Question. Can you justify the continued existence of the Sunday school?

Answer. Very definitely. Since the Schempp-Murray decision of the Supreme Court (which declared that required Bible reading and prayer in public schools were unconstitutional) we have lost any significant basis for values in our society. The Sunday school is desperately needed to teach moral values today. Lots of non-Christians are just as concerned about what has happened as Christians are. Also, the Sunday school has become the primary Christian-education instrument of the church. Parents have turned the responsibility of educating their children over to the church, and few Christian homes today have Bible reading and prayer. If you lose the Sunday school you have very little left.

Q. Aren’t Christians taking care of that by operating day schools?

A. The number of Christian day schools is insignificant compared to the total number of schools, and they train only Christian children. Sunday schools reach children who may not come from Christian homes.

Q. Aren’t Sunday-school enrollments down?

A. They’re down in the mainline denominations. But evangelical churches in those denominations haven’t had a significant decrease. And many smaller denominational and independent church schools are growing. On the other hand, in Canada, if the present decline in Sunday-school attendance in the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church continues, Sunday school will go out of existence by the 1980s.

Q. What are the trends in making Sunday-school materials more creative?

A. We feel responsible to teach the Bible according to contemporary educational methods. A few years ago we realized that many children in pre-school Sunday-school classes had been affected by “Sesame Street,” and so we asked two “Sesame Street” people to review our pre-school and kindergarten curricula. We implemented their suggestions and updated our material. They helped us understand how a child influenced by television learns and also views life.

Q. Are you stressing the visual nature of material rather than the verbal?

A. Everything today has to be more visual than in the past. We are now a sight-oriented society. Of course, the Sunday school still has to have a high content of factual material. Christianity can never become perceptual. There are still concepts to be learned.

Q. Are there new trends in adult Sunday-school education? Is the primary method still the lecture?

A. The lecture method has never been the best way to teach any age group. But churches have been so tied to the lecture system that it’s hard to change. With young adults we have a different ball game. We just put out a new “Lifestyles” series edited by Denny Rydberg of the Wittenburg Door. In preparation for that we went to the best youth workers and directors to determine what areas to cover. The result is a series of multi-media courses covering three years. I did one on death and dying, “If I Should Die Before I Wake.” We included a cassette, a guidebook with material for an overhead projector, and a response book.

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Q. Do you deal with children’s problems from a biblical perspective as you do with adults?

A. Yes. If the Sunday-school material doesn’t speak to children’s needs at age four or five, they aren’t going to pick up much Bible knowledge. We have a four-step program. We talk about a particular need. Then we present the Bible passage. After that, we show how it applies to them. Then we try for a response to the lesson. For example, with junior boys we talk about how to deal with the class bully in school. With teen-agers it’s more difficult. We know what the problems are, but sometimes teachers are not willing to get into them. For instance, we deal with premarital intercourse and the reasons for not engaging in it beyond the biblical injunctions against it. I think this is necessary for kids growing up in today’s permissive society. But we sometimes get criticism from teachers who think that’s not spiritual enough for Sunday school.

Q. What’s the purpose of Sunday school?

A. It’s not only to convert children. Some don’t find Christ until the teens or later; St. Augustine was in his thirties when he found Christ. In Sunday school you help them come to the beginning of Christian education, which is conversion, and also learn what moral values are important. You teach them Amos to show the evil of a society that neglects the poor. The book of Proverbs helps instill common sense in teen-agers. All of this is part of what we are trying to do. We try to teach the whole Bible, because Sunday after Sunday of only a salvation emphasis turns kids off. A good Sunday-school curriculum should try to instill a knowledge of biblical principles to be applied to everyday living.

Q. A good curriculum is only half the solution, isn’t it? Do you ever suggest the kind of teachers that churches should choose?

A. We have teacher-training built into our programs. Five to ten years ago many Sunday schools depended on public-school teachers as the backbone of their staff. But now pastors find that when teachers have dealt with students all week, they don’t want to do it on Sunday also. Some churches are getting around this by having teachers change levels—for instance, junior-high teachers instruct pre-school or early-elementary children. That usually works out well. More teacher-training is necessary. That’s the weakest point of the Sunday-school movement, because most churches have to depend on untrained volunteers.

