the children and adult when they say they will always continue to sin. Talk about making you feel like you are a worthless piece of garbage when a “Christian” is to precious in His sight. In the end it breeds as has been said, churches full of hypocrites because they all believe that committing sin is unavoidable so when they do sin it does not affect them the way it should. Paul says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because the penalty of sin is death. He also warns the people to test themselves so that they do not come short of the glory of the Lord. Let us start teaching that we can walk as Christ walked by His grace, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2:11-12. What teaches us? His holy word, the Bible, written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Grace, Hebrews 10:29.

    Sadly, I believe all of you are off base when it comes to what should be taught. I keep hearing the Gospel, the Gospel, the Gospel without ever stating what the Gospel is. Many of the comments were solely focused on Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, Christ did die on the cross for our sins, but the Gospel did not end there. The Gospel is the example Christ left for us to follow. 1 Peter 2:20-25. The example He gave is He was born in the flesh (able to commit sin as we are), was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, received the Holy Spirit and was declared by God to be His only begotten Son, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted as we are yet did not sin, and lived His life to the point of death out of true love for the Father. It doesn’t end there. Christ said He must return to the Father so that He could send the helper the Holy Spirit unto us so that we could walk like Him. Many are misrepresenting scripture when Paul says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. These are written in past tense not future tense. Not we will all continue to sin after we have accepted Christ and will continue to fall short of the glory of God. I encourage you to try to find scripture that justifies your claims that we will continue to fall, stumble, sin, etc… It says Christ died “while we were yet sinners”, “while we were still helpless”, but now we are forgiven and have the Helper so we are no longer helpless, and no longer sinners if we are being led by the Spirit. For if we are led by the Spirit we will no longer fulfill the desires of the flesh, Galatians 5:16-25. Additionally the passage (Romans 8:1-4) of “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is one of the most abused passages in scripture. If we continue to read that passage it says Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, not for those who walk according to the flesh (commit sin), but for those who walk according to the Spirit (those who do not fulfill the desire of the flesh, do not sin). Let me state vehemently that we can only do this through guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it can be done if we choose to allow the Spirit to lead us (yes, our free will). If this could not be done then Christ lied when he said “with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible” or “no one is tempted beyond what he can bear but with every temptation He will provide a way out” or Jude 24 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy”. Do we believe the Bible? Do we believe God has given us everything for life and godliness so that by these great promises we are able to partake of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust, 2 Peter 1:1-12.

    Most of you have a misunderstanding of the meaning of sanctification and grace. We are told in Hebrews 12:14 “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” This sanctification occurs only through being led by the Spirit. Interestingly enough, this is the grace of God (Spirit of Grace) as stated earlier, Hebrews 10:29. God’s grace is that He sent the Holy Spirit unto us so that we can obey His voice which has been His command from the beginning. Before Christ the Spirit was with the people but not within the people. They did not have any help as we do. God has granted us the power and the ability to please Him completely and totally “so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.”, 1 John 4:17. John is speaking of himself and those with him as being like Christ in the here and now on this world not on the new earth. The churches for too long have underestimated the power of God and are unwilling to accept the fact that God ” is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us”, Ephesians 3:20. As stated about the parable of the talents, God wants us to use His power for His glory and we will be greatly be rewarded for using what He gave us. If we do not use His power then everything will be stripped away from us.

    The love of God was talked about repeatedly with some mention of the love we show (must show) to God if we claim to be His. John says in 1 John 5:1-5 that he who believes in Christ is born of God and he who loves God loves His son. He continues to state we know we love the children of God “when we love God and keep His commandments”. He says that to love God is to keep His commandments. He concludes with those who are born of God have overcome the world (the corruption that is in the world by lust, 2 Peter 1:4) by our faith. So many teach that faith is simply believing in the “story” of Christ and neglect what true faith really does. We are saved by grace, through faith and not by our own power. It is having faith in the power God has given us to perform the works that He prepared for us. However we still have to choose to do the works, using His power, otherwise in the end He will say depart from Me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity. In other words get away from me you dirty filthy sinners. You may have done many things in my name but you failed to love me and love my children.

    I find it odd that the words used to describe who we are commanded to be are defined incorrectly considering they are the same words used to describe the sacrifices, Christ, and God. There was an individual who made the statement that being “holy” did not mean being perfect. I find this hard to believe considering the command given to us is “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”, 1 Peter 1:14-16. If being holy does not mean being perfect then God is not perfect. How about pure (1 John 3:1-3)? How about perfect (Matthew 5:48)? Everyone misses the point on this one as well. God is perfect because he loves which is what we are commanded to do. Everyone is keeps talking about how churches teach legalism by claiming we are saved by works while neglecting the fact that loving God and loving one another (which takes work) fulfills this very law. Paul says that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the law, Galatians 5:18. Why would someone who is led by the Spirit not be under the law? It is because as Paul stated in verse 16, that those led by the Spirit will no fulfill the desires of the flesh, not violate the law so they will not be judged by it. Paul then describes the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit and concludes with “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” He does not say we continue to stumble and fall. He says we have crucified the flesh, that is to say put to death the deeds of the flesh, to do them no longer.

    In conclusion, if we want to stop having our children turn from God, teach them that they can please Him because of what God has given unto us (freedom from sin through the Holy Spirit) if we choose to believe and accept all the promises of God. There is only one way to truly do this and that is to live the life we tell them they can. If we do not then it is hopeless.

  • Chris

    I don’t think it’s a Sunday school issue. It falls on parents who don’t investigate enough into the church they attend or the kids ministry their kids are in. As a kids pastor I am shocked at the small number of parents that ask about the curriculum we are teaching or our philosophy. We have parents that choose a church that makes them feel good about themselves, but think little of what their kids may or may not be learning.

  • Rynn Chaney

    Good article but when did Esther have sex outside of marriage? She was married to the king.

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel


  • charles burns

    Christendom has destroyed the real message. God had a plan
    for mankind from the beginning. Nothing will change that.
    It is everlasting life….on earth. If you haven’t torn those pagers out of your Bible , everlasting life is available to
    ALL….even the thief on the pole beside Jesus. The almighty
    God has even as the flood and Jesus’ witnessed in so many
    ways….the direction of Gods plan. Seek Ye first, The Kingdom of God…and all things will be added to you.

  • charles burns

    You can tell HOW this page is controlled in beliefs by the comments it deletes, just as Christendom is famous for.
    Mine was sent….It was deleted because it rejected even
    what my Bible has proof. DONT tear out pages as in
    Revelations of God’s real plan from the beginning God had for his love for man.

    • Charles,

      Your comment was never deleted or even held in a queue. Are you familiar with commenting on blogs?

      I’ve only deleted three messages ever: one was a viscous, personal attack on another comment, one was deleted because it was way too long (but I told the person and he edited and resposed a shorter version) and one because the writer asked me to.

      I’d be happy to make my fourth delete–if you want–and delete your comment about not being able to read your own comments.

  • featheronthebreath

    Amen, Amen. In the end it all comes down to one simple word. Grace.

  • RayInRhodeIsland

    Curriculum is written, in large measure, to be sold. To serve a church in the USA embarked upon the wide road and separate and apart from the Living God and His Commandments. Given this market, the need to “be good”, to avoid the word “sin” (and the word “repent” – at all costs), and a bloodless antiseptic cross is not a surprise. Rather, it is a necessity. cefpress.com can help

  • Keturah

    One of the things I appreciated about my parents and church growing up is that they brought the Bible, warts and all, and used it to teach us. The “be good” message was more of a … here’s what you can learn from people who didn’t have it all together/do it all right/listen to God’s direction. You have a purpose and you can more easily fulfill that when you DO listen. Good call out on what is sometimes the standard summary approach.
    But one thing strikes me as odd in your final wrap up. Esther didn’t exactly have a choice in her becoming part of the harem. She was in a patriarchal society, obligated to listen to Mordecai and then to the law of the land. To refuse would have been impossible (or at least, in the case of the king…not too hard to see what happened to someone who opposed him like Queen Vashti had just done.) To peg Esther as someone who had premarital sex with an unbeliever as her great sin appears to me to be similar to taking someone rescued from the sex trade and slamming them for “giving up” their virginity at the age of 11.

  • restored2x

    Garth – if you are a pastor or church leader, I would NEVER attend your church. It is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, not the law, or rules. The Church has made silly laws, no smoking, no drinking, no divorced person in leadership, etc, because we do not believe in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to do His work. Beating people down with scripture NEVER sanctifies anyone. The bible calls the word of God a weapon – and most churches and Christians I’ve known, have read the “manual”, and can quote most of what they’ve been taught, but they have no idea how to use the Word, only explain it. Keep your law and rules – I’ll depend on the Holy Spirit to lead me into being more like Christ. Have fun in church!


    When my son was born I offered my then 4 year old daughter the option of naming him. She narrowed the names down to Daniel and Simon (I did have veto power in case she though Elmo was a viable choice LOL). She finally settled on Simon. Her main reason was that “Daniel was so perfect it is a lot for someone to live up to while Simon (Peter) made lots of mistakes but look where he ended up!”. Wise beyond her years 🙂

  • MissMet

    Personally, I don’t agree with this article at all. What about the prodigal son, Adam & Eve? Stories of God’s grace, forgiveness & love when it is not “deserved” because they weren’t “good”? Those are stories I learned in Sunday School. I also learned of God the Father…and how He is like my own father, who loves me unconditionally. I think it’s a pretty extreme thing to try & blame young adults not living for God because of the curriculum style they’re taught in Sunday School. What kind of youth group were they in after Sunday School, that they only heard messages about if you’re “good” God will love you? What sermons were they hearing Sunday morning when they were teens & college age? Sorry, but I grew up in church my whole life, same as my hubby, and we both regard our time in Sunday School as the most important part in our Christian walk & this article is kind of slapping it in the face.

  • Jen

    Really? Esther had a choice in the matter? Learn history….she had no choice. She didn’t sin…she was sinned against.

    You criticize what’s being taught…and I agree…it’s often shallow and not really the truth, but don’t make the same mistake. Esther was not a good choice for an example.

  • Charlie Vensel

    Great article. The same could be applied to many a Sunday sermon.

  • Charliebrown822

    I find it pretty sad that the author had to attack the church here. You’re coming at this from the “one size fits all” mentality. And the reality is, you can’t teach the gospel to kids the same way you can to teens and adults. It’s the same way you don’t teach kids about what really happened when Columbus showed up on the scene. It’s the same reason you don’t show a 6 year old “The Passion of the Christ.” You learn as you go. You can’t teach a kid calculus before they know addition. The point of teaching the stories Abraham, Daniel, and David is to give kids connections with characters in God’s story. And unfortunately for the church culture, what’s being taught for an hour or less on a Sunday morning isn’t being reinforced at home. The main place of instruction, faith development, and growth spiritually should be at home and come from the mother and father. If anything, we should look to them to teach the right things, and for the church to reinforce what’s being taught at home.

  • Bob C.

    Wow. Tons of serious problems and issues in the world, and we’re worried about our Sunday school curriculum being “fluffy” and therefore “destroying our kids”.
    Things for the writer of this article (and those who agree with it) to consider
    1. Who has the primary responsibility to teach kids the “true gospel”?
    2. Where is the exact location in the bible where we are referred to as a “beast” that is “kissed into joyous life”?
    3. Where is an example of an actual Sunday school lesson that says God loved a certain person “because they were good” (no other reason)?
    4. READ HEBREWS 11, then explain how that passage of scripture is in agreement with this article.
    Sam, while attacking things about the “established church” makes some people look hip & cool, and even “brave”, or as you say “frustrated”, it really just comes across as whiney. While there are many problems with churches and the “established church” as a whole, those who attack it are cheap-shot artists who are actually part of the problem.
    To everyone, stop and read your bible thoroughly and understand this issue for yourself. Then stop and think before “liking” (and therefore spreading) idiotic nonsense like this.
    if there are things about “the church” that could be better, get involved in a local church and make it better.
    Most importantly, find a true need (those unreached by the gospel, the homeless, teens who need mentoring, etc.) and get involved with being a part of the solution, instead of wasting time attacking “the church”.

  • oasisflec

    I appreciate all the comments posted. In fact I have not found any indication in the Bible that we should have Sunday School for children. However, I believe that it is more appropriate for the Sunday School to equip the believers for Christian parenting and practicing Christian love at home. Love and faith is inculcated though the experience at home and not taught in Sunday school class.

  • LisaZ

    I wish I could properly express how much I appreciate this article…how comforting these words are when I have literally just been reconciling this very concept with my son regarding our relationship. This feeds into a discussion I’ve been having
    with my son quite a bit lately…the “I love you because you’re YOU”
    discussion. And he’s getting it. “Mommy, even when you’re angry with the
    things I do…when you’re frustrated…when you don’t like something
    I’ve done…or forgotten…you still love me, right?” I remind me as
    quickly and as passionately as I can that I don’t just love him, I
    *adore* him every moment of the day and with every beat of my heart, no
    matter what. “Ian, I don’t love you for what you *do*, I love you for
    who you *are*…I love you because you’re YOU. You are my son.”

  • Jean Clink

    How about:

    Abraham did not continue to worship idols.

    David was always quick to repent as he learned more about God throughout his life.

    Joseph developed enormous strength of character.

    I never thought of Esther as having illicit sex with an unbeliever – that sounds slanderous – but that she could lay down any desire she had for a normal loving husband-wife relationship for the sake of her people.

    When talking about grace, please let us not forget Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

    Grace is not something one hides behind so we can get into heaven. We are a work in progress and he promises to complete the work.

  • SP

    Great post, apart from the bit about Abraham being an idol worshipper – isn’t that from the Quran?

  • Sheila N Matthew Bennett

    Where did the part about Esther having unmarried sex come from, Biblically speaking?

    • April Marie Stephens Tempel

      I’m not sure what Bible this author is reading. First of all, she was brought to the king as one of his new concubines along with hundreds of other girls. Hardly her choice. Second of all, biblically speaking, a concubine was considered a wife. Then the concubines were brought in, one at a time for the king to choose one of them to be his queen. When Esther was chosen, the other concubines were not released, they remained his wives.

  • Benaiah Page

    What then are the 10 Commandments for? If I didn’t know how bad I was compared to the heroes of the Bible, I wouldn’t feel a great need for God. We SHOULD focus on how good these heroes were. We should ask, “why aren’t we like them?” The reasons are: either we are not near enough to God as we should be or that we aren’t trusting in Jesus’ eternal salvation in the first place. Anyone is capable of the same great feats (such as simply being Good) through giving up hope in your own abilities and then trusting in God to supply and guide.

  • Cbish

    25 My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto adeath; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and blong-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in yourcmind forever. Moroni 9:25

  • David Warren

    Very good, perhaps needs to reread Esther if she feels the need to invent a dramatic failure story for the poor girl (kind of made Esther sound loose), but still very good.

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  • April Marie Stephens Tempel

    The information about Esther in this article is not accurate.


