Sunday school, Yes or No?

I’ve been thinking about the problem of Sunday school as two related yet distinct realities.

It seems to me that the original Sunday school was more of a tutoring strategy than a school as we imagine it. It was a wonderful strategy for teaching street children and others how to read (the Bible). Poor children who worked six days a week could not attend day school, so Methodists created SS.

Over against the SS as a strategy is the so-called schooling model. The first half of the 20th century saw the church’s dedication to the schooling model, including teacher professionalization/certification, school accreditation, parent commitments, and so on. With a nod to the scientific method, churches adopted the broad contours of the schooling model without full-on adopting the model. In other words, the 20th century Sunday school was never a school. The burgeoning SS classrooms of post-WW II had little to do with progressive trends in education being adopted by the church. Yet today, many SS persist with little consideration of the latest advances in childhood education, with so many seeking resources for entertaining their children instead.

So as a model, the Sunday school is dead for the most part. Where the Sunday school persists, it either exists in large churches whose budgets and volunteers still prop it up or as a strategy that hearkens back to its earliest days. Some churches have found clues for the SS strategy’s fruitfulness from its early days, namely teaching children how to read. Literacy, cultural literacy, reading the times, and practicing ways to respond motivate the SS strategy. 

How might recovering the SS as strategy, tutoring children and others how to read—how to read their lives, the world, and the Scriptures—affect the church and its prophetic call?

Choose Joy and Love

“Live in joy and in love, even among those who hate.” – The Buddha

The Buddha’s words are a challenge and a goal. In a world that seems full of discord, where people prey upon our fears and hatred is sensationalized, it is difficult to remain joyful and loving. But it is not impossible. We can choose to practice joy and love every day. We can choose to respond to others in joy and love, even when they choose hatred.

Choose Joy!

Joy is more than being happy or always up. Joy is an internal sense of well-being and hope. Even when life is difficult, you can still find joy in life. If you are feeling joyless, take steps to bring joy back into your heart.

  1. Begin and end each day with gratitude and a renewed commitment to look for joy.
  2. Surround yourself with people who make you happy.
  3. Choose experiences and activities that bring you joy.
  4. Smile and laugh out loud.
  5. Watch a cute or funny video or program.
  6. Listen to music and dance.
  7. Go outside and enjoy the natural world.

Choose Love!

To love someone is to honor them as a person of value. There are many kinds of love. For instance, the love we have for a significant other is different than the love we feel for our parents or children. What does it mean to love all humanity, even those who hate? Jesus said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” We can choose to show kindness to all people and consider their humanity.

  1. Pray for the people with whom you disagree or who treat you badly.
  2. Debate the issues and refrain from attacking the person.
  3. Spend as little time as possible with people who are not kind to you or who give you negative energy. Do not give up on showing them compassion and respect.
  4. Spend more time with the people who love you.
  5. Say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you.
  6. Show compassion and give support to people in need.
  7. Forgive and graciously accept forgiveness.

If you want to know more about living into joy and love, contact me. I can help you!

A Coach’s Coach

May 12, 2018 initiated a devastating year for me (Mark). My adult son David died after a 10-year struggle with osteosarcoma. Then, on March 1, 2019, I was laid off by my employer of 13 years.

The anguish of the past year remains mostly unresolved in my heart. I miss my son terribly; he was my best friend. I miss the work that gave my life meaning and the people with whom I spent most waking hours for more than a decade.

People suggested that I see a therapist following David’s death. I sought help at a local grief center, but quit after two sessions. I felt the grief counselor was focused on empathizing with my loss, filling up the silence with stories of her own tragedies. I needed someone to walk with me through my grief, yet remain outside my experience—because it was MY experience.

This is where I brag on Peggy, my wife and my partner. Peggy is a bonafide certified coach. Without an official “coach-coachee” relationship, Peggy would occasionally throw a question my way when she noticed me struggling. Questions like:

“What one word describes your grief today? How is that different from last week?”

“What color is your grief?”

“What are some ways you can honor David’s life?”

“Where do you imagine your grief will have led you after another five years?”

And then following my lay-off:

“What have you learned about yourself in the way you responded to the news?”

“How can you be kind to yourself? How will you do that?”

Peggy has a way of inviting her clients to take a step back and look at their situations from a different angle. My grief persists, but thanks to Peggy’s ability and commitment to professional coaching, each day is a bit better. Three steps forward, two steps back, sometimes—but I am moving forward.

Authentic Happiness

Everyone hears negative messages sometimes. What we do with them is key to changing the way we view ourselves and our lives.

I’m not talking about feelings that are considered negative – sadness, anger, fear. Our emotions serve a purpose and are unto themselves neither negative nor positive; they are simply a part of being human.

Negative self-talk is another matter. Negative self-talk may stem from messages we received as children, verbal and physical abuse, or comparing ourselves to others. It is difficult for someone who has low self-esteem or poor self-confidence to change those messages.

How can we manage our negative self-talk to hear authentic positive affirmation?

Consider ashre and shalom.

Ashre (ash-ray), a biblical Hebrew word, refers to the kind of life, behavior, and mindset that creates a deep and abiding happiness. Jesus uses the term in the famous Sermon on the Mount (“Happy/blessed are the peacemakers….”) as do many of the Psalms (“Blessed are those who dwell in your house….” Psalm 84:4). Ashre is a happiness that does not depend on happenstance. It is deep and abiding no matter what is happening in your life.

