One of my favorite songs from Sunday School was I Love To Tell the Story. I haven’t heard the song in years, but it seems like just yesterday I was singing it in the back seat of our car on our way to my grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. This probably dates me — this was in the early 60’s, long before Sunday School kids sang “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” (sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie”). Thinking back, I Love To Tell the Story doesn’t really seem to fit the mold of what you’d expect from old Lutherans, but I guess there were some cross-denominational influences even then.
The first verse starts, “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.” I don’t recall how most of it goes, but I could never forget the chorus:
I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love. (lyrics by Arabella K. Hankey)
I don’t know that many people love to tell that story anymore. Even in church, there are so many distractions — you can sit through years of sermons without ever hearing the Gospel. In some churches children learn about tolerance and social awareness; in others, they learn various rules to follow so that they grow up looking like solid Christians. In other churches they sing songs with little or no real theology and hear touchy-feely messages. If they’re lucky, they will watch videos of the latest craze in youth ministry, geared to those with short attention spans. And of course, there are the snacks.
But it seems that very few are telling them the story.
According to a recent article on CNN.com, a study of teens across denominational lines showed that “most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.”
Nobody is telling them the story.
Perhaps it’s because adults have lost their love for the simplicity of the Gospel. Do we think that our children will see us worshipping to vacuous songs with good beats and guitar solos and listening to boring sermons about financial responsibility and want to grow up to be just like us? Do we adults even remember what the story is?
A 2007 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion showed that as many as 57% of evangelicals thought that many religions could lead to eternal life. They know how to live purpose-driven lives, they are taught how to manage their finances and how improve their marriages, and many are politically motivated, but they don’t know the Gospel from a hole in the ground. The renewal movements of the twentieth century are over, and it seems that we are slipping back into that same sort of cultural Christianity that existed in the 50’s.
For some time, my wife and I have been concerned about the quality of our children’s Christian education. When our kids were of Sunday School age, we evaluated various Sunday School curriculums for a church we were in, and for the most part determined they were terrible. They were perhaps fine for becoming “morally therapeutic deists,” Kenda Creasy Dean’s term, but not for raising intelligent Christians. It’s no wonder that so many teens today believe Christianity is nothing special.
As a Lutheran, besides having actual Bible teaching in Sunday School we went through confirmation classes, learning basic theology as well as church history. And of course, we said one of the creeds every Sunday. We visited other churches, learning what makes them different from Lutherans. Do any churches still teach this stuff?
When I was still quite young, I knew the story. And, I understood it, and understood that it was important. I guess that’s why I am writing; I still love to tell the story.
- If you had a Christian education as a child, what do you remember about it?
- How did this impact what you believe today?