  • Abigail

    Um loved the point so good.. my only thing poor Esther had no choice it kinda was what God put in her life… I don’t consider the challenge he put in her life to be a sin, Now Rahab would have been a great example 🙂

  • Veronica Chadwick Nash

    My big problem is that many children’s programs tell the kids what to get out of the lesson. The theme comes when my children (or I) sin or we have a decision to make and we go to scripture to see what God has to say about it. When studying the same scripture God talks to each one of us personally. Why do we tell the kids things like, “the story of Abraham is about faithfulness?”

    -Thanks, I just wanted to get in on the venting for a moment. I’m done 🙂

  • Cstanz

    So, where does that leave us that were good? The ones raised in the church? The ones that didn’t break the law, smoke dope, drink, you name the sin. Where does that leave us? Aren’t we loved too? Were we loved because we were good? Or good because we were loved?

  • LTinTX

    So in conclusion, don’t bother to teach your kids to be
    faithful, good, pure or obedient since we can’t attain these qualities. We must not burden them with morality they
    can’t achieve. We can just excuse our
    sins knowing God forgives all. There is
    no need to strive to be godly. What a
    burden to think that God actually expects anything of us.

  • Ed Sterrett

    The article is spot on about the exclusion of grace from Sunday School, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the virtues of the Bible heroes. What’s needed is some balance. After all, Jesus did teach that righteousness was desirable.

  • Jesse Gilbert

    Actually pretty shallow. What Sam seems, to me, to be saying is to teach the kids the “P.S” that he initially did not think was a good idea? What needs to be taught, I believe, is what is “sin”. The majority of young people (and a lot of old people) have almost zero comprehension of what “sin” really is!

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  • Jeff Hampton

    I feel compelled to respond to this. I don’t have the time to read all 450 responses to this post but I think the heart of the issue is that much of the Sunday School curriculum out there (and preaching for that matter) is not teaching the authorial intent of the text it is supposedly teaching. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Moses to write down the story of Abraham to tell us to be faithful like Abraham. He did not record the Joseph narrative to encourage us toward moral purity. He did not inspire the book of Nehemiah to teach leadership principles and Matthew did not record the temptation of Christ to provide us with a model for fighting temptation. What is missing in our Sunday School lessons and our preaching is lessons and sermons that reflect the biblical author’s intent and point in writing the text. We should always ask 2 questions. 1)Why was this text written? and 2)Would the biblical author be comfortable with how I am teaching this text? If we would just teach the text the issue raised in above post would become a non-issue.

  • J Cook

    Naturally, revaluating Sunday School curricula is always a good exercise, but this author seems to really strain credulity. She claims that stories where God rewards Abraham et al’s faithfulness are all “lies” about who God is. Well that’s a lie. The OT is so full of this idea that they have a term for it: Deuteronomistic. In fact, this is so much the main theme of the OT that it could serve as a summary of the OT.

    If there is a change of emphasis from OT to NT, it is because of the transition (maturation?) from the Law to Grace, old to new covenant. It certainly isnt a lie about God or God’s nature.

    I think we tell these stories because they are true, and moral narratives are easier for children of that age to comprehend — like the law was easier for unsophisticated club wielding tribesmen to comprehend than the more nuanced ideas of grace. Considering how the manner in which parents relate to children evolve over time. Children are taught and punished according to their level of development. By the time the child reaches maturation, the relationship matures from primarily pedagogical (good=reward; bad=punishment) to a mutually loving relationship. This to me is a metaphor for the manner in which God related to the world in the OT and how he relates to us now. It has developed as humanity has developed. God has approached us where we were through history and catered his guidance according to our development. Some theologians posit a developing God. I’d say God related to us where we were, and our ability to comprehend God has matured. God remains the same.

    The assertion that these stories — used the world over in both Jewish and Christian communities — are lies about God is utterly meritless.

    Anyway, complaints about children leaving the church for teaching the same stories that have always been told seems odd to me. If parents thought of themselves as the primary teachers of Biblical principles rather than Sunday School, then no matter how inexact the Sunday School was it wouldn’t have the negative consequences here supposed.

    I would look elsewhere for the root cause of desertion, like the abrogation of pedagogical responsibility of parents who pawn off the job to the Sunday School (or public schools for that matter) and general inauthenticity. Or the church’s white hot desire to transform the church into something dazzling like the world and thereby not offering anything distinct from it. Becoming so fancy in Sunday school that we actually forget to teach the fundamentals as presented in the OT narratives this author wishes to abandon.

    PS I don’t disagree with all of her assessment. Just that her opening is so exaggerated and really belies a misreading of the OT. Her suggestions for how to weave in the faults of the OT characters is a good idea. But again, it will only reinforce the Deuteronomistic nature of the OT as when all of the OT characters did wrong, they were in some way punished by God. Isn’t that the other side of the coin she’s objecting to and omitting in her wildly reductive essay?

    • Hi J,

      The opening story really happened, just as described. No exaggeration.

      By the way, the “she” is a “he” — I’m Sam.

  • Melissa P

    When I teach my children I tell them the whole story so they can see God’s mercy through out the Bible. It definitely has to be age appropriate. I do take issue with your description of Esther. She was taken by force and then forced to participate like property in the Bachelor on steroids. I don’t think you can characterize that as sex outside of marriage.

  • Danna Lea Fink

    The only way Sunday School is destroying our kids is if it is teaching false doctrine. The Heroes of the Faith weren’t inherently good. They were, however, open to letting the Lord use them, flaws and all. Huge difference.

  • Eliz Fitz

    Kind of like the old Christmas song…”you better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout I’m telling you why…Santa Claus is coming to town…..he’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty or nice…” I’ve always tried to tell my boys in regards to that song that it is wrong…Santa is actually a good illustration of grace…he belongs you gifts despite you being naughty, crying, whether you are nice or not. As their mother I want them to behave, but will not change my love for them….my patience yes!

    • Eliz,

      Thanks for reminding us of that song.

      I call it the “Santa-fication” of religion.


  • Sandra D

    Sunday school is one hour per week. If that’s all the bible teaching your children get, then THAT is the problem. And I’m a little tired of articles analyzing “why” people leave church, leave faith, etc. People do it b/c they have free will and choose that path, not necessarily b/c anyone has “done” anything wrong. You can do everything right and your children can still reject God. That said, it is good and proper for us to analyze our teachings and make sure they are biblical and not watered-down pablum. And much of the teaching/preaching today is dumbed down. There are few expository preachers left. And there is plenty of wrong doctrine taught in children’s classes, especially music. Those who teach children or adults should be strongly aware of the necessity of teaching the truth and letting the Holy Spirit make application in the lives of the students. Tell the story as it is written. Then step back and watch the spirit of the Lord work. The power is in the Word, not in our watered down analysis of it.

  • Cindy

    Esther was chosen by God, placed in that situation for “such a time as this.” She was a slave. Yet she chose to obey God in the moment of desperate need for her people. She thought not only to save herself, but to save her people. If I die, I die.

    Joseph was irresponsible and unwise when he shared the dreams that God gave him with his brothers. But God used him and molded him through his severe trials to raise him up. Joseph chose to obey God when his master’s wife pursued him, and ended up in jail for it.

    There was more than just being pursued in all of these believers’ lives. All of these people had a relationship with God. By faith, they obeyed Him. And he used them in remarkable ways. God called Abram to the promised land, and by faith Abraham came. We stumble in the journey with God. We fail. We all have a sin nature. But these believers have these failings. Faith is made evident by our obedience to God.

  • Sherry

    You are so right. Great article! I’ve been teaching kids in Sunday School or Wed. night classes for a long time and you have really put it in perspective. Thanks!

  • fabmaclen

    My books – Losers Club & The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook – address this very issue, offering more realistic and challenging biblical content for teenagers. More info at

    http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Kinley/e/B001IU0XN0 and


  • D.E. Hall

    True, there is something wrong with many (majority? unable to say) Sunday School curricula. As a former Bible college administrator we administered the AABC (now Association of Biblical Higher Education) Bible Knowledge Test (a standardized test) to incoming freshmen and later, Form B to graduating seniors. Year after year we were amazed at how poorly the freshment did who had attended SS, VBS, and Youth Group almost continuouls from the cradle onward. Those who did best were those who were saved as older teens or young adults and who had an insatiable thirst for God’s Word. I am not sure, however, that the answer is in yet one more nice sounding cliche such as “we are good because we are loved.” That we are loved is beyond dispute. That that knowledge makes us good…umm. That I was loved unconditionally by my parents, I have no doubt. But while that knowledge made me guilty when I did wrong–and that was on a daily basis–it did not always make me good.

  • Sarcastic parent

    Wait a sec! Sunday school is responsible? Great, I’m off the hook!

  • Jerry

    So I reckon we’re supposed to teach the kids to be rapists and murderers and doers of every conceivable evil and then God will love them? I thought the Bible said ‘bring them up in the way they should go’.

    • Sara

      Yea. That is exactly what he said: Teach children that being rapists is ok. Unbelievable! Learn how to read people…. He didn’t say that teaching “good morals” is bad he said good morals are learned when Grace is understood! That our focus should be on the Gospel message (which if I read my bible correctly doesn’t teach children how to be rapists!)

      • Hi Sara,

        Yeah, I was shaking my head a bit at that line as well.

        But it makes me wonder. I suspect it makes you wonder as well. How can anyone interpret a call to Grace to be a call to rape and murder?

        What does that say about modern Christianity. Are we so afraid of the modern “sinful” world that we combat it with rules and regulations to the neglect of grace.

        The world of Jesus was brutal and corrupt; and yet the people who killed him were the moralist scribes and Pharisees.

  • Sara

    Thank you so much for writing this. Thank you!

  • Sara

    If I’m understanding your point correctly, I think teaching these stories to your kids is even worse than telling them to be good little boys and girls. Your taking young, impressionable children and telling them that God thinks they are hideous, unworthy of his love. Do you really look at your children this way; staring down at them thinking, “what a hideous, terrible creation! They are so blessed that I love them in spite of their beastliness.”
    I don’t understand this interpretation of the gospel; that we are all terrible, underserving creatures and God in his perfectness loves us is spite of how awful we are. That isn’t good news to me at all!

  • Priscilla

    Very subtle distinction between the truth and the lie

  • theappsguy

    I saw your post shared on Facebook and was prompted to read it. I have also wondered whether well-intentioned Sunday school teachers have misrepresented the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, but not in the way that you have suggested. I appreciate the concern that you raise, but I have to take exception to the remedy that you propose.

    I agree with you that the “heroes of the faith” were corrupt humans like all of us and that none of them earned merit with God by being good. I agree that God pursued each of them just like he pursued me – not for any good in me, but rather because of His own nature and desire to reconcile me to himself. It is all of Him, and that is enough to wonder about.

    Where I have heartburn with your article is with your conclusion about how to discuss these characters – such as Abraham, Joseph, etc. I think the proper way to portray them to a class of children is exactly how God portrayed them in His word. He made no comment about Joseph being narcissistic. He might have been. Who knows? But that conclusion is just speculation on your part or mine. God did not emphasize Abraham’s idol worship – if indeed he has such a problem. While the Bible certainly records David’s sin, it also records his repentance. There is certainly a lot of consequence to what he did, but God does not subsequently belabor his adultery.

    How does God portray these men? As faithful men who walked with God. Did He cover up their sin? No. But He did not beat them over the head with it. And there is no reason that we should either. God made no commentary about the sinfulness of Esther’s relationship with Ahasuerus. Why should we? The story of Esther is not about that. No need to change the story. God had it right the first time.

    Now if you want to concentrate on the wonderful love of the God Who pursues sinners to repentance and reconciliation, then you got my vote. I am with you. The Bible has a lot to say about that. Let’s just stick with the Bible.

    As for why kids are leaving Christianity… I suppose that the pull of the world and its devices of deception have never been stronger. They need to see a genuine Christian who loves God and loves them.

    You want to set a model for kids? Turn from the world and never look back. Kids need to see role models who live a consistent walk with their Savior. Think about the Christians who have most inspired you to walk with God. Were they struggling with sin habits in their life? Do you think they were living a double standard when they were home alone with a computer attached to the internet? Were they more attracted to God’s Word or the latest movie out of Hollywood?

    Do these words make you angry? Ask yourself why? I am not talking legalism here. None of this gets you any points with God. Jesus Christ provided all the righteousness. I am just talking about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. I am talking about a believer who has yielded his members as instruments of righteousness unto holiness. Kids need to see that in someone.

    My own life has been greatly impacted by a few “genuine article” Christians in whom I have seen the reflection of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that I reflect Him to others as well.

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    this is great, and definitely a lot of truth in here although i would maybe go with teaching the good and the bad as opposed to simply swinging from too much good to too much bad – the truth is that within partnership with God and when we are obedient to Him we can do good…

    but i would definitely say DON’T STOP WITH THE CHILDREN… move to the adults cos we tell the same kind of lies and focus on the same three to ten happy out-of-context verses for them – telling girls to guard their hearts [the proverbs verse is addressed to boys], Jeremiah 29.11 plans to prosper you and not to harm you [read without the rest of Jeremiah gives a very misleading piece] and so on – not focusing enough on Jesus ‘deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me’ or ‘the love of most will grow cold but he who stands firm to the end will be saved’ – how about ‘all men will hate you because of Me’ or ‘love your enemies’ and so on – we need to start teaching more balanced truth and reality to the adults… and then comes the singing time…

    i do a preach sometimes called ‘the lie of worship’ where i focus on how we sing things we would never say [and aren’t worship songs simply prayers put to music?] and how the theology in our worship songs can often be so misleading and if you’re having a bad day, week or month so depressing because it doesn’t sound like you at all [not feeling victorious, broken in your sin] – can’t we have some more David Psalms [woe is my, my life sucks, please destroy all my enemies] worship songs? that relate to us more and real life and truth…

    so yes, good one, balance and truth and teaching kids to questions and relate the bible stories to their own lives… so so valid and important…

    how is it possible to read the bible and finish with the idea that following Jesus might be comfortable or easy when it wasn’t for pretty much anyone else in the whole book…

  • Jenny

    How did a woman saying “I did” and “I taught” make you jump to the conclusion that Sunday School is to blame? It’s not the 30 minutes of Sunday School a week that will shape the spiritual life of the child, it is the example of faith in the lives of their parents.

  • A.

    Great, great words.

    I grew up in a church where we talked about saving ourselves for marriage every Sunday, and how the man we end up with will be like “Michael Hosea” from redeeming love. For a person who experienced physical abuse and had goodness defined by withholding something that was stolen–it really messed with me. I never thought I would be enough–which spiraled into a “screw it” attitude.

    As an adult in the dating world, I’ve learned that no man is like Michael Hosea from that book. It’s an irrational expectation to place on a person. We should grow up hearing about Christ’s love, and how His love makes us pure regardless of our sins. Additionally, we will never be able to prepare ourselves to meet with Christ. He meets us where we are at the time. You are enough at any given time. You are exactly as God knew you would be at this moment, and he still died for you. My relationship with Christ is not contingent on me holding on desperately. He has a strong hold onto me whether or not I squeeze back.

  • Darryl Budge

    Great article and agree on all points but one!

