I will go out on a limb and say Jesus was the best Sunday school teacher there ever was. Make that also Monday, Tuesday, and the rest of the week. Paul the apostle may be a runner-up, although a young congregant named Eutychus nodded off during one of his sermons and fell three flights from a window to his death. It all ended well.
I taught the middle school class at church last week and realized in the first minute I was in trouble with the audience. My Krusty and Patty puppet show rocked, but things went south in the blackboard expository phase. I find that public speaking is not different from column writing: One false word and they’re thinking about lunch. My own blood kids are ruthless in that regard. I hardly ever get through a joke without someone cutting in with the scene from Finding Nemo where the expectant sea horse, shrimp, and octopus get deflated by degrees listening to the clownfish Marlin tell a story:
“… and just then the sea cucumber looks over to the mollusk and says: With fronds like these, who needs anemones?”
Tough crowd. When we got home I begged my son (they love him) to be honest with me. He gave me a compliment sandwich: “You did a pretty good job, Mom. … Repetition to drive home a point can be good, but too much is not effective. … Overall you did a pretty good job, Mom.”
I happened to read Luke 12 this morning, in which Jesus unloaded a truckful of teachings before a large multitude: on hypocrisy, on the future of hidden sins, on trusting the Father with our material wellbeing, on the importance of confessing the Son publicly, on God’s promise to give us what we need to say when the time comes.
Suddenly (verse 13), a guy in the crowd raises his hand, Jesus acknowledges him, and he says, “Would you tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
This is the equivalent of the middle school Sunday Bible lesson in a dead room where a kid finally raises his hand and asks to go to the bathroom.
The moral of the story is this: Be like Jesus. Take heart. He didn’t win over everybody in his audience. He didn’t even win over every town. This should encourage parents and middle school volunteers alike. We keep plugging, with the measure of gift we have been given, and we take the long view of our efforts, hoping for a seed here and there to take root in the soil.