It is one of my first memories. I don’t know why it has stuck with me for so long. Nothing happened that was traumatic or life-changing. But it was the beginning of a life-long lesson in what it means to follow Jesus.
My sister and I were just walking down a sidewalk. We were headed to Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Fort Valley.
And that’s it.
Thankfully, I don’t remember much more from those years. My family was going through a lot of turmoil. Eventually my parents would split-up and my sister and I would move with our mother to the southern Atlanta suburbs. I’m sure that there was a lot of loud talking in our house back in those days in Fort Valley. There was certainly a lot of tears. Grown up tears. But, for the most part, all I remember is going to Sunday School with my sister.
After we moved, my mom started teaching her own Sunday School class. High school girls. I was barely ten-years-old but I was learning valuable lessons about what it meant to live in community with other believers. My mom was a listening ear for girls whose hearts had just been broken by some boy. She was a source of laughter as those girls tried to heal. And she drove the getaway car when those girls decided to throw toilet paper in that old boyfriend’s front yard.
In short, my mom didn’t just teach a Sunday School class. She lived life with her class. They saw her cry too. They knew her struggles and fears as well as she knew theirs. That kind of connection has a way of staying with you. I guess that’s why so many of them were at my mom’s funeral, years after she had taught her last Sunday School class.
Last week I taught a Sunday School class of my own. It was a room full of people who wanted to join our church. A few of the people shared their story of how Jesus saved them. Each story is different, some more dramatic than others, but it never gets old hearing them.
Just down the hall, Tim was teaching a group of adults. Before the class ever really got going, people started sharing about what God has been doing in their lives and how he is convicting them of sin. Later, Tim told me that the Holy Spirit really worked in that class.
Directly across the hall from my class, my son was learning about redemption and forgiveness. He told me that Sunday was his favorite day of the week because of that class and the things that he learns from his teacher, Ms. Gayle.
Next door to my room, Lisa and Sonya were teaching a room full of even younger kids about the gospel. My youngest son was in there. On the way home from church every Sunday he names everyone who was in his class. If there was a visitor he calls her “some new girl I don’t know.” He’s only four-years-old but I don’t think that my son will ever forget Lisa and Sonya.
At some point years ago, Christians convinced themselves that Sunday School wasn’t cutting edge. So we decided to change the name. We went with names like Life Connection Groups, Kneecap Sessions and Organic Therapy Home Focus Cells. Anything but Sunday School.
We also started talking and writing a lot about community too. Community was suddenly the new thing in church circles. We were told to do community together and given 12 steps and expert advice on how to do it.
Jesus doesn’t care what we call our time together. Sunday School? Fine. Organic Therapy Home Focus Cells? Whatever. According to the Bible, he’s more concerned that we are learning and living the gospel together (Hebrews 10:23-25; Galatians 6:1-10). For him, community is nothing new. It’s his ideal for his church (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-37).
It’s a single mother crying and flipping through the Bible with a girl in her Sunday School class who doesn’t understand why her boyfriend doesn’t like her anymore.
It’s a six-year-old learning what the word redemption means.
And it’s a group of people sharing their stories and their burdens while they help each other to know their Master better.
On Sunday mornings these days, my sons walk together, through our church parking lot, each to his own Sunday School class. They’re just beginning a journey that I began three decades ago. They’re sure to see a lot of changes. Maybe they won’t call it Sunday School anymore. That doesn’t matter. But thirty years from now, if we’re all still around, maybe they’ll look back on these Sundays as the very beginning of a beautiful lesson that God is still teaching them.
Sometimes those insignificant childhood memories can be more life-changing than we first thought.