    I strongly disagree with the idea that Esther sinned/had sex outside of marriage. It was forcable rape by the king. The king “took her to the harem”. It was NOT Esther’s choice.

    This is explained well in this blog point I found: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/esther-actually-harem

  • Turbenator

    8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
    9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Phi 4:8, 9 E.S.V.

    Maybe the author of this article should go back to the Bible and read this passage. The purpose of education is to teach the good and honourable things we want to highlight and pass on. We teach good behaviour in the hope and expectation it will be accepted and emulated.

  • Adam

    It’s frightening to think that more than half of the world’s population believes in The bible the most violent and cruel book ever written. A book full of rape and baby killing, slavery, discriminates against the handicapped and Human sacrifice.

  • Larry

    Interesting. I’ve been preaching and teaching for over 30 years and have never used materials that say the things in this article: I use the Bible for the text book and I’ve never imagined saying or teaching the things in this article. Interesting, really! I find it hard to believe anyone would draw these conclusions. I must live in a bubble or something.

  • Ali

    I went to Sunday School when I was younger, now I’m 16. The only thing I can really remember from Sunday School was the horrible children I got stuck with (in all 3 churches I went to). Nothing like being bullied when I want to learn about the lord. Other than that, 2 of the churches taught only by Veggietales episodes and the other church was absolutely fantastic. Still, I think if the kids were put under more control and the lessons were better I would’ve learned a lot more. Still happily a Christian but not so sure if I’m letting my future children go to Sunday School.

  • Rosemary

    I get the overall heart of this post. However, using Esther as an example of God using someone despite their sin is victim blaming. Esther was forced into a king’s harem and raped. To say that she had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer but God loves her anyway is the equivalent of holding a date rape victim’s hand and saying, “It’s okay, God loves you despite your sinful choice.” Please take another look at the cultural reality in the story and stop perpetuating the fairy tale princess misconception.

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  • Asher

    What bothers me is this view seems flawed. Interesting article with one
    good point — teach God’s unconditional love and that His love makes us
    good. The article seems to suggest it’s giving a fairly complete solution to youth falling away but falls way short. Many youth have never heard solid reasons to
    believe Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose again, and He will return to judge us
    based on our response to His love/gospel.
    In fact the article seems dangerous because grace with a response of being
    good doesn’t lead to Christianity OR eternal life. A message of grace
    combined with teaching that God commands a response of repentance and
    following Christ is what I think is missing in Sunday School.

  • Ray Chen

    This is a fitting warning that Christian education could fall into moralization (and idolizing “heroes of faith”). The same warning is applicable even to the whole teaching/preaching ministry of many churches.

    But there are more questions than a simplistic “one-size-fits-all” gospel could answer. For example, saying that “David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him” is not exactly accurate—it was many years AFTER God loved & pursued David, when he became a murdering adulterer. Why couldn’t God’s grace prevent that?

    Relevant biblical truths have to be considered, such as:

    1) Both gospel and law are messages in the Bible, & both must be taught seriously. The difference is their respective functions, or uses. The law reveals that I am the Beast. Then and only then, the gospel brings the kiss of God’s grace to my wretched, beastly life.

    2) There are two kinds of righteousness. We receive one—the righteousness of God, without our pursuit, endeavor or merit of any kind, through Jesus’ redemption. We pursue the other—our “proper” righteousness, by serving our neighbor with a pure heart, out of gratitude and love for God. The latter contributes nothing to our salvation, but is a necessary response to the
    grace received. Both must be clearly taught.

    3) a Christian is a fully righteous person and a completely depraved sinner SIMULTANEOUSLY, all the way through his/her earthly life.

    4) And,…………etc.

    I only need a simple faith to get saved. But to be a teacher/preacher, I must “rightly dissecting the Word of Truth” (2Tim.2:15): by diligently studying the Bible, and carefully discerning the fine distinctions made in it. It is not too much to demand every Sunday school teacher to be well trained in correct theology.

    I’m by no means insisting that all Christians must be learned theologians. A simple grateful heart to Jesus’ redeeming love will more than enough to assure you eternal life. But if you ever want to TEACH (everyone is tempted to do it at some point), you must know what you teach, & how it influences, even determines, the destiny of those taught by your teaching!

  • Deb

    Curious where “Esther had sex outside marriage with an unbeliever”?

    • Christian Vagabond

      In Chapter 2, Esther is described as a member of a harem gathered to please the king. The whole chapter revolves around the fact that Esther became the King’s favorite concubine.

  • Randall

    This is still all teaching. I believe that children instinctively hunger for meat and not milk. I like the above, but I like it more with children and youth moving with the Holy Spirit and moving in the Gifts of the Spirit-praying and seeing healing, prophesying, building faith. I think that children should be trained up in spiritual warfare. They do not have a jr. Holy Spirit. Maybe more would stay if they had a Gospel that was shown and walked out and demonstrated and not just taught.

  • katzeyy

    Where does the Bible say that Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer? And where does it say that Abraham was an idol worshiper.

  • Justin

    What do you mean, ‘Esther had sex outside of marriage…?’

  • “ROG”

    Hey folks, lets remember when Sunday schools were invented, during WW 1& 2 , when the men were off to war , who was left to teach the children? Right the women had the hard job of raising the children, so in churches all over America, the positive view Jesus and how the good boys & girls prevail if the obey was taught. They needed a way to control & comfort the fatherless children & place a strong belief in the almighty God, the father that he will be faithful to them.
    I saw a video series a few years back at men’s conference that stated these facts. It showed that the Bible was taught in such a way that men didn’t take an active roll in churches because of how the structure of Sunday schools were taught.

    • Interesting.

    • Kiri

      Actually, Sunday Schools were invented long before WW1&2. Sunday Schools were where children of poor parents got their education. They didn’t get it during the week, because they were working. And they worked a 6 day week and hours that we would think horrible. It’s only the middle and upper class who’s children got to go to school during the week. All lessons were based around the bible, on how to read, write and do minimal math. Obedience was something that of course was drilled into them. Consider what the industrial revolution would have been like if we had not had obedient people to be workers. Speaking as a Sunday School teacher for the last 30 years on and off – I’ve never taught my kids to be obedient or else and neither has any of the curriculum that I’ve used in Australia. So that leaves us with America using curriculum from industrial revolution times, or creating curriculum with those values. Or the writer of this article not actually knowing what is taught nowadays. My suspicion is the latter.

  • Debbie

    For me I love the Bible characters esp. many of the old testament people because of the very fact they were not perfect at all but God still used them and did bless them. This if very encourgaging to me because I know in my simple every day life of trying to live for him and failing each day in some way, He can still use me in some small way and that his grace is truely sufficient.

    • You got it! I agree. I love your closing line,

      “He can still use me in some small way and that his grace is truly sufficient.”

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  • Karen

    Thought-provoking article, and similar to what Elyse Fitzpatrick says in her “Give Them Grace” parenting book. If we just teach the Bible stories as moral lessons, then we’re no different than Mormons our any other self-righteous religionist. Jesus said that the Scripture, meaning the OT at that time, testified to him, so I think it’s not too hard to relate each Bible story back to the Gospel. However, just as adults have multiple things they can learn from each Bible story, so can our kids. Like say the story of Joseph, how he suffered and saved his people from starvation… Jesus suffered and saves us from eternal death. But it’s not bad or wrong to teach that Joseph trusted God and forgave his brothers, just so long as we don’t neglect the message of grace. I think it’s too simplistic to just boil every story down to “They’re a sinner, but God loved them anyway.” While that is true, there is more we can learn from the Bible than just that.

    Commenting on the discussion of the ten commandments below, I would like to point out that the book of Romans says the law does have a purpose: to make us realize our need for grace. We need to know the bad news (that we have fallen short of God’s perfect standard) and the law helps us see that standard. So I teach the 10 commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount, etc., and I make sure to point out that only Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly… that we have all broken these commandments in our thoughts, words, or actions, and that Jesus took the punishment of death that we deserved, and now by repentance and belief in Him we are saved.

    My husband, a Baptist pastor, just walked in and weighed in on the issue. He says that Hebrews 11 and 1 Cor. 10 hold up OT Bible stories as examples for us to learn from, both the good and the bad. Of course, we can’t neglect the Gospel of grace, but there are still valid lessons to learn that kids can carry into their adult lives.

    Finally, I want to point out that Deut 6:7 says that parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children. I take my kids to Sunday school, but I realize that the lessons aren’t perfect, and that 1 hour on Sunday is not going to be enough. So if we are teaching our kids the Bible at home every day of the week, we will have opportunities to fill in the cracks and answer questions about the Bible, and continue to share the message of the Gospel with our lips and with our lives.

  • rrr

    I believe that attributing
    the dislike for Christianity by the son of the lady to possible presentations
    of Sunday School lessons is jumping to conclusions. How would you know
    how the lessons were presented to the boy? Did “she” attribute
    her son’s disdain for Christianity to this? Perhaps you were offended by
    the way “your” Sunday School teachers told the stories or perhaps you
    were guilt laden to begin with to the point of comparing yourself to the Bible
    heroes which is good if it led to conviction of your sin and repentance and
    salvation. Sounds like a lot of anger on the part of more than the lady’s
    son to me. MANY young people rebel “Christianity” by the insistence of
    their parents that they even attend Sunday School. However, the children often
    decide for themselves to return to that “rock of truth” as they get

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  • Capital C

    I find it hard to believe a child fell away solely on what was learned at Sunday School. How many hours a week is this child in SS? How many hours a week is this child with their parent(s)? Maybe looking at their entire environment is a better place to start. SS is and always has benn an easy target.

  • Joseph

    actually the answer is simple, you raised him with comparison, and if he don’t meet them he’s not good enough and he is looking at him self, there is also a lack of option! not that your motives are not good most parents want there kids perfect but when you mix it with obligation and rules and forget what Jesus did you cancel grace when you rely on your self to fill a rule

    your actually not teaching him good thing’s like this, your teaching him if he can’t accomplish these thing’s he’s bad!!!!! why would he be interested? the great thing not to be mean, but he’s has no idea what it really is like to be with Daddy and he is non of the thing’s he is taking him in as!

    from that your kid is smart so far he can tell what your teaching him is work’s and he will never be good enough these are the underlining your missing that he is getting!! yes I said your kid get’s some thing you don’t

    try figuring out what his dreams are and ask Daddy God to join in to do them
    and stop comparing him and more important stop giving him stuff that he loses what God made him to be like (who God made him to be, not your hero’s in the bible!!!) start letting him be him self without causing him to compare him self with others

    by the way Daddy loved David and was an example to fallow before Jesus came, David was an adulterer and a murderer, which God forgave! point can do nothing apart from Jesus, and every man falls short

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  • bobfriel

    Genesis 18:19 says, “For I have chosen him (Abraham), so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing WHAT IS RIGHT AND JUST, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. When I read “How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him” as Sam states, it misses the whole and complete story of Abraham and misrepresents God’s word entirely. God called Abraham to teach his children and children’s children what is right and just. Sam warning that our Sunday schools are flawed by stating, “But our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and God will love us and use us. It’s the total opposite of the gospel.” What is opposite of the gospel is this author’s understanding of God’s word and his false teaching. Our kids need more heroes, not less. They need role models and God’s choice was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. God did pursue them, but they chose to follow God and their lives were blessed. What’s next by this author, the Apostle Paul was a “religious murderer who participated in the killing of women and children. I would rather teach my children that Paul was a hero, was martyred for the sake of Christ and received the “crown of Life”. Please read Hebrews 11 about the “faithful” men God used and how their lives impacted the world. This program, this story, is false teaching. If you teach your children according to this message you will one day deeply regret that you did so

    • Hi Bob,

      Of course I want children (and adults) to live moral lives. The world is a mess because of violence, unfaithfulness, betrayal, oppression, deceit, and idolatry.

      But grace means giving all the glory to God. It means saying God CHOSE Abraham, Joseph, David, Esther, and Paul.

      Grace means we can’t claim even one percent of the glory.

      Paul himself (yes, a murderer) needed God to break in and intervene in a shocking way. Paul claims he was among the most virtuous, and Paul says, “Whatever gain I had I count as loss.”

      Grace means we don’t deserve it, and grace means God gets all the glory.

      Every bit.

      • Byron Nice

        God should get all the glory because He has given us everything to life and godliness. God purchased the train ticket if you will, but we have to get on and stay on the train otherwise it will leave us behind. That means we have a responsibility for our own salvation which is why Paul also said we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. So many people also don’t realize that we can be worthy of the glory of God, Acts 5:41, Romans 16:1-2, Colossians 1:9-10, etc… Granted being worthy is all due to His precious and magnificent promises, 2 Peter 1:1-12, IF we lay hold of them by faith. God considered all men worthy of His Son, but it is only those who turn to Him that are accepted as worthy.

        God chose Paul for one major purpose besides going to the Gentiles. Paul says God used him to demonstrate His patience, 1 Timothy 1:12-17. Paul’s conversion is an example of what God can do if we accept Him. What better demonstration for the Christians of the time (and now) of God’s love in action. Paul went from killing the Christians to being the greatest example of a Christian, just short of Christ, because Paul had done things wrong before his conversion.

        I would like to hear your definition/explanation of God’s grace. I am fairly confident that we have a different understanding of what His grace truly is. In the end, most disagreements or different points of view we have will likely revolve around what grace is and what it is not.

    • Byron Nice

      You stated it correctly about Paul. At least who he was but not what he came to be. Paul speaks of himself as the chiefest of sinners because of what he had done before coming to know the truth. He speaks of himself and those with him saying that they too once were deceived, once were disobedient but no longer are. They need to understand what the power of God in their lives can do for them. Teaching them to be good little boys and girls teaches them nothing if the understanding is not given that it is through the Spirit we can be good.

      Tit 3:1-7 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, (2) to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (3) For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. (4) But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, (5) He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (6) whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (7) so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

      Paul and those with him changed when the kindness of God came. God gave His Holy Spirit to be within us so we could be justified, but simply receiving the Spirit and being justified by the Spirit are two very different things. Being good is only part of it. I know a lot of people who are not Christian, yet they are very good people. This will not save them, but neither will simply accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are obligated to serve Him in the Spirit, to no longer live according to the flesh, Romans 8.

  • Matt Troyer

    I agree that we need to weave the gospel into the calling to be people of faith, goodness, holiness, and obedience. BUT in our pursuit to frame these stories in the clarity of grace, we cannot diminish the calling of faith, goodness, holiness, and obedience on our lives. Yes, God chose those people based on His will and not their good works but their faith and goodness and obedience did enable God to work through them. Faith, goodness, and obedience matter.

    Also it seems a bit of a stretch to throw Esther out there like she was some sort of loose woman having sex before marriage. She was chosen by the king Xerxes for that life. Its a little different than it is presented in the article.

    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I agree with what I believe is your desire: to motivate people to choose to do God’s will, to obey.

      But God can cause the stones to praise him. We have to be careful about how much credit we ourselves take.

      Faith is a gift. We did nothing to deserve it.

