What is Sunday School? What Does it Appear to Be? And Who Can Teach It?

Because we do want to protect the household structures in God’s church, we should aim to provide clarity on what the function of Sunday school even is.

If we are to continue providing Sunday schools in our churches, there are good reasons to purposefully distinguish between those Sunday school classes and our worship services. The call to worship carries a summons from God. We are not summoned to attend Sunday school in this kind of authoritative manner. The call to worship is a call from God, invoking a response. And the liturgy begins, as our Father in heaven is the host. So one function offers general teaching in the setting of a class, the other offers the sacrament of the preached Word in a worship service. If Sunday school classes do not have all the elements of a worship service, why would we want to mimic one?


My cohorts and I had a rousing conversation on today’s podcast about women teaching Sunday school. As we were sharing our opinions, I realized we were kind of arguing in circles because we did not share the same view of the function of Sunday school. So, I thought I would expand on that a little more, and I’ve asked Todd to do the same in response.

On the podcast, Todd said that Sunday school in his church is set up in such a way that it makes an impression of the teacher giving exhortation with authority, like it would be done during a worship service. And yet, the other elements of the worship service, such as the call to worship, the singing, confession of sin and assurance of pardon, congregational prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the benediction, you get what I’m saying, are purposefully absent from Sunday school as to distinguish it from the worship service.

Of course, Sunday school does look very different than it did in its beginnings only a couple hundred years ago. It was first established in Britain, and eventually spread to the U.S., to teach overworked children affected by the Industrial Revolution how to read and write, with the Bible as the primary textbook. They were learning about the Christian faith as they were receiving a basic education. It was certainly not confused with the worship service, even as adults began attending and there was more mature exposition of Scripture.

This leads me to ask, why is it now?

While I don’t think all Sunday schools in every church need to have the same set-up, the way that we present it does matter. So that raises a lot of questions. Is a Sunday school class equivalent to a worship service? To this, all three of us would agree in the negative. Should we be setting them up that way? Some do give that feel. And Todd made a distinguishing point that his church is much larger than Carl’s or mine, and therefore the Sunday school classes are not as easily set up in a cozy, casual manner. If the class is to be like a worship service, then we are going to want someone who is ordained or on that track delivering the “sermon.” However, Todd isn’t so much looking for an ordained person, or someone who may be called to ordination in the future. He wants someone who is equipped to teach and who is a man, as to not cause confusion.

So let’s take a look at what is similar, that may cause confusion. There is a teacher. And that person is teaching from Scripture. Secondly, Sunday school takes place in the same building as the church. Thirdly, Sunday school occurs on the same day as the worship service, usually immediately preceding it. That leads me to two more questions: With these three commonalities, is it then too difficult for us to distinguish between Sunday school and worship? And, if we are unable to discern the difference, should we continue to have Sunday school at all?

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