International Ministries

Training shepherds for children and youth

August 31, 2011 Journal
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Tonton is lucky.  He has a Sunday school to go to at Lusekele.  Every week before church he gets to sing, and play and listen to Bible stories with 15 to 20 other kids.  Although he sings in the little boys’ church choir, Sunday school is probably the first place he heard the stories of God’s love for him and the way people walk with God.  It might be the most important chance he has to see beyond “church” to a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

With a national average of seven kids per family, anywhere you go in Congo there are a lot more kids and teenagers than adults.  That goes for church too.  In any congregation you would care to name, unless they have Sunday school before church and send the kids home afterwards, a large part of the congregation will be kids and teenagers.

Curiously, though, it’s the rare rural church that has any program for their kids, let alone their teenagers.  Most churches ignore their kids, fully two-thirds of the population and the people who could be tomorrow’s church.  They enjoy youth and kids’ choirs, but neglect loving discipleship of young people.  That is why launching a viable Sunday school movement here in rural areas is so important.  When I was asked to help with the second annual Sunday school teacher training seminar, I eagerly accepted the invitation.

Effective Sunday school teachers teach from their own encounter with Christ and walk with God.  If not, they are the blind leading the blind. So I was asked to give the challenge every morning to the participants to examine their Christian life, and see whether or not they were really following Jesus. 

In a group-oriented society, many church members get baptized into the church as a rite of passage.  They join “the club”.  Others, in this animistic society, join to make God happy.  If God is happy enough, he will help their projects succeed, assure that family members stay healthy and prosper their lives.  It is works-religion measured by material results. 

But the real question is: Is God at the center of my life?  Am I really “born again”?  What does it mean? Am I living in the fullness of what Jesus offers to his followers, or am I settling for a minimum of justification before God? How can I live in Christ, in power?  Do I know that I have a choice to walk “according to the flesh” or “according to the Spirit” every day? These are excellent questions for anyone who claims to be a Christian.

The training material had a fondness for abstract theology and complicated diagrams that often had little connection with the African Christian’s village experience.  My job was not only to translate the words from French into Kituba, but to translate the ideas by examples that participants could relate to in their lives.

I was pleased to see that this year there was much less insistence on French as the medium of training and of Sunday school.  It is appropriate for some groups of people, but the vast majority of rural Christians, and certainly the majority of rural children, only function well in local language.  They can handle a song or two in French, but that’s about it. 

Future teachers learned the importance of loving the children you work with, of walking through lesson material with them and not losing sight of making the Gospel clear.  They learned how to develop a lesson from a Bible story, how to bring a child to Christ, and how to use songs, games, Bible verse memorization, etc. to reinforce lessons.

Twenty people participated in the training.  Some participants who missed part of last year’s training repeated.  And some people from new villages joined them.  Lusekele’s Sunday school is conducted by young people who finish their schooling and leave, so we needed a new group of teachers and had 3 participants. 

While I was happy to see a few people from additional churches, I was sad to see how few local congregations responded to the invitation to send people to become Sunday school teachers.  A local women’s president told me later: “We intended to participate.  I don’t know what happened that we never sent anyone.”  Today my house worker said, “They came with the announcement to our church.  I don’t know why the pastor didn’t do anything…”  Other church events that week could have distracted churches and their pastors just when they should have been getting someone to send.  The challenge is to move beyond distractions and bring the focus back to the children who continue to be abandoned in so many congregations.

Pray for this movement:  that God would bring to all his churches in this area a real, compelling concern for their children and youths’ spiritual state and for the opportunities to pass on life’s real Good News.