      • Byron Nice

        Yes everything we have been given is from God, but if we do not use what God has given us according to His will then it and everything else will be taken from us and given to those who used it wisely. Parable of the talents. If we are like the one who buried it in the ground then all is lost. The use of it is according to our choices alone. Will we use it for God or for self or will we do nothing with it. Using according to God’s plan requires faith in that God will do just as He said He would. It is still our choice to believe.

  • Cara Bell

    I disagree, I believe apathy is the key ingredient to young people leaving the church, not curriculum.

    • Hi Cara,

      Sure, I buy apathy. But why are they apathetic? We teach a sappy sense of love. How many people have I heard say, “Yeah I know God loves me … so what?”

      They reason for the “so what?” and for the apathy, is we say that all these heroes were so great (though the weren’t … have you ever read about Samson and Gideon’s lives?).

      Instead we need to show how they weren’t–and neither are we–so we desperately need God.

      A good sense of desperation chases away apathy every time.

  • Claude dies

    Don’t believe our Sunday school teaches this….Ester had little choice in what she did…..The story of David and Bathsheba is standard fare …Where does it state in the Bible that Abraham worship Idols?…..This sounds very much like a negative study that only looks at things from that angle, like “A case of Character” written about JFK, and “Lee in Crisis” written about Robert E. Lee, where everything in their lives was looked at from a negative angle….Just saying…..

  • Byron Nice

    When does the Bible say each of the people described in these comments receive the promises of God? It is quite evident that mankind only receives the benefits of the promises of God when we turn from our evil way and fully turn to God. God does love all men (and women) but in order for us to benefit from that love we must repent of our ways and do the works that God prepared for us to do. In all the stories (Abraham, Joseph, David, Esther, Samson, etc…) they all followed God’s plan that He made. If we follow our own plans life will not go as planned. Samson wanted to seek a wife outside of his people, Abraham went in to Hagar instead of his wife Sarah, etc… Nothing good came from their wrong choices. The children of Hagar are believed to be where the Muslims originated. Samson was put to open shame, enslaved, and in the end lost his life because of his choices. What I am curious to know is if SS is teaching about what happened when the children of Israel and Judah turned from God to serve idols while at the same time they were claiming to serve God also. Our children need to understand there are consequences for disobedience and rewards for obedience. The New Testament repeats this over and over that we will be judged according to our deeds, whether good or bad. A Christian has a huge advantage over those mentioned in these comments because we have the power at our finger tips to serve the living God through the Holy Spirit. God has always expected His people to obey His voice and today is no different. God does not promise eternal life to those who simply “accept” Christ. God has offered a free gift to all men if we come and follow Him. The gift He gives to us is what opens up the way to truly serving Him, sanctification through the Holy Spirit (His grace) without which no one will see the Lord. That is why we are saved by grace (Holy Spirit) through faith in that God will bring our sanctification to pass if we choose to be led by the Spirit according to His plan. Those who were before Christ did not have the gift of the Holy Spirit as we do so their righteous living was purely under their own control based on their love for God. This is what our children need to understand about them and us. If you really want to talk about how David walked read 1 Kings 15:4-5. We are told that David obeyed all the commands of the Lord all the days of his life except those in regards to Uriah. Talk about a man after God’s own heart. Why or how was he able to do this? He sought the guidance of the Lord always. How much more could we do today with having the Holy Spirit in us. Let us teach them the real promises of God no wishy washy God always loves us mentality. He loves us all but wishes that all men would not perish but come to repentance.

    2 Peter 3:9-16 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (11) Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (13) But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (14) Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, (15) and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, (16) as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    Notice also how the writer says we are to be found by God in peace, spotless and blameless. We are to be this way when He comes and not become this way.

    Christ became the source of salvation for those who OBEY Him, Heb 5:8-9

    “(8) Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (9) And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”

    Teach the children that God does keep His promises in regards to both punishment for disobedience and eternal life for obedience. God has not changed yet so many teach and believe that God is no longer this vengeful God who deals out retribution to those who turn from Him, commit sin against God. All their focus is on God’s love while neglecting to speak of the love we are to have for Him. John says it best in 1 John 5:1-4.

    “(1) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (2) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. (3) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (4) For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (5) Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

    Again, take a look at the children of Israel. When they disobeyed they were destroyed except for a remnant. When the people turned back to the Lord then they were released from their slavery and allowed to return to the promised land. This story repeated itself over and over and over. Only those who obey receive the promises of God. It has always been this way and always will. Teach the good and the bad so that they understand who God is. He is the righteous judge and will deal retribution to all those who disobey Him and life eternal to those who love Him.

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  • John Welsford

    I sometimes wonder if this breach is not caused by the fact that the faith of the Biblical heroes is not generally emulated and demonstrated by the adults in the church. It is always abstract, teaching from a book, a set curriculum, and not something that kids see lived out. Just a thought.

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  • Mary Wert

    What! You mean we are transformed by our works because God loved us, pursues us and then gives us the real Graces with which to accomplish His work here on earth and not the other way around where He only loves us if we are good.!!! Sounds amazingly and exactly what I have been properly catechized to understand from Catholic Church teaching. Great article.

  • rogdj

    AIG (Answers In Genesis ) has great materials for kids that would ground them in truth and uphold the authority of God’s Word from the first word to the last.

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  • Capndad

    I often think there would be a lot of value in studying the “heroes” of the Bible in their downtime. (i.e. what were they doing outside of what’s recorded?) When you think about it, all that’s recorded about the Bible heroes takes up a small percentage of their lives. Did they spend the majority of the rest of their time being saintly, thereby putting us to shame because of the unreachable goal they modeled? I think not! I think they were every bit a scrubby, worthless, depressed, worldly bunch as we are, but God used them anyway at the time of His choosing. (While we were yet sinners Christ died for us) As a body of believers, we need to change our approach, not only to how we teach our kids, but also how we “witness” our faith to the unsaved. Paul even taught that by giving us direction to be as they (the unsaved) are, without sinning, by being free enough in Christ to not worry about legalistic church teachings. If I, for example, were to preach the legalistic view that rock music is a sin, I would leave a whole world of lost music lovers without an opportunity to see that Christianity does not mean leaving all but the most drab at home.

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  • johann

    Yes, I have to agree….thanks

  • Broc Verschoor

    At the end of the day, I think the important thing to note is that there are levels of validity within what everyone here is saying. With that, I would just like to say that I think that getting nit-picky over the details is in some ways just as much an issue. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT JESUS CHRIST BE CENTRAL! Central in our lives, in our consideration of action, in our teaching, our conversations, our relationships, our everything. Beyond that point things get muddy really quickly. Remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17. He prays that we be unified just as He and the Father are one. I am not going to make assumptions for anyone here on this discussion thread, but I don’t sense a unity. Let Christ be unity and let all other doctrinal preferences lay by the wayside.

    When the thief on the cross acknowledged Christ as Lord, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Not “Well first you must say the sinners prayer, be sanctified, and prove your worth in the Kingdom.” I don’t want that to be confused with saying that you can live however you want. But at the point of professing Christ as Lord your life should hinge on His. It also isn’t up to me to make sure everyone is living like that, but to make sure that those who WANT TO are taught the right way “discipleship”. You didn’t see Jesus arguing with the disciples why they should be disciples, he just said come and they did!

    So if you live a life striving to be Christ-like with the acknowledgement of Him as Lord and your sanctification and disciple-making will merely by a byproduct not something you are constantly evaluating. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 is says we should “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” that requires action and I don’t know how much evaluation that involves. I don’t in the middle of a race call for a timeout and study my form and strategize, the only option I have is to keep running.
    Thanks Sam for your post!

  • Emily

    You certainly speak to a critical failing of Sunday School curriculum, but I think this is only part of the reason children leave the faith. The “just be good” mentality has poisoned “adult” church as well. Also, the fact that Sunday School, for kids, tends to take place during the main service separates kids from the Body until they are deemed old enough to participate appropriately, or, in reality, they’re old enough to be quiet and bored. We never do our children the service of truly teaching them about the deepness of their family’s faith, their place in the wider church and the world – this monumental task is left to a six-week conformation class, if ever taught at all.
    If parents are unwilling to correct these failings, it is unlikely their children will bother to carry on a superficial faith in a religion they don’t understand, with a group of people who don’t really want them there.

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  • Rickster

    The biggest problem with Sunday School is the Church has tooo many people teaching because they want to and not because they have the gift to teach…The Church is to blame here because it is more worried about plugging a hole they have in a class versus giving Spiritual gifts test to the members and proceding from there…Rickster

  • Nan

    Your central point, that God loves us whether we are good or not, is true, but I need a fuller and clearer picture. Your examples nearly make it sound like God rewards disobedience. That too can send a dangerous message, one I see pervasive in Christian culture: “God loves me no matter what I do.” This has been the fallback for the once-saved-always-saved crowd.

    To me it feels as though you used this woman and her son as a prop for your own message. Your
    comment, “I wondered why it took him so long,” makes it sound like that’s the first place your mind went during this woman’s grief. I’d like to believe that isn’t so.

    Yet, I understand that you are trying to use one woman’s problem to underscore a shortcoming in the church.

    The issue of a young adult leaving Christianty is so much larger than what you have outlined.

    Additionally, you misrepresented David’s relationship with God. God forgave David because David had a repentant heart, but He also punished him by taking his firstborn. These are the deeper issues that I think youth struggle with.

    And where is the discussion of the enemy? If children have fallen, the demonic may be at work. Christians, especially youth, need to know how to factor this into the ‘love’ message.

    I would argue that many kids are given the message that they are loved regardless and don’t understand punishment, boundaries, and free will. Love can mean allowing homelessness, drug addiction, and pain….but many modern day evangelists ignore this. Instead the more popular minister is to ‘name it and claim it.’

    Moreover, it doesn’t matter what Sunday School teaches if the behavior of their parents of other adults in church/school/community contradict it.

    Yes, God loves us in our deficiency, and yes God pursues us, but obviously not all of us answer the call. Why? This must be discussed as well as the power of prayer and the fact that God wants us in relationship with Him. It’s not just about receiving love it’s RELATIONSHIP!

    God reaches out to all of us all of the time. Sometimes it is through the HS, sometimes through His people.

    I would have loved you to show us more:
    -how God loved this woman during her heartache
    -if this family needs prayers
    -if you guided this woman to a deeper relationship with Christ
    -if you were convicted to pray for this young man.

    Perhaps your criticisms of Sunday School materials are deserved – but in your post you didn’t show me how you kissed this woman with God’s beauty – and that (which I recognize because I have seen it in myself) is the greater problem.

  • Beverly

    I think I understand where you are coming from with this article but we must be careful to instruct the next generation in the whole council of God. Yes, God is a God of grace and we don’t want our children to grow up trying to earn their salvation, but we must not offer them a cheap salvation either! It does cost something to follow Christ! We are asked to “lay down our lives” be “living sacrifices”, “deny self” and “follow” our Savior. (Mark 8:34)This requires a willingness to obey Him, and to obey is to follow in paths of goodness and
    righteousness and holiness, of course.
    We do want to instruct them that we should be good…not so that He will love us…but because we love Him! Remember, “Jesus replied ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching..” (John 14:23) To obey His teaching is definitly to be good!
    When I taught Sunday School we made a point of teaching the children all about our sin nature and that the good news is that Jesus helps us to obey because He understands our struggle and because He loves us!Afterall “we love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19 – (one of the first memory verses we teach our Sunday School children!) Let’s not ‘tip the scale’ too far one way or the other. Grace and obedience are both Biblical truths that must be imparted to the next generation!

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  • Jeff

    Don’t forget this part about Abraham: “Abraham gave everything he owned to his son Isaac. 6 But before he died, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them off to a land in the east, away from Isaac. 7 Abraham lived for 175 years, 8 and he died at a ripe old age, having lived a long and satisfying life.” Gen 25:5-8. Abraham and David alike, had many concubines.

    • Jeff

      Satisfying life indeed!

  • Nicholas Prom

    OR, maybe shoving all of this down a child’s throat is just a bad idea, in general. Becoming a Christian is an ADULT decision, not something one should be indoctrinated with from birth. So many young people reject Christianity, because they are made to feel that parental love and acceptance is conditional on being a Christian. A person cannot truly grasp the commitment, and nuance involved in Christianity until they are mature enough to really understand what a life walking with with Christ means.

    • Byron Nice

      Well put. This is a problem even with bringing adults to Christ. The focus of most churches today is believe in Christ and you will be saved without teaching what believing in Christ really means. Christ speaks about it when He says “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” or “What king when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? He finishes with “so then , none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all of his possessions.” I believe His point in these statements is this: Unless we are ready and willing to forsake everything (put Him first in every aspect of our lives) then we cannot be His disciples. Anything we put before Him is an idol that we are worshiping which violates the first two commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul strength, and mind. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Becoming a Christian is a life change. If we believe it is a process then we must think twice about whether or not we are keeping the first commandment. Thankfully God says He gives everything we need for life and godliness so that we can serve Him alone.

  • Valerie

    When I was teaching Sunday School, I was extremely aware that kids go to church and hear about David killing Goliath, then they go home and watch Teenage Ninja Turtles. They hear about Moses parting the Red Sea, and then they go home and see Aladdin’s genie doing marvelous things. They hear about the walls of Jericho coming down and then go home and watch Superman and Batman. It was important to me to show kids that the people in the Bible were REAL, not the same as super heroes and characters in fairy tales. In fact, I avoided using any set Sunday School materials, but I stuck mainly to the New Testament and talked about Jesus and our relationship with God.

    • Valerie,

      You are fabulous! I love your comment and your observations regarding the stories and the cartoons; and making the biblical characters real. Thank you.

  • Daniel Gray

    I don’t know why you would
    say, “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved
    her and pursued her.” Neither the “Book
    of Esther” nor the Apocryphal additions to Esther mentions anything of the
    sort. There are no other mentions of
    Esther in Scripture or Apocrypha.

  • gwennonr

    This was such an excellent article!!! I wish all Christians could read it. What a great blessing to see this truth presented in a way that it is so easily understood. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

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  • Michael

    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a ] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” To Truly be a good righteous Christian, we must teach not only the full understanding of heaven and the sacrifices we “all” have to make to earn our way in but the very real truth about hell and the journey we have to make to not go there. Harsh but true but remember, we have free will to choose our actions and that’s the truth that should be taught.

    • Byron Nice

      It is good to hear someone speak about what God expects of us. So many today believe we have a free ride if we believe in Christ. I feel sorry for them because they fail to understand what God has promised to those who love them.

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  • Daniel Suárez


    What about if kids learn in church and practice with family. But instead of that you just live your life and so you have a good boy you send him to church, its not that easy. You are saying the bible says and the bible don’t . But in fact you are not giving any real specific verse of the bible to justify your argument. Its ok to think outside the box but never think outside the bible. The bible is the infallible word of GOD, and it always works; if its for obedience or grace. 2 Timothy 3:16

  • Daniel Suárez

    I understand the statement. But I insist its easier to blame church and their teachers. Why not a look inside my family? So I teach them right by word and example, and when they go to Sunday school they already know the whole bible stories and they can benefit the most from class even if class was just a part of the story. I insist 2 Timothy 3:16 tells “All the Bible…” so church can teach when they were obedient too.