Shalom is another biblical Hebrew term that helps to describe this type of happiness. Shalom (peace or wholeness) conveys well-being and having peace of mind.

My goal as a coach is to help people find ashre and shalom. The key is authentic positivity and a growth mindset. With intentional practices we can condition ourselves to think positively. The way we speak internally and with others can actually change the brain. However, lavishing flattery on ourselves is being dishonest and can actually do us harm. Our positive messages need to be real and true. Much of the popular material in books and online about happiness gives us a false impression of what we want and need.

Healthy people seek a deep abiding contentment in which they remain hopeful and positive even during the hard times. Coaching creates a safe environment where persons can explore their thoughts and emotions and learn the practice of authentic positivity.

Jesus’ Joke

I’ve been reading Luke 15 lately, doing some research. Luke 15, for a lot of folks, is the pinnacle of the Gospel. It includes three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. In worship services, these three stories are rarely read together and that’s a shame. Luke positions these teaching stories just so to show Jesus’ comedic side.

Story tellers know that classic jokes follow the law of three—1) there’s a setup; 2) there’s a second event that follows the first in form and tone, setting up expectations; and 3) the punch line breaks the pattern set by the first two parts. The Three Little Pigs is a kind example; a less kind example is “A priest, rabbi, and minister walk into a bar…”

So, Jesus tells three stories with similar construction—there is something or someone lost, which is found, resulting in joyful celebration! Let’s look closer for the comedic triad.

In the first two stories, the sheep and the coin are lost, which leads to the shepherd and the woman dropping everything to find their respective possession. The “finding” corresponds to repentance in each story. So, in the third story, after the younger son takes his money and runs, we expect someone (the father?) to drop everything and search for him. Once found, we expect the son to repent. That’s the pattern. But it doesn’t happen!

No one goes in search of the younger son!!! Let that wash over you for a few seconds!

What might this mean for us?

Many churches today wring their hands about “the lost” and devise evangelism programs to search for them. For the most part, those efforts have been judged futile. Whether the “nones” or the “dones,” they’re not coming back because of our efforts. The “punchline” of the three parables suggests that those efforts are wrong-headed. What we in the church are called to do is to be ready when they come back by the movement of the Holy Spirit (my interpolation).

The joke’s on us. Replace your evangelism committee with a party committee that is always at the ready!! Be prepared to welcome any and all who enter your community’s life with rejoicing!

Give me a call or send me an email if you’d like to talk about what Hinds Coaching and Consulting can do for you!

Curriculum is Not the Problem!

It’s common these days. We look at the problems in our church’s education ministry and blame the curriculum. It doesn’t do this or that well enough, there’s no video component, it’s too hard to decipher, or it’s so easy that we’re done with a lesson in 15 minutes. So the search goes on for the new, the improved curriculum, that can’t cost too much or demand too much, but it had better be thorough in its representation of the gospel.

Curriculum is not the problem, friends. Our expectations concerning the curriculum are. If you use a curriculum produced by a denominational publishing house or one that is meant for mass consumption, then there’s no way it will please you in its entirety. Something in it won’t work for you. In fact, every curriculum developer I know expects the users to adapt and modify it for their own particular setting.

The onus is on you and me, the users. Don’t buy curriculum thinking it will solve your attendance problems or transform volunteers into master teachers. It won’t do it.

Today, it seems that churches use curricula that meet one of two criteria, aside from cost: its theological underpinning or its ease of use, which often boils down to accessible arts, crafts, and videos. If I were to choose, I would err on the side of the theological bent of the curriculum. Does it represent our theological tradition? How does it understand God? Do the interpretation of Bible stories focus more on what God does or on human actions? What view of God will the learners take away from the formative event in which the curriculum is but a tool? What understanding of the church does the curriculum convey?

If you find a curriculum that supports your theological tradition, then you might have to adapt or add activities that better engage your learners. It’s up to you and your education partners to make assessments and adjust as necessary. For example, if you locate a curriculum whose ecclesiology is on point with your tradition, but all of the activities focus on the individual’s response, you may decide to add community-based learning activities. That way the experience of community coheres with the theological point you want to make.

Let me know how I can help you and your church assess your educational and formational ministries.

—Mark Hinds


Paddling Your Way

I enjoy the water—jumping in a canoe, paddling to the middle of the lake, pulling in the paddles, and leaning back to bask in the warmth of the sun. Everything is tranquil and calm; time stands still.

Yet, even in that calm, quiet place, I’m still moving. The slow, rocking movement and the rhythmic beating of water against the sides of the canoe remind me that if I don’t eventually pick up the paddles and steer, I could get caught in the quickening current and pull of the lake’s overflow drain.

There are times when we need to rest. In the biblical tradition, this is called Sabbath. Psalm 23 sings of still waters where our souls are restored. Floating on still water reminds me of being supported, being loved and carried when I can’t find the stamina for the journey. It reminds me of prayer, being lifted and comforted by God in the quiet when my spirit has no words.

Yet just as a floating canoe moves with the currents, our lives are never completely motionless. Even when we feel like we are going nowhere, we are moving. If we are not intentional about guiding our own movement, we may be taken where we do not want to go. A balanced, buoyed life embraces the quiet times and the times when we are in movement; when we take the paddles in our hands and direct where we go.