A View from the Pew: Together or Separate?

By whatever name it goes by these days, I believe in Sunday school.

It’s useful for learning about the Bible, bonding with your family of faith, and engaging in faith formation for people of all ages.

There are many ways to structure Sunday school, and one of those methodology questions I have been dwelling on lately is this: Should Bible study be co-educational or separated by gender?

In a lot of ways that question feels archaic to me. First, it doesn’t seem many people prioritize formal, church-centered Bible study these days. It really is only the most committed who are willing to rise an hour earlier or stay for an hour after service to participate.

If we’re not careful, the inertia of tradition can prevent us from re-examining our group Bible study habits. I have often longed for a more academic structure in which a curriculum is offered on a semester basis with rotating teachers and topics. Most often, however, the churches I’ve been a member of designate their classes by age and by gender with the same teachers in the same classrooms for years on end.

I’m sure you’ve heard the one about the senior adult Sunday school class. It was the young adult class 50 years ago.

So what about the question of men and women in Sunday school together? I can honestly see value in both models. When men and women are together, particularly if they are couples, there is an opportunity for dialogue on the discussion topics outside of the class. There is also a greater likelihood of multiple, even differing perspectives on a text. The teacher should facilitate a balanced discussion in which everyone feels free to contribute rather than have just a few voices dominate.

Sometimes the biggest breakthroughs for me come from hearing a woman’s perspective on a story that I had never before considered. If I am humble enough to receive them, those bits of wisdom have enhanced Bible study beyond just considering the story from my limited viewpoint.

On the flipside, I have seen belonging, support, and deep exploration of Biblical texts in a single gender class. My mom taught a women’s class for years, and my mother-in-law, now a widow, finds meaning in the discussion and support of the women’s class she attends now. Frankly, having men in those contexts would hinder their study and relationships.

There’s not a men’s only class in my current church, but I have been a member of a church that had one. The class was made up of older, retired men, and I never attended. I was always a little curious about what that was like. If the absence of women helps them open up and become more vulnerable when applying Biblical truths, then I can see the benefit. If it leads to the cliche of complaining about their spouses, then I don’t think it’s as useful.

If growth and sincere study of the Bible is at the heart of Sunday school, either approach is valid. There’s a time and a place for both. What I’ve settled on for now is that the type of Bible study that is most beneficial depends on the individual and their life experience.

Maybe the real solution is to mix it up from time to time, and take a fresh look at how and with whom you are studying the Bible at church. We all still have plenty to learn.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email