  • Mary

    Wonderful wonderful article! I read it over a week ago and keep coming back to reread..I was brought up in church/youth camp. (late 90’s and 2000’s child/teen years). Southern baptist to be exact. This article speaks so much truth and in fact answers many questions. Thanks for writing and I look forward to your future posts.

  • Blake

    A big part of God’s pursuit and manifestation of love was in taking those people in your last list and making them into those people in the first list (minus the parts here) We want to be loved, sure, but God made us so that we want to do something. We want to love back. His Grace allows us to do that. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are wretched, yes. But in Christ we can be deified by faith.

  • Blake

    There are other more profound and evangelical/anti-traditional traditions at work here. Sunday School tends to offer much of what you say. But it also supplants the liturgical life of the church for the child. In the liturgical life, everything points to Christ and God’s mercy in the face of our weakness. We take kids out of the liturgy and catechise them on “theology” instead. Sadly the liturgical life is taken from most evangelical adults also, so how could they be reasonably expected to recognize the value of passing it on to their children. Instead we learn theology in a vacuum where knowledge “puffs up”.

  • pat

    Um, why not everybody be nice to everybody else all the time. Isn’t that the real gospel, I always kinda thought that’s what Jesus was teaching.

  • Keep it up Sunday School

    I love the metaphor of comparing Christianity to Beauty and the Beast. It’s so apt because it’s about a magical monster kidnapping someone until they have Stockholm Syndrome.

  • egb

    Many *excellent* points, *until* we reach the second bulleted list.

    (a) Joseph was *not* a narcissistic boy — he was given visions by God that strengthened him in terrible circumstances, preparing him for his destiny. But as Satan is the “accuser of the brethren”, his jealous brothers thought ill of him. Sure he was born a sinner like us all, but where in God’s Word does He show anything Joseph needed to repent of?

    (b) Where in the world do you get the idea that Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer?? Sure she was born a sinner like us all, but where in God’s Word does He show anything Esther needed to repent of?

  • Elisabeth Baker

    Many *excellent* points, *until* we reach the second bulleted list.

    (a) Joseph was *not* a narcissistic boy — he was given visions by God that strengthened him in terrible circumstances, preparing him for his destiny. But as Satan is the “accuser of the brethren”, his jealous brothers thought ill of him. Sure he was born a sinner like us all, but where in God’s Word does He show anything Joseph needed to repent of?

    (b) Where in the world do you get the idea that Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer?? Sure she was born a sinner like us all, but where in God’s Word does He show anything Esther needed to repent of?

  • canguy100

    Sunday School is not destroying your kids. Unless, of course they have only bad teachers and receive no instruction from their parents or others about the Bible (which is possible I guess). The story of Esther is not about God pursuing a girl who had sex outside of marriage; that’s a bit presentist to assume that I think. It is about God loving and rescuing his people despite their shortcomings and against stacked odds. It is about God using people in unfortunate circumstances to accomplish things in a way they could not have planned. And Esther’s obedience despite the personal risk is a huge theme in the story. I think this article is turning ‘Sunday School’ into a bit of a straw man.

  • Carol

    So if you have an older teen drifting away, send them here: Mind Games by Probe Ministries, a week-long summer camp. Description here: http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.6326987/k.443/National_Student_Mind_Games_Conference_2013.htm

    It is truly an amazing experience. And no, I don’t teach there or have any reason to say this except that I’ve seen it work, up close and personal. 🙂

  • Beau

    Interesting. I like all of the Tankah references because this is really where the Gospel of Jesus originated. No NT required. All of these stories illustrate that GOD loves us no matter what; and all GOD asks is our repentance as the key for forgiveness. (Ezekiel 18) No human sacrificial savior required.

  • Claudette H Wood

    May I please have permission to photocopy this and share it with my Sunday School teachers? You say exactly what I’ve felt for so very long.

  • mimi

    Esther was married to the man! how dare you defame Esther who showed us how to be devoted to a ‘reject” : her Mother in Law you had lost her MAN & therefore beholden to family WHO WAS ALLOWED to reject her. NONSENSE all of this. GOD IS LOVE/ JESUS IS LOVE is all we need all the rest in POLITICS. Just my opinion; but after 30 plus years teaching sunday school CREATIVELY, lovingingly & in a HOLY manner I get upset by these sites. If I dont teach Sunday School WHO WILL: most likely not anyone who answers this site.

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  • C Yang

    I have been a Sunday School teacher for years, and I could not agree with you more!! My lessons always include something in the lines of, “coming to church, being a good kid/student, having a good family does NOT make you right with GOD. Only the blood of Jesus makes you right with GOD.”

    • Oh C Yang,

      I delight to hear what you are teaching.

      By God’s grace, don’t stop! (Always remembering that even our strength “not to stop” comes from the grace of the cross.)

      Thanks for making my day.


  • Arm Jo

    I personally didn’t have this kind of experience. Sunday School saved me and then, through the artwork and storied I brought home, saved my parents. There was no “God is Love and only love” teaching…and there were not “sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns” style Sunday School lessons at my church. Sunday School laid a foundation and created a hunger in me for more knowledge of a complex, mysterious God…mighty, terrible, loving, just, and huge. I feared Him as much as I loved Him…and it drove me to dive deeper. Sunday School and my teachers did that…a church body did that…started a fire of hunger in a child. Sunday School isn’t the reason for luke-warm, back sliding Christian youth…or adults who toss in the towel and go the way of Atheism. Rather it is Churches, leaders and teachers who FAIL at creating awe and hunger in children and FAIL at building a TRUE spiritual foundation. NOT all Sunday School classes have this “Jesus lite” mentality or teaching!
    Parents or mentors also play a HUGE roll in children learning the Word…Examples outside Church and the immersive experiences they have DAILY in their home, community, school contribute, in LARGE part, to who these children become and their system of beliefs. You cannot send children to Sunday School and then simply turn them back to the world the rest of the week and “hope” they turn out okay. That’s the most irresponsible and ignorant notion…God is MORE than just a 45 minute classroom stay! ALL aspects of a child’s life and upbringing should be peppered with the wonder, fear, grace, and mystery of the Lord…And, that’s hard…but WHERE do you send them to school? WHO do they play with? WHERE do they spend free time? WHAT do you let them watch on TV? None of us are shaped solely by one set of teachings…it’s our whole life’s journey that shapes who we become…and the CHOICES we make…like the CHOICE to turn from God.
    To say or imply that ALL Sunday School Classes have this issue is ridiculous and untrue. To Blame Sunday School and “light teachings” as the only components to a person walking away from God later in life is untrue and inaccurate.
    While Sunday School at SOME churches may be an issue…it reveals a greater one…the Church Mission as a whole and WHO that body of believers is in the Lord. But then, to blame it all on Sunday School is just as revealing. At some point, the responsibility must be with the person who made the choice.

  • bobfriel

    The reason I decided to challenge the claims contained in this article. Sam’s claim that teaching our children (especially those from 4-12 years) about the heroes of the Bible somehow then burdens our children by expecting them to be “good little boys and girls” is false and misleading, to say the least. It misses the point of the teaching about the lives and character of Abraham and the Old Testament heroes, and those of the New Testament. Age appropriate discussions are always important to keep in mind, and moving to higher levels of teaching based on the maturity and faith of the students is important. We may teach them that Abraham failed to trust in God and called his wife his sister, but shouldn’t we teach the foundation that he “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness?” How about teaching our children about the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 and set a foundation of faith in their lives. The burden our children carry today is not from being told live by faith and serve a loving God, but to be good. On the contrary they are told they can live in the world, have sex, marry outside the faith, or worse live outside of marriage and, what the heck, and doesn’t God still love them and forgive them. Of course He does but do we teach them the consequences of sin, the consequences of living so that they cannot be distinguished from the world around them. I am in a Bible study of 15 men that are mature in age and are committed to their faith. The only problem is they have each lost one or all of their children to the world. I am the only one in our group that has all 3 of my children still walking the faith they were taught as children. I say this not to boast in myself, but in the Lord who has led us in the raising of our children. And yes, we still speak into their lives when the opportunity arises, My warning once again concerning this author to all parents and churches who think he is right. You will one day deeply regret you did so. We desperately need God to convict the hearts of our children and then to write his laws both their minds and hearts. They are in danger of loosing their saltiness.

  • Annie Hetschel

    Go to scripture– It’s parents and grandparents who are responsible for the education of their children. Check out the history of Sunday School — it served a purpose for the working children.

  • Brynne Carlisle

    why can’t i be a remarkable human being without God. Im the one that pulled myself out of the ditch and brought myself to shore. i mean i can’t ask god to make me a guitar player. i have to earn it. gain callouses and strength in the fingers so i may push onto the fret board. i just think this article is silly. we put ourselves in situations and each outcome is different. not cause you were good or bad and loved god

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  • Jim bush

    As I put in my share to Facebook, everyone who teaches the Bible formally or informally needs to consider this.

    • Hi Jim,

      Yes, this is not merely a message for kids. We all need to remember the gospel.


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  • Judy Johnson

    I’ve been in church and SS all my life. I’ve helped teach children and do now teach adults. I don’t know about your church, but the ones I’ve been connected with have ALWAYS taught the pure gospel to our children.Yes, we’ve taught these bible characters but in the light of the gospel. In the old testament–that their FAITH in God is why they became who they were.Yes, we brought out their sins and the forgiving power and love of God as well. I had never heard of any SS program teaching if you’re beautiful and obedient, if you’re faithful, if you’re a good little boy or girl and if you have a pure heart, then God will save you. That’s absurd! We must have SS for our children. That is often all the bible they learn. Children have been actually saved in SS before. And, many adults today remember their SS teacher and what a blessing she or he was in their lives,etc. I totally disagree with the first part of your info.

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  • Nonso

    Children must be taught the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Without the holy spirit the word of God is religion and it does not work. It becomes boring and ineffective. Jesus Christ never introduced any religion. He brought the gospel – good news. Also, Sunday schools should engage in fun activities regularly because children easily get bored. People handling the Sunday School must be filled with the holy spirit to teach God’s children. If not it will just be another primary school.

  • Rob Brown

    I think the problem is more about relying on a one hour a week program to take the place of a life that should be full of Bible teaching a home or in key relationships that are intentional in shaping young people

    • OBPI Mama

      agreed! Sunday School was more about fellowship with other kids with a little teaching and a craft… Sunday School was fun, but I don’t believe that it holds so much power to make or break your spiritual walk. I look at it like this: Sunday School is the jam on top of bread, but home is where your children should get be getting the bread!k

      My parents did not rely on Sunday School to be our sole source of Biblical teaching. They lived the Bible and taught us the Bible. As I am doing and striving to do with my children. The Sunday School part is just for fun and for a bit of reinforcing of the lessons I am teaching them daily.

      You should encourage your friend to keep praying for her child and to keep speaking the ‘to train up a child’ verse in faith that her child will return and not depart from it soon. Her son may be temporarily lost, but it may return like the prodical son!!!!

  • KJQ

    Better yet, do away with Sunday school (children’s church) and have entire families worship God together in corporate worship at church and in daily family worship at home.

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  • Kris Koppy

    The message of Christianity in the U.S. has become more about measuring our belief through living a holy life. Problem is, none of us are perfect and there are daily, hourly reminders that we fall short. We are forever missing the mark and therefore, not very good Christians. However, this message isn’t the Gospel at all. We aren’t called to obsess about our failures and obsess on living a holy life so God will use us, love us, accept us…. We have put the cart before the horse. It is love that heals, purifies, sanctifies…. When I know He loves me, I will lay down my life for love. I don’t have to be prodded or begged, I’m already asking… “What do you want me to do God?”…. Because there is this passionate lover who sees the best in me and calls it out. Love, love, love….

    • Kris,

      GREAT comment. Thanks.

      There is at least one great value in continuing to preach “the law” of holiness. That value is simple. If we really understand the law in all its depths and meaning, we understand we can’t do it.

      And it drives us to God for his love, forgiveness, Holy Spirit, and new life.

      It’s only when we know the amount we’ve been forgiven that we begin to know the amount of his love for us. That’s why the prostitute loved much, because she’d been forgiven much.


      • Kris Koppy

        Yes, yes, it is the Kindness of God that leads me to repentance. I have no opposition to the declaration of living a holy life. It’s when the declaration is mandated without the grace and mercy to follow. I love because he first loved me. In fact, 1 Cor 13, about love, isn’t saying, If I do all these things but don’t “DO” them in a loving way… It’s saying “If I do all these things but don’t HAVE love.” Love is a person who lives in me. In Him I live and move… and have my being. Again, It is is love that compels me, constrains me. I live a holy life because I would not, dare not, offend the Lover of my soul. I dare not, desire not, wish not, to offend my redeemer. Not because I am afraid of being “whooped” although I have had my share, but because I do not want to damage our relationship. I do not want to diminish the intimacy with Agapeo.

  • Esther Mwaniki

    Love this article.

  • Angela

    This is a great viewpoint, and I agree. However, I would ask you to reconsider how you characterize Esther. As a woman in her culture, she had no choice when chosen by the king. Women in her society didn’t have the right to say “yes” or “no.” So while your assessment of her actions is accurate in the technical sense, you insinuate that she is to blame for her choices when, in fact, the truth is more likely that she was raped.

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  • Sarah W.

    Your post is great! We teach the “stories” but fail to teach THE STORY… the overarching story of the entire Bible- God’s redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ- present in every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The “church” also often fails to hold parents accountable for their role in discipling their children as God directs in His word (Deut 6:6-8). Sunday school should play a supporting role to parents in discipleship of children. If discipleship is not occurring in the home, children will often learn that Jesus is for “church time”. That said, The Gospel Project (www.gospelproject.com) is a newer curriculum that focuses on THE STORY of the Bible in every lesson. Watch this 3 1/2 min. video about it- great introduction:

    . Keep up challenging all of us to be in the Word and be discipled so that we can in turn disciple others.

    • Sarah,

      Great response! And I agree, the gospel project is well done and gospel oriented.

      Thanks for your encouragement.


  • Rory Bell

    Sam, thanks for the article – I think you’re right on the money. Although, the title could be misleading. It’s not the practice of Sunday school that destroys kids, but poor Sunday school lessons that teach moralism instead of grace. Of course, this is what you went on to say – and I love it!
    I tell all my teachers when I train them that they are NOT to teach morality for morality’s sake. Instead, they need to present Christ and our desperate need to place our trust in his death alone for our rescue from the penalty our rejection of God rightly deserves.
    We teach our children faithfully and prayerfully and work hard to go beyond teaching facts to thinking through how God’s grace in each passage is to be applied to their lives in the week ahead – at school, in the home and amongst their church family.
    Applying the Sermon on the Mount to a 3 year old is hard work, but it brings life-changing rewards. In our recent series on Jacob, it is was so tempting to say, “Don’t be like Jacob, he was a ratbag!” Instead, we taught the children that we are all like Jacob – we lie, cheat and manipulate to try and get what God has already promised to freely give. Like Jacob, we need to learn to trust God and rely fully on his grace. It took Jacob a lifetime to learn that – it will probably be the same for every one of us!
    The heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 are held out as heroes because of their trust in God, despite their circumstances – faith, not works is the focus. What they did, they did because they trusted first. We are working hard with our new series of Sunday school lessons strike that note: http://www.mustard-seeds.net I would love to know what you think.

