Mending the Saints: Teaching That Helps Us Heal

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From Classroom to Koinonia

If you polled your congregation about why Sunday school matters, would they agree that it does? Would specifics about class content rank high on their response list?

“I love studying those dietary laws in Leviticus.”

“Learning that the Corinthians had more problems than we do actually helped us.”

In our information age, fewer people think of Sunday school as their primary source for facts about the Bible. Rather than getting up early on Sundays, those with questions about Scripture can find a wealth of material and perspectives on the internet. If teachers focus solely on providing information, they find themselves answering questions that few need to ask.

Would your poll results include the importance of community?

“My class is family to me.”

“This is where to find friendships and casseroles when you need them.”

In our social media culture, fewer people claim Sunday school as their primary social outlet. Our interactions and traditions are changing. Classes that welcomed newborns by providing food for their families used to organize their efforts with Sunday morning signup sheets. These days group organize meals online, merging efforts with those of friends from work, school and neighborhood. If the site takes meal prep and delivery orders, that’s even better. If teachers make their class’ social life their main focus, they find themselves providing activities that are unneeded or never enough.

What you could hear, if you poll your 2014 congregation about why Sunday school matters, are responses that describe some blend of content and community that they hope for, but have yet to see.

“We need places where the words of faith, the stories of Scripture, touch the realities of life, wounds and all.”

“I’m looking for meaning that calls me to be more than I am, and offers a place to live that out.”

Teachers who address the hopes and needs in their classrooms, who connect words of faith with the struggles and celebrations of community, experience why Sunday school matters.

Recently, New Testament scholar Alan Culpepper exegeted Ephesians 4:12. He had learned to love this text in Findley Edge’s classes, because it emphasizes the renewal of the church and the ministry of the laity. “I noticed that the Greek term for ‘the equipping of the saints (katartismon) is related to the participle in Mark 1:19, where James and John are ‘mending’ (katartizontas) their nets. This is a fairly rare term that means to complete, perfect, restore, or repair. It also appears, for example, in 2 Cor 13:11, ‘Mend your ways’ (RSV),” Culpepper said.

This term in Ephesians that is usually translated and interpreted “supply,” or “equip,” as in equipping a soldier or an athlete, can certainly mean that. “In the context of its other uses in the New Testament, however, and in light of our experience in working with students, some of whom come with scars from family, church, or life in general, the thought occurred to me that in a real sense we are not just equipping saints for ministry, we are called to ‘mend’ the saints for ministry,” the Dean of the McAfee School of Theology told his faculty.

The mending ministry of teaching applies to Sunday school teachers as well as seminary professors. We need to pull up chairs around the text in congregational classrooms and experience the restoring power of the story together. We need to hear Jesus ask blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” and ponder with each other how we would respond to Jesus’ question. We offer a place for healing when someone answers honestly, “I am still broken by grief,” “I have an addiction I want to move past,” or “I need help to forgive.”

The patron saint of Sunday school teachers is Luke’s Good Samaritan, who hears the cries of the wounded and responds, who works to mend what hurts, who goes the extra mile, who gives what it takes to help healing happen.

Mending the saints is part of our call. When we look at a class list, we can think about the needs attached to the names and ask for perspective, mercy, and love to meet those needs. When we notice who is not around, God invites us to surprising, unexpected ways of reaching out. When we encounter the pain and hurt around us, God helps us listen and learn to care. Our teaching and mending work together.

Carol Davis Younger is Writer/Editor for the Center for Teaching Churches at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. For over twenty years a variety of church groups and classes have created, tested, tried and tweaked Bible study materials with her, teaching her about how to write them. “From Classroom to Koinonia” reflects this ongoing adventure of learning what is helpful for churches and their teachers as they pursue their teaching ministries.

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Comments

  1. Sarah Tutt says:

    I am definitely among those who value Sunday school for the community and am always sorry when the church staff thinks we need to have all adults together on Sunday morning. I need the small group community.