In the minds of many Christians, Sunday School is a biblically mandated gathering of the local church. To suggest something different is like attacking the American flag, motherhood, and apple pie. To many others it would be considered heresy to suggest anything different.
Few saints stop to consider that Sunday School, as we know it, is less than 200 years old, and was originally started to evangelize "unchurched" children. Today it is a large institution with many programs and in many cases the majority of a local church's building facilities and funds are dedicated to it. In a typical Sunday School many teachers, the majority of which are sisters, are unable to attend the meeting in which the Word of God is preached due to their teaching responsibilities. In some cases this has also created a situation that may not be in accordance with Scripture. (1 Tim. 2:12-14)
The truth is, many Sunday Schools, like Christian Schools, have become a substitute for the teaching of the children by the fathers. (Eph. 6:4) The fault is not with Sunday School or the Christian Schools, but with the fathers who have placed their responsibility to teach their children upon the local assembly and/or Christian School.
This may shock some, but Sunday School, as it is run today, may actually have weakened some local churches. In far too many cases children are kept at very shallow levels for many years. Some have been taught by teenage teachers, while others were taught by those who have limited knowledge of the Word of God - Thankfully, many have been taught by knowledgeable and dedicated teachers. In other cases it has led to a generation gap where young people have been kept separate from the older saints, even through college years. In such cases a generation gap should not surprise us, we created it!
However, the greatest damage may have been to fathers. As mentioned, many fathers have turned over their responsibility to teach their children to the church, and thus they themselves spend very little time in the Word of God. It has been said many times, "the best way to learn is to teach." (This does not mean all men should be teaching publicly.) As a result the assembly is very weak due to the fact that the men of the assembly, who are to be the spiritual leaders in the home and church, spend little time in the Word and instructing their children.
Am I saying that Sunday School is not Biblical? Does it mean that it should be scrapped? Not at all. What I am saying is that Sunday School, while obviously used of the Lord to reach many children with the Gospel and to teach countless others the Word of God, is not the only way for the assembly to function. There is an alternative.
What if the assembly concentrated on teaching "families." What if we had real "Family Bible Hours?" What if everyone, with the possible exception of very young children (Neh. 8:1-2), sat under the sound of the "preaching" of the Word, and then families went home and the fathers reviewed the message with the family, answering any questions and explaining further certain aspects. (I Cor. 14:35, Eph. 6:4) This would put the men of the assembly into the Word more. It would make family members better listeners. Over time it would most likely raise the level of instruction. It would not divide up the assembly, with many sisters missing the ministry of the Word. It would help eliminate the generation gap. It would greatly reduce the need of large facilities, and programs. Would not our assemblies be stronger as a result? Personally, I think so.
Isn't this pure theory? No, I have seen young people who were placed into the Family Bible Hour in their early teens, and who today are parents themselves. Their knowledge of the Word goes well beyond Bible stories. They are able to "endure sound doctrine." They are part of the assembly and contribute in a variety of ways, and work well with the older saints. The parents of these young people went home and while having dinner discussed the message, and fathers used the opportunity to answer questions, or build upon the message. The fathers of these young people were in the Word and were the spiritual heads of their families. They were contributors at Bible studies, and worshipers at the Lord's Supper, and the assembly was stronger for it.
Many other young people who were raised basically on Bible stories, dating classes, and volleyball are at a different level today, and many have not matured as they should. Thankfully, many have, but generally speaking many are still spiritual infants.
Does this mean this alternative solves all the problems associated with Sunday School? Not at all, in fact, it introduces other problems. What about families without fathers? What about children who only come to Sunday School?
It may mean a Friday night outreach to evangelize children with the Gospel. It may mean Sunday School plus Family Bible Hour. It may mean sisters in fatherless homes may have to review the message with their children. Local oversight will have to determine what is best for the situation.
Just as in the financial world where, one can be penny wise and dollar foolish, assemblies can spend much on Sunday School while in the long term actually be undermining the strength of the assembly. Certainly the evangelization and instruction of children are important, but a Sunday School program, in and of itself, does not guarantee that the assembly and families are being strengthened by it.
As we read the Scriptures we get no indication the assembly was divided up, and while normal reasoning would think this best, perhaps in the long term the assembly is better staying together when gathered for spiritual purposes. (Neh. 8:1-2) This certainly is conducive to making the assembly a family, rather than an organization. (The larger the assembly the greater the chance that it will become an organization, rather than a family.)
As stated, this is only an alternative. An alternative that some assemblies may find
helpful. An alternative that might just make families and assemblies stronger in a day in
which many are very weak.