    • Hi Rory,

      Thanks for the comment.

      And especially thanks for your great example of a Sunday school lesson on Jacob (and the heroes of Hebrews 11).

      I love your line: “We are all like Jacob – we lie, cheat and manipulate to try and get what God has already promised to freely give.” Yeah, you nailed me.

      I look forward to reviewing your new Sunday school lessons.


  • tgilks

    I’m so thankful someone finally had the guts to speak the truth! My husband was a children’s pastor for years, and we have raised three awesome young girls. Two of which do not go to church anymore except on holidays. They still love and believe in God but want nothing to do with church. I have also been battling with the mother of my daughter’s boyfriend over legalism and the fact that her son doesn’t want to be a Christian after being raised in the church. I keep telling people that if love isn’t the focus then we are missing the whole point! “Rules” that we keep pushing on the youth, crush the Holy Spirit and kill the very thing that He came to do… restore and build a relationship. I can only imagine a human relationship starting out with.. ok I will marry you, but here are my rules you have to follow first!

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the kind reply. I think people forget that when Christ initiates with his love, then we WANT to follow him.

      Even the Ten Commandments begin: I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery….”

      God’s initiative (in love) changes our hearts.


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  • Many commenters on this article objected to my depiction of Esther. I had said that “Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.”

    Please consider my answer to those objections: http://beliefsoftheheart.com/2013/09/30/was-esther-an-unwilling-sex-slave-or-a-compliant-collaborator/



  • Laura

    First and last time I’ll ever read your blog, because of this lie:

    “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.”

    As if a woman of a conquered race in an Eastern culture in that era had a choice! When will the church stop its shaming of women?

    (And how nice you already had a rebuttal article to people’s objections.)

    • Hi Laura,

      I don’t mean to shame Esther. There are ten examples of men who need God’s grace for every one example of a woman. But my Sunday school article (which also used the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and David) mostly had reactions to Esther.

      My point is not to shame any woman (or man) but to encourage us all that God can make the little of us into something great.

      Isn’t there hope for all of us in that? Man or woman?

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  • Bob Rinella

    After a friend forwarded your post, I created a 4-week lesson series around this idea. We had so much fun. If anyone wants the lessons, get them at: http://www.gooddirt.org/youth-ministry-resources/

  • Athena Fox

    I love this. Absolutely love this. I am one of those ‘Sunday School’ kids that has, not necessarily rejected Christianity, but definitely rejected my home church for this. People are planting this one image of the Bible and of the people God used in these kid’s heads, when it wasn’t the truth. I felt completely lied to when I started to really read the Bible for myself. And how can you trust people that have lied to you that much about something they could just as easily be truthful about?

    There’s this constant idea of being ‘good’ all the time. And it terrified me to make a mistake and be ‘bad’. It could be making a low grade on a test, or accidentally breaking a toy, or saying the wrong thing. It really messes with kids psychologically. We need to know that it’s safe to make mistakes and we’ll be loved anyways.

    So, yes, this is a wonderful article and I wish that entire churches could read this.

    • Hi Athena,

      Wow, I’m so glad you like what I wrote. I’m honored.

      I understand the tension between rejecting a moralistic culture but embracing Christ. We need to be MORAL (the whole world needs more morality) but we don’t need the proving ourselves by our goodness; we need grace—because we aren’t as good as we like to think.

      If you like that article, try reading my short book by the same name: goo.gl/xN5yY3

  • joshzzz

    I taught Sunday School for quite a few years and the focus was always on loving God and loving one another, the greatest commandments.

    I used typical curriculums and never felt the focus was on the godliness of the people but rather how God used different, fallible people to carry out his will.

    We can complain all that Sunday School is not but we’re not doing justice in complaining in as much as we can do to improve our lessons. If you’re a Sunday School teacher pray for wisdom and do your best to impart the teachings of the Bible in each of your lesson. It also would be good to pray regularly with other Sunday School teachers.

    Sunday School is not destroying our children. I personally take offense to such a statement especially when in reality, television, the public schools, our penchant for materialism, and love of things of this world are ALL destroying our children.

    Sunday School is a place for of refuge, a place of solid teaching and appropriate learning.

    • Hi Josh,

      Thank you for contributing to this discussion. Like you, I hope for Sunday School to be a “refuge” as well, “a place of solid teaching and appropriate learning.”

      But in many places it is not.

      I know nothing of the teaching you provided in Sunday School, and I’m sorry to offend you–though I don’t mind stirring the pot.

      I have heard other Sunday school teachers say something similar, that they teach loving God and loving their neighbor.

      This is good. We should teach that summary of the law, and the ten commandments, and the proverbs.

      It’s just not the gospel.

      The gospel is not “love God and love your neighbor.” The gospel is that God loves us despite our repeated failures to love God and love our neighbor.

      By all means, let us train our children. Let’s teach them morality, discipline, and how to tie their shoes. (That wasn’t sarcastic. I mean, let’s teach our children how to live in the world.)

      But let’s also teach them the gospel.

      And the moment we confuse morality with the gospel, at the moment we are teaching moralism and pharisaism, and we are beginning to destroy out kids.

      Let’s teach true morality, and how we can’t live up to true morality, and how there is one who DID live up to that morality, and how he gave us his righteousness even though we didn’t deserve it.

      When we see Jesus doing that for us, our hearts are melted … and soon we are living more morally than we ever imagined.



      • Gilda Vizzini

        I think you are doing a disservice. Christians are called upon to teach THE BIBLE to their children, which also contains the Gospel. We who are saved know that the only way we could BE saved was to recognize, VERY deeply, our own inability to live up to the commandments of God, and to believe in Jesus Christ for a righteousness that we now understood we could never fulfill. But if we had not known what righteousness was, we never could have realized that we did not live up to it.
        The Bible’s plan is to teach what righteousness is, to show that God will use EVERYTHING to carry His plan to conclusion, to teach that men have no righteousness of their own, that God provided the Lamb to be sacrificed for the sin of the world, that all who believe in Him will be saved and that their salvation will be SEEN in their love of righteousness and desire to please God in all things, loving what He loves (righteousness, and sinners) and hating what He hates (sin).
        If you say that “The gospel is that God loves us despite our repeated failures to love God and love our neighbor.”, you are not presenting the whole word of God. The truth is that God PROVIDED A WAY for us, despite our repeated failure to love God and our neighbor, and that the WAY He provided, if followed savingly, PRODUCES FRUIT. If we are NOT producing fruit, i.e. demonstrating love (for God and for our neighbor), joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – WE ARE NOT SAVED. To keep kids “in the church”, i.e. attending church events, because they are sure Jesus loves them no matter what they do, though they are not demonstrating that true salvation has taken place in them, is WRONG; it is not serving God or His gospel; it is creating people to whom God will say, at the judgment, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

        • Hi Gilda,

          I don’t disagree with what you say. But I disagree that this is mostly what is taught (or what people hear).

          Scripture goes out of its way to point out our inability to live up to the righteous standard of God. Just reading the sermon on the Mount should give ever believer the shivers. We fall so miserably short.

          And that failure should drive us to God; instead–for many of us–it drives us to efforts. God didn’t say “You are almost there” — he said the bar is impossibly high. We need God’s grace.

          Yes, Faith without works is dead; but that means a true knowledge of grace–the depths of our sin and the heights of his love. Most people only teach one or the other.

          To be truly good–deep inside–takes the miraculous work of God. That’s why the disciples were so quick to point out their own mistakes. Today, instead, most Christian leaders point out their successes, and doom their followers to striving hell.


  • Indixie

    I Almost wondered if you were Christian at all, in reading the top half? I was ready to say you You are contradicting Gods word. However by time I got to the last half I seen where you were going. YES church an sunday school both give to MUCh GODS LOVE, an Not enough of THE evils the children had been doing. SAUL Murdered millions of JEWS, yet he was Loved an called by GOD, to BE a Saint to work for Gods Glory. FORGIVEN ! YEt many Christians have prayed Oh God I want to be a SAUl turned to PAul.. NO YOU DONT, You just want to be a PAul he became. DO You really want to be the SAUL who kills man people, an will answer for it at judgment? We do tend to Tell the kids only the good side of the bible. We do so to not let them know the evils they could do, as saints did. We only want them to know the GOOD, an to do the Good the saints did. GOOD Article ! God Bless !

    • Hi Indixie,

      Paul says grace is so good that he has to caution us. He said, “should we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

      What an odd thing for him to say. He says grace is unbelievably, powerfully, great news.

      But the real great news will change us from the inside out, not like legalism that tries to change us from the outside in.


  • PMike2

    I wonder how many folks have resigned themselves to “failure” because they, being all too intimately aware of their own personal faults and failures…have believed that God must not or could not love them because of their many and varied flaws….doing this because they have come to the conclusion that one must be “good enough” to earn or deserve God’s love…a feat that no one is capable of ever doing…? Maybe instead of the pursuit of heady teachings and deep revelations, it’s time for the Church, our leasers, and ourselves to focus anew upon the Father and a clearer understanding of what it means for Him to declare and demonstrate His unconditional love for men and through His children…the Church!

    • Hi PMike2,

      Yeah, I like what you have to say here. We tend to think, “If only I did this (or that), then God…”

      We actually–backward as it may sound–need to teach the impossibility of being good enough.

      Then we need to teach the miraculous goodness of God’s grace.

      There is only one true place to put our hope. It’s not in anything we can do … but trust in God’s nature.


  • Michael

    I honestly cannot fathom how one can equate elementary school Bible study to thousands of 20-year-olds leaving their faith. I’ve worked in the church for 15 years. After observing multiple curriculums for all ages, I have never seen one that did not express the Gospel message, nor the fall of mankind, nor God’s redemption through Jesus’s death and resurrection. I’ve also never heard a teen or young adult express that the messages they heard as young kids put too much pressure on them to be infallible. If anything, kids with a Biblical education in their young years are going to be more likely to stay in the Church. Our teachers’ goal is not only to present the Gospel message, but offer instances in scripture where Biblical characters showed the virtue that The Lord wants, and provide biblical literacy that is lacking in this generation. The kids who are leaving the Church all have a similar story: they’re fed up with the hypocrisy they see in their parents, who don’t uphold the virtues they are being taught in church. They see hypocrisy sometimes in the staff, the worship, whatever. But they are face to face with parents seven days a week that may act pious for two hours on a Sunday morning. You are the product of a culture that has removed all responsibility from the parent to uphold moral and Biblical truth in their home. Use your slick phrases and attempt at profundity to fix the decaying family structure that sits in the pews of our churches, not hammer the volunteer teachers that are doing their best to show them Jesus through the stories of scripture.

    • Hi Michael,

      No, I will not use my “slick phrases and attempts at profundity to fix the decaying family structures.”

      More than fixed families, we need the gospel of Grace. God can raise up perfect families from the stones of the earth. He is looking (and calling to us) to those who will say, “I have nothing good to offer, but what I have I give.”

      Too many of us say, “Just teach people to love God and love their neighbor.” Of course the Bible teaches that. It taught it in the Old Testament. So we should do it, right?

      But we can’t. That’s why Jesus came. Not just to teach us that law–he already taught that in the Old Testament–he came to live the life we couldn’t live and to die the die we deserved. In our place.

      Thanks for joining us in this discussion.


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  • Tim

    Gospel project?

  • I love church

    I am blessed to be a part of a denomination that provides us with literature that presents Bible characters as just that…fallible, people who made mistakes but also did some things right. It never says, “Be like them.” It says what the Bible says, “Be like God.” As a pastor’s wife and mom of one son who is not close to the Lord rght now, I have to trust that He is working all things for his good rather than blame his straying on church which is much easier.

    • Hi,

      I completely agree that we have to “trust that He is working all things for his good.”

      I also agree we shouldn’t blame the church (or our parents or spouse).

      But we MUST be vigilant about guarding the full gospel. Scripture does nothing to hide the weaknesses and sins of its greatest heroes (look at Abraham, David, and the disciples).

      So why do we hide their sinfulness? The third and fourth to last verses in the entire Bible make a huge warning about adding to or subtracting from God’s words. So why do we subtract?

      It creates a culture of moralism rather than a culture of grace.

  • hail satan

    hail satan

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  • Erin Groff

    Perhaps you make some good points. But you have to teach appropriate to age. You can’t teach 2 year olds that David was murderous or Esther was adulterous. Also, I teach that Abraham was believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” and that he was chosen. As for Joseph, the lesson is, “You intended harm, God intended it for good.”

    • Hi Erin,

      I agree with age appropriate lessons.

      But we also must be careful not to add OR subtract from God’s word. God didn’t choose people because of their innate goodness; he chose them from his grace.

      When I was in fourth grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us that even though David was married, he kissed and dated another woman.

      I remember feeling horror at David’s betrayal to his family. I didn’t need to hear adultery; the betrayal was enough.

      We can be age appropriate and still be true to the truth of the gospel and grace.

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.


  • KIMI

    We need to teach them at a young age about the trinity. God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. They need to hear from God themselves and have a relationship. My daughter was 6 years old when she heard the voice of God and started praying about everything. Birthday parties. Some God told her no and it was good because they had a wigi board at the one he told her not to go to. She prayed about school dances, everything. She is a missionary today because she was was led by His Spirit and surrendered her life at a young age. All because I taught her how to hear the voice of God.

  • RobOb

    The writer sets up a straw man and then proceeds to knock him down. And he does so legalistically.

    When commenting on the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Esther, and David he says they aren’t bad “Except that they lie about God, they lie about these “heroes of the faith,” they lie about the Bible, and they lie about the gospel. Apart from that, they are pretty good. Oh, they also create “younger brother” rebels and “older brother” Pharisees.”

    Really? All Sunday School curriculum does that? I can think of a lot of ways of saying we should emphasize the grace of God, but doing it legalistically, the way the author does, isn’t one of them. The author would have been wiser, and more gracious, if he had been a good example of his own point.

    • Hey RobOb,

      You set up a little straw man yourself, and then knocked it down. I didn’t just comment on the stories of Abraham, Joseph, etc; I pointed out the legalistic nature of how the stories are told.

      How so many SS stories say, “Abraham was faithful, so God made him … Joseph was good and God made him … so be like them.

      The lessons implicit in these moralistic sermons is that God chooses people because of an innate goodness. This is not the gospel. The gospel is God’s choosing us even when we don’t deserve it.

      Like Romans 9:10-12, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad —in order that God ‘s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

      The older (Esau) served the younger, not because of any innate goodness, but simply to illustrate the grace of God.

      Even when the Sunday school curriculum is good, many teachers fail, because they themselves are falling into legalism. It’s why Luther say we should remember the gospel and “beat it into our own heads continually.” We simply forget it.

