As I sewed a badge on her Awana vest, Shiny Boots proudly showed me the work she had done at Awana last night — a maze leading to Jesus. “You can only go to Jesus if you’re happy, right, Mama?”
“Mmm…” I responded absently. And then I nearly pricked my finger as the meaning of her words filtered through my brain fog. “What?”
She held up the maze. She had traced a line of smiley faces to Jesus, avoiding the obstacle of the sad faces. “You can only go to Jesus if you’re happy. Not if you’re sad.”
Of course I corrected her, and we had a conversation about God’s unconditional love for us. And how we can go to Him at any time, with all of our sorrows.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
So where did my daughter learn this erroneous bit of doctrine?
At Awana, basically a weekday Sunday School type of program for children.
We don’t put our children in Sunday School, because we believe that the main service is for everyone. A period of listening to Bible stories and colouring bible pictures is no substitute for being within the body of believers on Sunday morning, worshiping and learning alongside their parents and community.
As parents, it is our awesome responsibility to teach our children to know and love God. For this task, children’s bibles and colouring pages are very appropriate. But they are never a substitute for church.
So why, then, do we send our children to Awana? Not for the Bible teaching, which they get at home. We send them because they enjoy it. We send them to make friends and have fellowship with other Christian children. It is not necessary, but fun.
We specifically chose Awana because it largely stays away from doctrinal teaching, which we prefer to provide for our children ourselves. It focuses on Scripture memorization, in a fun and lively environment. And it provides a gym program where they can run around and have fun with other kids in a Christian environment. We send them not for the teaching, but for the fun.
And of course, there will be times when the message they’ve gleaned is blatantly false, and we will have to do some debriefing. Certainly Shiny Boots’ intelligent and orthodox Awana leader did not explicitly teach the message that Jesus doesn’t want anything to do with the sad or downtrodden. She is a lovely Christian woman who would never have imagined that one of her little charges took away this message.
That said, she does have 8 or 9 other children to tend to, and she can’t be responsible for every heresy that each one soaks into their receptive little mind. She is not ultimately responsible for what my child learns. I am.
When we teach our children at home, we are able to focus on them one on one. The impediment of shyness does not prevent the child from asking for clarification. Most importantly, the parent knows the child as no teacher could.
The takeaway? If your child is in Sunday School or a similar program, do go over with them what they have learned after each session. You may be surprised at the ideas they have picked up!