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Q. Do you publish Sunday-school materials for minority groups?

A. Our materials are imprinted by some black groups, such as the Progressive National Baptists.

Q. Are the curricula any different from those that go to white churches?

A. No. Some years before we sold material to black churches we decided to integrate children in church and home situations. Rather than showing black children and white children in Africa, as was typical, we showed them together in this country. At the same time we thought we should show contemporary blacks rather than George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, who were about the only blacks ever mentioned in Sunday-school material. Having our material go to black churches puts us where we should be in terms of our message to our white audience. We’d be in trouble with our black denominations if we were less than Christian in our attitudes. Our job is to relate to that great bulk of black churches. In many instances they are culturally different from white churches; to insist that they be the same is to say, You have to follow the standards of our club in order to belong. Even though the total approach may be different, Sunday school is just as important for blacks as for whites. Those in the black churches want a fair representation of all the minorities in our country, including the black. We also solicit editorial and art input from the black denominations with which we work.

Q. So you don’t make any significant changes in the material you send to black churches?

A We may occasionally show black families on the covers rather than white. But the situations are similar. The main difference in our audience is not between black and white but between urban and suburban or rural. The black urban church has more problems in common with the white urban church than either does with a rural church. With our curriculum we include alternative suggestions to cover differing situations.

Q. Sunday school will soon be 200 years old. Do you find any significance in it in addition to its role in education?

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A. It has always involved laymen. Our Protestant evangelical churches have tended to forget about laymen and concentrate on ordained ministers. The Sunday school has kept laymen teaching the Bible. Women in particular have found a significant role in the church through the Sunday school.

Q. When did you come to David C. Cook?

A. In 1963. Some of my friends thought I wouldn’t be happy in such a structured job. But I developed an analogy then, and I think it’s still true. Each situation is like an iron cage, no matter how structured or unstructured. My job is to blow up a creative balloon to fill all the nooks and crannies of that cage. Paradoxically, when you begin to fill up that cage with the creative balloon the cage itself begins to expand. And that has happened here in various areas. One example is teaching teen-agers about sex. When I came we couldn’t use the word “sex.” Now we have Christian sex education built into our teen-age curriculum. Another example is integration.

Q. What other changes have taken place? What are your goals?

A. We sensed a need to be educationally responsible in our material. We now make sure we’re educationally as well as biblically sound. If Sunday school seems bush league to kids, we’ve lost them. We’re now using a full multi-media approach. We’re quite excited about some of our educational changes, such as transparency books to be used with overhead projectors. That’s a continuing challenge. Another challenge is to deal in Sunday school with any area that the Church itself is struggling with, such as the women’s movement. To do this, the material must stay current. While no Sunday-school publisher can redo materials each time around, we orginally planned a one-third change in art and copy each time. But as it turned out the changes in junior and senior high have been so radical that we’ve had to make about 80 per cent change in both art and text. We’ve tried to keep up. And we want to provide, as much as possible, good art as well as good words. For example, we were dissatisfied with the take-home nursery pictures, so we asked a children’s book artist from New York City to redo our pictures. We sent them out and our sales went right down. We found that this happened for two reasons. One, not everybody in the new pictures looked happy. The other, and this was harder to determine, was that the people looked Jewish; Sunday-school teachers want Bible characters to look Anglo-Saxon. I’m convinced that there is much latent anti-Semitism in the evangelical church. We got permission to condense C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and we did a condensation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We haven’t had anything in years that drew so much complaint mail. Many people misunderstand imagination. Evangelicals don’t seem to appreciate allegory. I sometimes wonder how Pilgrim’s Progress would fare if it were published today. Lots of Christians don’t want anything open-ended. If Jesus were around today, would we invite him to preach in our churches? He preached with parables—open-ended stories. It’s unfortunate that we’ve taken the Pauline letter-writing style and made it our preaching style, rather than Jesus’ teaching or preaching style. That’s a problem beyond the Sunday school and won’t be solved for another generation, if then.

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