      And let’s not forget who the biggest enemies of Jesus were; it wasn’t the pimps and prostitutes (they knew they needed help), it was the ones who knew the Bible the best, the Pharisees–who happened to be the Sunday school teachers of the time.

      Let’s be very careful as we examine our hearts. Legalism creeps in silently and quietly.

  • Pam

    You may want to check out the Christ Light Sunday School materials. The are gospel focused even while teaching about the heros of the faith. Here the link http://online.nph.net/s-1615-590-christ-light-sunday-school-curriculum.aspx

    • Hi Pam,

      Several people have share good things about Christ Light materials.

      Thanks for you sharing them as well.

      We need good resources.

  • Tom

    I’m sorry. I know we can always improve our Sunday Schools and our approaches to kids but can we stop bashing the faithful teachers that did their best to teach biblical truth. This article was such a straw man and filled with gross generalizations. “The gospel is a PS tacked on at the end?” Oh Please! So believing God like Abraham did, following Joseph’s example of trusting God and exercising integrity, and being passionate about God like David was are examples of following lies. Sorry not buying it. You can teach that Jesus loves you even if you screw up like Abr or David but we can also teach children to do right and follow examples of good character. It’s not either or.

    • Hi Tom,

      I’m in favor of Sunday school; I attended it as a kid; all our kids attended; and I have taught it.

      I also favor teaching moral behavior, right from wrong, truth instead of deceit.

      But, morality is not the same as the gospel.

      C. S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man has a long appendix of shared morals between all major moral teachers (Egyptian, Babylonian, Native American, Roman, Greek, Muslim, etc.). The amazing this is how much they share in common when it comes to: marital fidelity, truthfulness, integrity, etc.

      And that is the point. They mostly are the same.

      What distinguishes Christianity from other religions? It isn’t morality (most share mostly the same morals).

      It is the gospel of grace.

      Our Sunday schools should teach the gospel first.

      (And of course, we need it taught in the homes even more.)


  • Kristi Walker

    Church isn’t a building.

  • joycelen

    I do believe Christian formation is important. I do believe that conscience formation is important. However, I agree with this article. We have to let the children know the love of God is not based on how well we perform.

    • Hi Joycelen,

      Great point. We ARE responsible for conscience formation. Let’s not throw out (metaphorically) the baby with bathwater.

      It is good to teach morality, truth, justice, peace, faithfulness, and discipline.

      Let’s just not confuse it with the gospel.

      Thanks for sharing.


  • Alan-Michael White

    As someone who has rejected his religion in favor of humanism, I must say that I think the Sunday Schools are doing us a big favor in this respect. While it’s important to love people who have faults, it’s also important that we instruct kids to be good, period, and why they should be good. i think God would be much more happy with a world of good people than a world of people who are only good because they were told to be.

    • Hi Alan-Michael,

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

      I understand that you, as a humanist, appreciate good behavior. Most philosophies and religions do as well. So in response to your comment:

      First, how can you say Sunday schools are “doing us a big favor” if they teach being good so God will love them? Isn’t that a manipulative goodness? A goodness to get something? Wouldn’t we rather have people who are “good for goodness’ sake”?

      Second, yes, most religions and philosophies value morality, so what distinguishes Christianity? It is the gospel of grace. We shouldn’t forget to teach grace in Sunday school.

      Thanks for participating.


      • Alan-Michael White

        Hi, Sam! No, I don’t think they’re doing it quite like that. I think they’re teaching kids to be good because it’s right. But the same argument could be used for grace. I stopped believing in God because I didn’t think God would punish me for being honest about my beliefs, were I wrong, and that I couldn’t justify continuing to believe in him because I wanted eternal life.

        As for the gospel of grace, you’ll have to be more specific, because I don’t know what you mean by that. If that’s the thing that means eternal life and such, I don’t think it matters quite so much, because people make mistakes, sure, but a person’s actions should matter in judgment of them. For that matter, I don’t believe that being imperfect condemns a person to hellfire, because that would mean that good people who don’t believe would receive eternal punishment when bad people who do are forgiven and given eternal life. So if that’s what you’re talking about, you might see my misgivings.

  • Jaria Jesohn Valtierra

    Parents need to join their kids in Sunday school. That’s is the model set for us in the Bible, yet we separate kids and adults and they do not learn as much.

    • Hi Jaria,

      I completely agree that parents need to join in the instruction of their children. The truth is, we need all the help we can get.

      But we also have to make sure that we avoid confusing the gospel from moralism. Moralism is simply man’s attempt at good behavior; gospel behavior comes from a heart changed by the love of Christ, his redemption of us on the cross.


  • jcol1

    Wait! Least we forget, that children need to be taught delicately and in stages based upon their development, we do not focus a first grader upon all the explicit, gruesome and struggling details until they mature more. The Teddy bear does not need to look like Godzilla from the get go! By comparison, we also did not, and never did have to know what Dale Evans and Roy Rogers did in the bed room!

    The very first focus is on God’s love for all the little children, the “Jesus loves me, yes I know and the I am weak but He is strong!” I knew Jesus and of his unconditional love for me long before the later, deeper more serious and defined study of the historic struggle involving god and the human condition. I also knew that He wants us to strive to be good and is here for us even though we stumble and fall short of that goal.. I don’t know what churches you folks were raised in or what type of programs they had but the church that raised me raised did nothing but draw me into a lasting, loving life-long relationship with the Lord. By the time I was in Jr High I knew all about the fall and that none, then or now, were or are truly righteous except through the sacrificial lamb. I also knew that Jesus was the one and only person to truly model ones self after, by Word and by example.
    Do not tell me that you want a little child to know what fornication is and that his or her hero practiced it, at least not until he or she is old enough and mature enough to understand and handle such knowledge.

    • Hi jcol1,

      Yes, the age of the child should determine how we teach; but we should never compromise the gospel.

      When I was in third or fourth grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us of David’s adultery. Except he said that although David was married, he kissed and dated another woman.

      I was shocked and stunned that my hero could have done such a thing. I didn’t need to hear about adultery. The unfaithful betrayal was still clear.

      And therefore it made David’s repentance in Psalm 51 that much more understandable too. David didn’t say, Forgive me because of how bad I feel, or Forgive me because I’ll try much harder in the future.

      David say, “Have mercy on me according to your loving kindness.” Even our repentance and forgiveness is based on the grace of the incredible Lord of the universe.


  • surfcitysocal

    I don’t think we can blame a Sunday school curriculum or certainly the effort the woman made in raising her son for his choices. God also gave us a free will so we may either accept him or reject him.

    • Hi SurfCity,

      You make a great point: our own culpability (meaning that of the kids).

      But that doesn’t diminish parent’s need to present the gospel and not mere moralism. We cannot (or should not) simply teach, “Have a good heart like David or be faithful like Abraham so that God will love you.” That reverses the order of the gospel.

      God doesn’t choose us or love us because of our innate goodness (though many Christian Pharisees think that way). God chooses us out of his great mercy.

      We become good (or better!) as we rest in his love rather than resting in our innate goodness.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • kathryn edwards

    I think the problem often lies when parents leave the teaching up to Sunday School teachers and Christian schools. It’s the job of the parents to weave all of God’s word into their daily lives, and to see their parents living it.
    I once watched a movie made by a young man whose Dad pulled him out of the church programmes because he felt it was his responsibility, and he did it proactively.

    • Hi Kathryn,

      Yes, it is very easy for any believer to leave matters in the hands of the “experts” (the pastors, the worship leaders, missionaries, or Sunday school teachers).

      The good news is that God is equally–equally!–at work in each one of us. We can be an expression of his glory on earth.

      Let’s not leave all teaching in the hands of the poor Sunday school teachers. They probably only get our kids 45 minutes a week. to burden them would be unfair.

      Let’s learn to live and teach grace at home.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • George Hartwell

    I agree that this is a great article. I do so knowing that the church
    needs to face up to and repent of some sincere but misguided teaching and
    preaching patterns. These patterns reflect a deeply embedded mind-set
    that puts us in the driver’s seat in terms of our goodness and behavior.
    By doing so we are displacing God who is The Holy One – and we are not.

    The Holy One is also the One who sanctifies us and not we

    The Mighty Creator is the one who gives us a new heart and a new
    spirit. We cannot transform ourselves from the inside out.

    When we attempt self-change it means we are using our will-power
    to be good, or heroic. God can make us good and heroic as he has done
    with men and women of the past. He works with the humble and not the

    Our heads get proud and we get addicted to the sense of power we
    do it ourselves. Then Christianity gets completely inverted, our partnership with God destroyed.

    When we try to be good – remaking ourselves – then, of course, it becomes all about me. Pride. Humility would partner with the Holy One.

    God will always work in us and with us if we approach Him in humility. Like the 12
    Step Movement, “I admitted I was helpless against alcoholism and turned myself
    over to a power greater than myself.”

    I am a therapist and working on a book on Life Transformation and this is a
    central issue for me. I need to write about the difference between self-change and true godly life transformation through prayer therapy.

    I have seen the harm done in an adult when he or she tries to be
    good. I have seen 3 and 4 years olds get really squirmy in Sunday School
    when the lesson was about being good. Yet I found they were very still
    and attentive when I said to them, ‘It is hard to be good.’

    • Hi George,

      We’ll all be interested to see you book when it is published.

      Scripture offers an inherent tension. On one hand, Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. He sharpens the ten commandments (from adultery to avoiding lust; and from murder to avoiding calling another a moron).

      God wants morality and justice to flourish on the earth. The world suffers because too many people do too little to live at peace with all.

      On the other hand, Jesus is very clear that real morality comes from inner heart change, not external conformance.

      What are we to do? Abandon all attempts to live at peace with others? I don’t think so.

      Let’s try to live at peace, be just and loving; but let’s put our hopes and rest our hearts in the gracious love of God. Not our inability to truly be good on our own.

      I love your ending line: “I have seen 3 and 4 years olds get really squirmy in Sunday School when the lesson was about being good. Yet I found they were very still and attentive when I said to them, ‘It is hard to be good.”


  • KAP

    I think the problem in today’s society, is that we do not take Biblical truths into our homes and lives. Our children do not see us ask forgiveness of others, or pray with them out loud, or read and study His Word with them DAILY, or show them that God loves us right where we are, BUT He REFUSES to leave us that way !!

    • Hi KAP,

      Love your closing line, it is so filled with true, Biblical hope: “He refuses to leave us that way!!”

      Absolutely. Should we try to be good? Of course. Will we succeed? Of course not.

      We need to merciful love of God to change our hearts.

      Thanks for a great sharing.

  • John Ford Coley

    This happened to me and it’s also happened to my kids. We discovered that it isn’t what the children are taught in the way of the what the Bible actually teaches, it’s the manner in which many of the people that are in the churches behave toward one another. My children love G-d but run from church as fast as their little legs will carry them. Then I discovered Isaiah 66:5 and it all made sense to me. Look it up if you care to.

    • Hi John,

      Great comments. By the way all, Is. 66:5 says, “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word:
      “Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for my name ‘s sake
      have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy ‘;
      but it is they who shall be put to shame.

      It is a serious rebuke from the Lord concerning religious leaders who condemn the real work of the Lord. It is prophetic of those who rejected Jesus and his followers. We should all be careful.

      It’s tough. It is so much easier to love God than to love his people. But–when I am honest with myself–am I so easy to love as well?

      Thanks for your comment

    • John Ford Coley

      Thank you Samuel for your reply. Since I go to the Assembly (Synagogues) to study Torah and the Bible so often, I generally read it directly from the Hebrew text or Aramaic when I go to a Christian Assembly (Church). What the text I read from says is: ” Listen to the word of HASHEM (the L-RD), you who are zealous regarding His word. Your brethren, who hate you and shun you, say, “HASHEM is glorified because of my reputation – but we will see your gladness, while they will be shamed!” Even when I first read this in my American Standard Bible, I took it to be “Brethren” meaning the believers around you. That is why it meant so much to me because of the treatment of not being in the clique and treated and shunned by those that didn’t want anyone else there. There are those that drive many of the believers out of the church. It’s very sad, because as an adult, I can move past it and will not be a part of anything where I’m not celebrated for what G-d has placed within me. My children, sadly enough, because of that same behavior want nothing to do with the church, even as I explain it to them. However, they have no problem going to learn at the Synagogue because they are welcomed, even as believers in Y’shua HaMashiach. I am well aware of others that experience this same type of behavior because they tell me and it breaks my heart to see it and to hear it. I do not use the Bible for anything other than to transform my life by the teachings of G-d. I know many others that are doing the same thing. It’s a challenge for all of us and the body of the L-RD should be a place where people want to go and feel welcome, not treated as though they are just another mouth to feed. We have a lot of work to do.

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  • Darla Kearce

    You mention the “lies” in restricting or perhaps redacting stories such as Esther’s adultery. Makes me wonder, how would you handle the creation accounts? What would you tell kids? Would you deviate from creationism, as in 7 days?

    • Hi Darla,

      What a great, challenging question. I haven’t thought through what I’d say to a five-year old (ish) kid. Let me think out loud (or on the keyboard).

      First, I am concerned about the “lies” told of the heroes of the faith because the way they are told implies God choosing us because of an innate goodness. God says he chooses us out of his grace and mercy. Two very different things.

      But if I were to express the sins of those heroes, I’d express them in ways they could understand. When I was in Sunday school, teacher told me that David (though married) dated and kissed another woman.

      That was enough for me to understand the betrayal. I didn’t have to hear “adultery.” (I don’t think I even knew what sex was at the time.)

      When I did teach creation to kids, no kid ever asked me about creationism vs. evolution, or evolutionary creationism.

      My focus would be (I’m thinking aloud) to emphasize what I believe is scripture’s intent in Genesis 1-3: God’s creative beauty and power, mankind (both genders) made in the image of God, God asking us to be co-creationists (co-artists) in cultivating the garden, human’s rebellion in sin, and God’s mercy (and, of course many other lessons).

      That would be my focus. If one of the kids wanted to discuss creationism/evolution/evolutionary creationism, I would want to sit with the parents and talk with them first.


      • Darla Kearce

        Thanks for the response. I think you have hit on the importance of maintaining our integrity as teachers of the Word no matter what age level, yet balancing that with consideration of the development of the whole child. With the comparability theories (theistic evolution) taught in most Christian higher academia and filtering out to the church, this will be a challenge as to what we teach our youngest.
        I heard an OT story as a child that troubled me for years and relates to your theory to tell the whole truth. My maternal grandfather read scripture after breakfast. When we visited him 2-3 times a year, we were prepared for a long reading. He read what came next no matter what. I was about 7 when he read Lev. 10. Aaron’s sons are “devoured” or incinerated by altar fire. Ka-boom! And “Aaron held his peace.” What kind of Dad could keep quiet when 2 of 4 sons are killed in front of his eyes? I did not like to hear any stories about Aaron after that. Fortunately I was years older when he got around to Gen. 19. Glad I was not visiting a few days earlier for Gen. 9 (vv. 20-25) or I would not have thought much of Noah either.

