The birth of a child in our community is a special joy, first for the parents and other  family members, and also for the whole ecclesia. At this time of new life we all assent  wholeheartedly to the words of the Psalmist, “Lo,  children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit  of the womb is his reward” (Psa 127:3). The words  of the Proverbs echo with remembered phrases of  childhood teaching: “My son, hear the instruction of  thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother…  My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not…  My son, incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply  thine heart to understanding.” These phrases, and  many others like them, are instructions impressed  from the cradle on a developing mind as faithful  parents obeyed the injunction: “thou shalt teach  them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of  them when thou sittest in thine house, and when  thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest  down, and when thou risest up” (Deut 6:7). It is  the responsibility of parents to “train up a child in  the way he should go: and when he is old, he will  not depart from it”(Prov 22:6).

Robert Roberts and The Christadelphian Instructor

From the very earliest days of the Christadelphian  movement, ecclesias have formed Sunday Schools  to aid parents in this critical work of development.  Not surprisingly Robert Roberts supported this early  work. In 1882 he commenced publishing Sunday  School notes for teachers in The Christadelphian  magazine. Then in the magazine for April 1886  he noted, “The preparation of a Christadelphian  Sunday School Catechism is well advanced.”  This document was published shortly after as The  Christadelphian Instructor being, in the words  of Robert Roberts in its preamble: “an attempt  to present a complete outline of the system of truth contained in the Bible… on the plan of  questions and answers.” This document has been  generally available and widely used throughout the  Christadelphian community ever since. Many will  be familiar with it and with the dreaded question  from their Sunday School teacher: “Have you  learned your Instructor question?” It has even  been referred to by the Magistracy in at least one  jurisdiction, in questioning our young brethren  applying for exemption from military service on  the grounds of conscience. The introduction to the  Instructor interestingly reveals the mind of Robert  Roberts always looking to establish a system, plan  and order for regular work and arrangements in  ecclesial life and in this instance in Sunday School  work. He writes:

“To work effectively, a school should have a  superintendent and a secretary:

A Superintendent, to regulate the working of  things while the school is assembled.

A Secretary, to keep a register of the names  of the scholars, a record of all that is done, and  to attend to such things as require to be looked  after between times, such as the procuring of  books…”

He continues to outline suggested arrangements  for classes, teachers, class books etc. As usual,  many of Robert Roberts’ suggestions were so  sensible and appropriate that they are still followed  in broad terms in our Sunday Schools today.

The Christadelphian Sunday School Association

It is a sensible part of our ecclesial arrangements,  while preserving ecclesial autonomy, to have wider  arrangements which can be of service to many  ecclesias. In Australia the Christadelphian Sunday  School Association performs a valuable support  role for Sunday schools in ecclesias who avail  themselves of that assistance. Its most valuable  work is surely the production of the Sunday School  Notes. These are prepared on a five year plan so  that all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation  is systematically covered over a five year period,  with notes tailored separately for the Junior,  Intermediate and Senior levels. This is, when  followed, a wonderful plan for Scriptural teaching  for our children. Sunday schools following this  plan or something similar will be providing for our  children a disciplined and systematic format for  gaining Bible knowledge. Children need structure  and direction in their lives, provided by sound role  models in their parents, Sunday school teachers  and other brethren and sisters. They will flounder  in the absence of this needful order. In providing it  in our Sunday schools we follow ancient tradition.  The Apostle Paul reminds us how he studied at the  feet of Gamaliel.

Sunday school teachers

The role of Sunday school teachers is vital, requiring dedicated long term commitment from  those brethren and sisters who take on that role. And  most of our ecclesias have been blessed for many  years with brethren and sisters taking up Sunday  school work from a young age. There is no better  training ground in the ecclesia than Sunday school work. New teachers will quickly learn that their  every comment will be remembered and passed on  to parents, just as parents will find that there are few  family secrets that are not relayed by youngsters to their Sunday school teachers! Good teachers will  find that they learn more than their scholars by  diligent preparation. They will consider carefully  how best to present the lessons of the Word to  young minds. Their level of interest, enthusiasm and  involvement will be readily sensed by their young  charges; they can have a powerful and positive  impact on the scholars in their class.

Many brethren and sisters make the Sunday  school their prime area of work in the ecclesia,  serving in this way for many years and watching  with joy as little ones grow to maturity and  ultimately accept the truth in baptism, the goal of  all Sunday school work. They will experience bitter  sadness, too, when some grow up to reject all the  efforts made on their behalf and depart.

For many, the discipline, learning and teaching  experience of Sunday school work lead naturally  to a desire to preach more widely, and brethren  and sisters move from Sunday school work to an  involvement in Mission work. Sunday schools in  Mission areas have received substantial assistance  and guidance from brethren and sisters who have  been able to bring to bear in this new environment  their long experience of Sunday school work. We  encourage newly baptised brethren and sisters  to consider the work of the Sunday school as a  rewarding path to a full involvement in all the work  of their ecclesia. The work not only benefits the  scholars and teachers alike but is a path, too, to a deeper knowledge and involvement with families  in the meeting, cementing friendships which can  last for eternity.

Sunday school can provide a special role for  sisters. Many do outstanding work, becoming  beloved ‘aunties’ to the children in their care.  Robert Roberts recognised the special talents  of sisters with children often exceeded that of  brethren. He commented in The Christadelphian  Instructor: “… sometimes the boys’ classes are  more advantageously taught by a female than male  teachers. And sometimes a sister makes even a  better superintendent than a brother.”

Sunday school and our Heritage Colleges

The establishment in recent times of Heritage  Colleges in a number of locations in Australia has  provided families with a wonderful opportunity  to multiply the benefits of their children’s  involvement in Sunday school by enrolling them  in a Christadelphian school. The friendships formed  within their ‘home’ ecclesia with fellow Sunday  school scholars have been expanded to include  friends now from many ecclesias. This has in the  main been a positive development and parents from  many different ecclesias have been heartened to find  that when their children have obeyed the Truth in  baptism, the ecclesial hall can scarce contain the  numbers as their friends, with their families from  the Heritage College environment, come along  to witness this wonderful outworking of parental  guidance, Sunday school teaching, the ecclesial  environment and the reinforcement now given  through daily schooling at Heritage.

Our ecclesial future

Certainly in Australia and in that part of the  ecclesial world involving a ‘Western culture’, the  Sunday school, our own children, provide our main  source of future members and ecclesial growth.  Let us continue earnestly our strong tradition of  supporting this valuable work. Let newly baptised  young brethren and sisters take up the challenge,  the discipline and the rewards of Sunday School  teaching work and play a part in guiding a new  generation of Sunday school scholars to see that  their lives can have meaning and worth as they  grow to understand the purpose of God with the  world and with them.