Teaching in the One-Room Sunday School: The Anatomy of a Sunday School
It is virtually impossible for anyone to go to school without studying some kind of anatomy. Almost everyone has looked at the anatomy of a poem or of a story. The anatomy of a country tells us a great deal about what will happen there. In biology we learn about the anatomy of frogs and of people. When we look at the anatomy of a thing, we study its parts and learn about how it works. Take some time to look at the anatomy of your one-room Sunday school class.
One thing a small-membership church's Christian education program often doesnothave is an abundance of space. At best there may be dividers to separate classes. Sometimes several classes meet in an open space with no physical dividers at all. I can well remember being in a church where as many as six Sunday school classes met in the sanctuary. We could hear not only our own lesson but several other lessons as well! Activities were done on our knees, using the pews as desks. Really, there was nothing unusual about that since we always knelt for prayer anyway! In retrospect, those were wonderful days.
But in the best of all possible worlds, children will have as much space as possible. Children will benefit from a space where they can be active and talk freely. How is space used in your church? Are the children given the largest space possible for movement? Is the space pleasant? Are they able to place pictures on the wall at their eye level? Is the space colorful? Remember that adults can easily adapt to limited space, but children need all the room they can get and more!
Having a small number of children of many ages who meet together for Sunday school may be a special blessing. Older children learn by being able to assist younger children. Brothers and sisters have opportunities to work together. Children from many age levels working together can begin to view themselves as a family. In a one-room Sunday school class there are many opportunities for children of all ages to learn at their own pace.
It's likely that you know each child in your class personally. In fact, you may have known many of them from the day they were born. However, don't assume that you know everything there is to know. In one-room Sunday schools, just as in any other setting, children sometimes face difficult and painful problems that even their parents may not know about. Be a very careful listener. Some children may be looking for someone to talk to. Some may even talk to you about things they will not tell their parents. Part of being a Sunday school teacher is being a counselor. Be prepared to help the children in your class or to direct them to someone who can help them.
In a congregation I once served there was a boy whom everyone thought of as mean. We chalked it up to his being hyperactive. His teen and early adult years saw one crisis after another. Then he joined the service. We didn't hear from him for years. We often wondered what had happened to him. Almost thirty years later we received a call from him. He wanted us to know that he had become a Christian. He wanted to thank us for the part we played in his early life. Only when he called so many years later did we find out about his troubled childhood. He told us about being an angry child. His mother had left the family when he was young. He and his sisters had no mother to receive the gifts they made in Sunday school. When they left Sunday school, they threw away the things they had made; and then went home to cry. If only we had picked up on that pain when he was a hurtling little boy! How much pain might we have been able to spare him? Listen for the cry. Watch for the hidden tears!
Small-membership churches often do not have all the up-to-date equipment and technology that larger churches may have. A lot of that stuff might be nice to have. Just imagine: Here comes Jesus walking along the road to Jericho. Peter is close behind with the VCR. John has the portable television. Andrew is hauling the computer, complete with CD-ROM and disks of the latest Bible games and quizzes. Oh, we can't forget the copier and printer. James has the cassette player and tapes containing the musical accompaniment for the hymnals. Levi has the overhead with the words typed on plastic sheets.
But whoa! Did Jesus have all these things? No. But Jesus was the greatest teacher of all time. Remember that effective Christian teaching is not based on the abundance of things we possess. Effective Christian teaching is the result of the abundance by which a teacher is possessed with the love of God.
Jesus had no gadgets. He was able to look at a farmer planting seed and say, "Look there. That farmer is an example of God's kingdom. I am sowing the seed; some falls in different places. But the seed that falls on fertile soil brings a harvest." Or, Jesus picked a lily, held it in his hands, and said, "Don't worry. If God could make this beautiful lily, God can take care of you." Equipment is convenient and useful — if you have it. But you don't need it. You, the teacher, are more vital than equipment. Let the wonderful stories of Jesus flow out of your heart into the minds, emotions, and hearts of your children.
A Special Community
Members of small-membership congregations may be the most blessed people of all. We are part of a caring, loving, compassionate community of faith. And you, the Sunday school teacher, have the great privilege of teaching the same group of children for years. You are the one who will continuously have the most impact on the spiritual health, well being, and life of each child.
Continue to examine the anatomy of your Sunday school. But examine each part in a different way than you would examine a frog or a poem. Make plans to make it better! Do the best you can with what you have. It will be enough!
Bob Landis has worked with one-room Sunday school classes in the Red Bird Missionary Conference in the Appalachian Mountains of southeastern Kentucky. He is an ordained minister who has a special interest in Christian education and in children.