        • Hi Darla,

          Sometimes I wonder and the patience of God. He does such great things (Noah was a good example) and then look at how us followers follow.

          May God be blessed because of his grace.

          • Darla Kearce

            BTW, above was meant to be “compatibility theories” not “comparability”…spell checker ; (

  • Lindi

    I just came across this article, two things sadden me about it:
    Firstly it was written just last year; what I mean by that is I really thought that the kind of Sunday school teaching you refer to in this article was old news. I probably have been living in a bubble but I honestly thought that things had changed. There is a lot of good gospel teaching material that it surprises me that this issue is still even a debate.
    Another thing is: If our Sunday schools are teaching using such bad curriculums, I wonder then if the church is teaching the gospel of grace? I fail to understand how a church that teaches a gospel of grace would have a Sunday school that teaches the contrary. Is it possible for Sunday school teachers to sit under proper gospel teaching and then turn around and teach something different? I guess another question is; are our Sunday school teachers sitting under gospel teaching to begin with?
    The second thing that saddened me about this article is; it again lighted how much of our kids Bible input has been left to Sunday School. As Sunday school teachers and children’s workers we should always strive to teach our kids the gospel, but we are not (should not be) the main source of Bible input for our church kids. Kids should be taught the gospel at home. If we as parents do our job at home, Sunday school teaching would not have such an impact that it is able to destroy kids. Don’t get me wrong, Sunday school kids should be taught well, but that should only compliment what the children are already learning from home. We as parents need to teach our kids so well that they are able to challenge bad teaching when they come across it (If not challenge at least recognise it). I know I am asking for an idea world but I think that is what we should be striving for as a church body.

    • Hi LIndi,

      Thanks for sharing, for joining our discussion.

      I share your sadness that “this” legalistic teaching is still out there. But I’m not surprised. I think it is the constant battle for believers. If our enemy is unable to get us to reject God’s commands for good (Love God/love neighbor), then his best strategy is to get us to gain our identity from our own good behavior. It will always be a constant battle for our lives. On great Christian writer said, “We must remember the gospel, and pound it into our heads continuously.”

      Second, yes, what we see in Sunday school reflects the state of the churches. I had one person respond to this blog by saying all he teaches is: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is a great biblical command that is repeated in Luke by a Legalist (Luke 10:25-28).

      It is a command; but it’s not the gospel. The gospel is that no matter how hard we try to love God and neighbor, we fail. We need a God who will break into our lives and give us new hearts. We love because he first loved us. If all we teach is to love others, we miss the gospel that he first loved us.

      Lastly, yes, the majority of teaching takes place at home, whether we mean it or not. So, the best way to teach our children is to grasp the gospel—or better yet, the best way to teach our children is to BE grasped BY the gospel.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • Lindi

        Thank you for your response. I like what you say about, “the best way to teach our children is to BE grasped BY the gospel. We can only teach the gospel of Christ when we have be truly grasped by his gospel.
        I had a lecturer who always said to us, “My dear students, whenever you are tempted to teach a legalistic type of Sunday school lesson, I urge you to go and live out whatever you are about to ask the kids to do, apply it to yourself for a week and see how that works out for you”. His point was that none of us can live up to the standard that legalism demands, thus our need for a Saviour. Therefore our kids need to be pointed to the Lord Jesus, the ONLY one who saves not our works.
        Looking forward to reading your book, I will check if we have it here in South Africa.

        • Lindi

          Wow….apologies about that photo. I thought It I was setting it as profile picture. Don’t know how to take it down, if you can possible do it from your side I would appreciate it. I apologies about that.

        • Hi LIndi,

          I LOVE–absolutely LOVE–your quote by your old lecturer. Brilliant.

          Yes, if we want to teach something, we have to know it first ourselves. If we live that legalistic message ourselves, we will either find we can’t do it, or (if we think we did it) we’ll be proud.

          But if we are grasped by the gospel, we have a bold humility. Humble because it was God who did it in us–who can be proud?–and bold because it is God himself working in us–who can be against us?


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  • Jasmin Bowen

    This is a testimony that i will tell to every one to hear. i have been married for three years and on the fifth years of my marriage, another woman had a spell to take my lover away from me and my husband left me and the kids and we have suffered for 2years until i met Dr. Magbu of REUNITING EX SPELL TEMPLE where so many people have been helped and i decided to give him a try to help me bring my lover back home and believe me i just send my picture to him and that of my husband and after 4hours as he have told me, i saw a car drove into the house and behold it was my husband and he have come to me and the kids and that is why i am happy to make every one of you in similar to visit this man via Email reunitingexspell@gmail.com and have your lover back to your self. Jasmin Bowen

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  • Stephanie

    I agree that many children’s Sunday school curriculum is just moralism, which is sad and wrong. However let’s redeem what is broken. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Having additional time on Sunday morning for adults, youth, and children to study God’s Word more in depth and marvel at the Gospel is a previous privilege.

    I understand your article is to bring attention to something often poorly done. What seems to be lacking is the charge to teach God’s Word to our children in a Sunday school setting in a true to Scripture, Christ honoring way. The tone is condemning especially for those churches who are bucking moralism. There are so many things in life that are done poorly and incorrectly. So let’s redeem them and change the way they are done.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for your comments. I agree, Sunday school is not the problem. We are. (At least to some degree, if we are willing to admit it.)

      What we teach is normally a reflection of what we deeply believe. The key to transforming Sunday school is less changing curricula and more examining our own hearts; the most gospel oriented teacher could teach the gospel from the most legalistic curriculum and the most legalistic would teach legalism from the most gospel curriculum.

      We mostly need to turn to the heart of the gospel: “We are more wicked than we dare admit, AND we are more loved than we ever dared imagine” (Tim Keller). This gives us humility without despair and confidence without arrogance.

      Thanks for sharing.


  • Ashley

    Sam, do you have a suggestion for a gospel-centered Sunday School curriculum? I want so much to find a curriculum that helps us to teach the kids WHO God is and what He has done. Isn’t that always the answer to what’s the matter with us? But sorting through curriculums is a challenge.

    • Hi Ashley,

      There have been several suggestions for good material in the comments. But I know there are tons of comments, perhaps too many to wade through.

      Here is my suggestion. I think they key is the teacher. A gospel teacher can make the worst materials great; and a moralist-teacher can make the best materials bad.

      As teachers, I suggest we all talk together and work to work the gospel into our lives.

      Why are we moral? To earn God’s love, or in response? I think it will take a lifetime to learn all the nuances.

      Remember Rocky? His girlfriend asks why he is working so hard at boxing. He says, “I just want to go the distance so I know I’m not a bum.” That is something in our flesh that we all do to some degree.

      We somehow have to re-calibrate our brains (and hearts) to say, “I can go the distance because of what Christ has done and not because of anything I have done or will do.”

      Thanks for the question.


  • I would have to ask what age group you’re considering when writing this. When you start explaining the bible to your very young child I believe in starting out with WHO God is. That is done through explaining what happened to Abraham through his faithfulness and God’s ultimate revealed promises, Joseph through his amazing self-discipline and character example and God’s ultimately restoring Joseph to a better position, etc.
    Now that being said – if you try to tell a 15 year old “oh look how good Abraham was and then God helped him” yeah…. they have more complex issues going on so you would build on the foundation. So if you’re talking about an older age group I would have to agree. I remember having women (it was mostly women but could be because I’m a girl) trying to talk to me in that ‘baby’ manner. I hated them… really. And I mocked their Christianity because of it. If it wasn’t for my parents lived out faith… I wouldn’t serve the God I do now. Just some input from a second gen Christian 🙂

    • Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for your comment and challenging question.

      When I was in second or third grade, my Sunday school teacher (Mr. Tappen) told of about David’s adultery. Only he didn’t say, “adultery.” (I didn’t know what sex was much less adultery.)

      He simply said King David dated and kissed a woman who wasn’t his wife. I was stunned at the betrayal and evil of such treachery.

      Then he taught us the beginning of Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me,[a] O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

      He said, “Notice that David doesn’t pray that his forgiveness is based on how hard David tries or how bad David feels. David asks for mercy according to the measure of God’s great love.”

      That has stayed with me for fifty years; the sense of God’s love when faced with my hero’s evil. And it has saved me many times from doing something I shouldn’t do. Because a God that loving is worthy of all I have.



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  • Vara Sue Tamminga

    Amazing, but we must be more honest. Today many conservative and liberal Christians and Jews are covertly persecuting other religious or political groups, especially the pro life groups persecuting pro choice Christians. I raised both my children in Sunday school. My son wrote me the most beautiful poem about God when he was 8. But then we moved into a conservative town and the pro life groups there physically beat him up and verbally abused him. When he went to a school camp, some boys asked him if he believed in God. He said he wasn’t sure so they poured honey all over his clothes. My son became an atheist because of the violent, cruel persecution of conservative Christians. He is a loving person as I raised him and he saw as a child and as an adult that many Christians were brutal, murdering bullies. Today he is an atheist because he believes in love and kindness, the values I taught him and that the church should have taught him. Many young people today reject the church because it is so full of murdering, cruel bullies. We need to face this awful truth and put the murderers in jail and stop tolerating religious persecution if we want our young people to follow our religions. We teach by our actions not by our words.

    • Vara Sue,

      Your story is a horrible example of what self-righteousness does in religion.

      It’s why we need to recognize our own weakness first, not our own strength. Admitting our weakness and failures humbles us; talking about our strengths simply makes us in to arrogant bullies.

      But there is hope, much hope for your son. He knows the true love of a merciful God, a God who didn’t use his strength to bludgeon us but who used his strength to strengthen us.

      Thank you for your personal sharing.


  • Michael

    Having worked (along with my wife) in children’s ministry at all levels since 1982, i agree with the thoughts of this article. We have used, and taught churches to use the curriculum produced by Willie George Ministries/Kids On The Move. We are still involved in children’s ministry, helping churches have an children’s ministry that children love and want to attend weekly, along with teaching Godly principles and showing their application to daily life.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your thoughts, and thanks for sharing experience with Kids on the Move.

      Many people are looking for a curriculum that is good.



  • Billy

    I think you have good points here but you are describing a Sunday school curriculum that is at least 20 years old. There is a Gospel resurgence that is and has been sweeping the nation. The gospel is represented in all scripture and is being taught that way. But the biggest part that you missed is the same one that so many Sunday school teachers try and do. Use Disney pictures and happy endings to make our points. The truth of the Bible is worth it and stands alone we don’t need the help of fairy god mothers and magic roses to make our points. Keep going on the thought though I really do think it has a place in discussion.

    • Hi Billy,

      I am thrilled to hear that a gospel resurgence is sweeping the nation. May it sweep further, faster, and deeper! Thanks for the good news.

      I am not opposed to using contemporary stories and examples, as long as we use them as illustrations not sources of doctrine. For example, we can use a hero story (someone who risks his life to save others) and we can say, “Who does that remind us of? Who is the ultimate hero who not only risked his life but sacrificed his life?”

      Stories of all kinds stir our hearts. I think they do because–as we used to be taught–there is a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. And some stories stir a longing for that vacuum to be filled. Using a story to stir that longing can be good. The mistake is when we use Hollywood’s answer. The answer is always found in scripture.

      Thanks for sharing,


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  • IcarusBen

    Hey, here’s a little goody for you; Isaac was Abraham’s son by his half-sister Sarah. In short, Abraham is incestuous. Great quality for a patriarch. Still, if I’m remember this right, not only was incest not a sin back then by Jewish standards, but even if it was, Abraham had Isaac before he
    became Jewish. Of course, I’m probably getting that last part wrong, but still.

    Also, Joseph was the Vizier of Egypt. I.E. he’s less comparable with Prime Minister Cameron than he is with, say, Jafar.

    No, wait, that’s a terrible comparison.

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  • OSW

    My daughter is grown now, but I never made her go to Sunday school or church, for that matter. I could not think of an instance in scripture where anyone was forced to go to church or forced into a relationship with God. I saw Sunday school as an exercise in cognitive behavioral Bible snippets that reduced faith to works and God to a peevish school marm. Plus, there was always that one kid- usually with an uber Biblical name- who drove everyone nuts while the parents made excuses for him/her (that is a niy-picky comment, I know- but its true). She grew to be a fine young woman who takes her faith seriously, but also wrestles with hard questions and -at times- with God. Its a process, but there is no weird things to “unlearn” in her process.

  • melissa miller

    I’ve been a Sunday School teacher for 15 years. Curriculum has changed a lot in those 15 years. I used to teach a Bible story every week through Gospel Light. When the church found cheaper curriculum they jumped at it. We now do Orange 252. There is barely any Bible story in the lesson. The lesson focuses on gratitude or wisdom. It’s ONE VERSE. No Bible story. No lesson on Elijah. No story on Jeremiah. The kids don’t know who King David is. They don’t know Daniel. They don’t know Esther. There is no Bible. They watch a video of people telling a modern story on girls stealing a necklace at the mall or drinking too many milkshakes with your friends. When I went to the youth pastor and asked why we can’t teach Bible stories I was told I have a problem with authority and to just get on board, no one else was complaining. It’s sad when a church sacrifices Bible literacy over expensive curriculum. I no longer go to that church. If your church is teaching Orange ask them to change to anything that has actual Bible stories.

    • Melissa,

      Your story is a sad, horrific story. I wish I could say it was a one-of-a-kind. But it’s not. This is the modern Sunday School.

      It’s funny (well, not); but these new programs were created to combat moralism, but if you don’t have the Bible, there is no chance you can teach grace, because the only real grace in the world comes from Scripture.

      instead, you get these stories about stealing necklaces and drinking too much milkshake … and voila, instant moralism without a hint of grace.

      All we really need to do is show the Bible. Those aren’t made up stores. They are history, the history of God’s gracious actions toward people who don’t deserve it.



  • Seema Sophia Kapoor

    wow this is just a beautiful article. I don’t feel bad now not sending my boy to sunday school..Thank you brother your a blessing..

  • athix

    We have been round and round w/ various curriculum at our local church, all the trendy big-church programs that are advertised to be so brilliant. They are exactly as described here. John MacArthur has a decent curriculum, but now our church has latched on to Tru Wonder. Have you heard of it? I read through it, starting with it’s disturbing “Philosophy” after my wife was complaining about being told she had to switch to it. My objections to it are what led me to your post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is scared by this. Thanks.

    • Hi Athix,

      I have not heard of Tru Wonder. Thanks for pointing it out. On the other hand, I have found David C Cook programs to be pretty good. I’ll look into this one.


      • athix

        NP. I could probably write a paper on the problems I have with it, but I don’t feel like I have the energy. The constant assaults on the church from every subtle corner are debilitating, as they are meant to be. I’m 42, and I cannot believe how far the church has fallen in passing on the faith to its members (especially the young) in my lifetime. We are fast entering an age of Biblical and doctrinal illiteracy even in the Church. I’m meeting with our pastor this week to go over my concerns. I really have trouble believing our elders approved it. I think they just hand the children’s SS curriculum over to some of the ladies running it and forget about it, when it should be one of their most serious responsibilities.

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